Husband has a dear, sweet aunt in Atlanta that we were visiting, too, the mother of the opera singer and the sister of his deceased father. Let me say first off that this aunt is probably the sweetest, kindest, most baby-loving woman I have ever had the privilege of meeting. She's 83 years old and a native of Belize, though it was British Honduras in her day. She still speaks with a clipped, colonial accent though Husband's father did not.
The last night of our visit, I handed Sweet P to Husband's aunt to cuddle and say goodnight to before I took her back to sleep. This old lady was so delighted at having a little one in her arms that the whole room went still, watching her obvious pleasure. She told us how she used to sing to her own babies to get them to sleep and began singing a little lullaby to Sweet P, who immediately stopped her grousing and calmed to listen. She sang it several times and I began to pick up the lyrics--something about "little picaninny," "silver Southern moon," and "Mama's little Alabama coon."
Wow. I have to admit I was torn here between real dismay at these lyrics so shockingly racist to my modern ears, and great pleasure that this lovely woman was getting such joy, remembering her own long-ago young motherhood. I know that she would never consider herself a racist. She and her Jamaican caregivers talk a lot about life in that part of the world and seem to me to interact as if they're all old friends. Still, I can't help but feel like this little vignette was a slice of antebellum Southern plantation life.
Here are the lyrics that Husband's aunt sang to Sweet P. And by the way, according to the good old internet, this is the chorus of a song that was first published in 1893. Husband's aunt was singing a song 115 years old!
Go to sleep my little picaninny
Brer fox'll catch you if you don't
Slumber on the bosom of your Mammy
Mammy's gonna whack you if you don't
Loo loo loo loo looah looah loo
Underneath the silver southern moon
Lullaby, rockabye my baby
Mammy's little Alabama Coon