On the Old Fall River Line

Note: This article was written in 1999

“On the Old Fall River Line” is a song we don’t hear much any more, but when my mother and dad sang it at a recent family reunion, it became everyone’s favorite.

It was Memorial Day. We had just sung “Happy Birthday” to my 99-year-old father. Adults were gathered on the camp porch and little ones in wet swim suits were pressed against the screen looking in. My mother started singing, and dad quickly joined in, a song from 1913, recorded on cylinder records.

The chorus of the song goes like this: A fellow meets a girl named Suzie on a boat and falls in love. “I fell for Suzie’s line and Suzie fell for mine.”

They are married by a parson who happens to be on the same boat. “He tied us tight as twine” …but in retrospect, the courtship may have been all too fast because it ends, “I wish, O Lord, I’d fallen over board, on the Old Fall River Line.

Being head of the family is a post Dad has always assumed easily and executed well. At 99 years old, he’s still the master of his ship. The years are taking their toll on his frame, but his determination to control his destiny is as strong as it ever was. 

He always had good, common sense and an ability to make good decisions. His best one was to marry my wonderful mother. It seemed they divided up life into two categories, the soft side and the hard side. Mother took care of the soft side (raising the family, preparing meals, caring for the home) and Dad took care of the rest. He was a good provider with an unusual talent for business. After we were all out of the nest, Mother founded a school for retarded children and adults, which continues after 40 years.

Except for the new baby boy in our family, all the other children will be able to say “yes” when asked years from now if they remember when A.T. and Mammy sang “On the Old Fall River Line.” But they’ll remember much more.

He has taught us all the value of adopting good personal habits and codes for living.  He dresses today as if he were about to leave for work… clean shaven, white shirt and tie. He absorbed the Victorian-tinged tenets of his time and they have proven their worth. 

Good fathers are a huge blessing to a family, far more than they ever know. Their influence will reach beyond their immediate children, to their grandchildren, their great-grandchildren and further.  It’s important that a day has been set aside to think about that.

Fathers establish a line, of which they are the head for all time. It’s hopeful to remember that where there is no father, or no good father, a new line can begin.

Years ago I asked a friend, whose father owned a newspaper, “Who will run the paper if  your father dies?” He thought only a moment before saying, “He will.”  So it is with families.  

I don’t know what goes through my father’s mind when he sees us all together, but I know what goes through ours. It’s thankfulness that we’ve had him with us for so long. 

He has stayed the course for his family and in doing that, he has imposed order on all our lives. It makes one wonder if it might be wiser for modern children’s attention to be riveted, not so much on themselves, but on the sound and sure direction set by the head of their line.



468 ad