American Life Within Living Memory
We’ve been talking a lot about income inequality, both in America and between the developed and developing world, of late. But it’s worth reminding ourselves, in a country where so many are trying to figure out the best way to keep excess fat off our bodies, how recently abject poverty was widespread here. Norman Geras brought this to mind by his posting of the lyrics of “Take an Old Cold ‘Tater (And Wait)”, the debut single from Little Jimmy Dickens.
When I was a little boy around the table at home
I remember very well when company would come
I would have to be right still until the whole crowd ate
My Mama always said to me ‘Jim take a tater and wait.’
Now ‘taters never did taste good with chicken on the plate
But I had to eat ’em just the same
That is why I look so bad and have these puny ways
Because I always had to take an old cold ‘tater and wait.
And then the preachers they would come to stay a while with us
I would have to slip around and raise a little fuss
In fear that I would spill the beans or break the china plate
My Mama always said to me, ‘Jim, take a ‘tater and wait.’
Well, I thought that I’d starve to death before my time would come
All that chicken they would eat and just leave me the bun
The feet and neck were all that’s left upon the china plate
It makes you pretty darn weak to take an old cold ‘tater and wait.
The song hit #7 on the country charts in 1949. Dickens, still a regular at the Grand Old Opry, was born December 20, 1920 in Bold, West Virginia and was fortunate enough to attend West Virginia University (although he dropped out to pursue his Hall of Fame musical career). So, it’s likely that many of Dickens’ playmates just took the old, cold ‘tater and ate it, without the prospect of some chicken.