Sometimes the best way to tell a story, a really strange story, is with a song. So here’s the story of an undead husband, a husband on the run and a wife named Lydia.
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Hi, I’m AJ Jacobs. And this is Twice Removed, the show that proves we are, in fact, one big family. Well, sort of. Our next episode comes out later this week… it’s about comedian and actor and star of Broad City, Abbi Jacobson. But in the meantime, I wanted to play you a little bonus story that was left over from our last episode, about Nazanin Rafsanjani….
See, the tools we use to find and research stories on Twice Removed are often analytical. They come from the world of academia and science. We use DNA and genealogical records.
But, sometimes those tools are inadequate. There are cultures and people whose stories you can’t tell by just finding birth records or newspaper clippings because… often times… those things didn’t exist. One thing that does exist, however… is Oral Tradition.
Oral tradition often comes in the form of poetry and music. People have used songs and poems to tell important stories from the very start. They’re easy to remember and to pass along. They’re catchy. One example of this is the American folk song. There are songs written about George Washington’s funeral in the 1790s. Stories of the Underground Railroad and slave revolts have been passed down through music. Woody Guthrie wrote songs about big historical achievements like the building of the Columbia River Dam. One of the top five songs about hydro electric engineering.
So with that in mind… here’s a story … and a little something extra… from the family of Nazanin Rafsanjani….
Looking back our family tree now… We get to a couple named Lydia and Barnabas Cooke. They were married in the early 1800s. Barnabas was a war of 1812 veteran.
Now, when Lydia met Barnabus, she was a widow. She told him her first husband was lost at sea… literally. This was a time when people were not infrequently lost at sea. But a few years into the marriage, Barnabus notices Lydia sneaking off into the woods at night. One night, he follows her outside… and comes to find out… Lydia’s first husband… is very much alive!
Barnabus up and leaves, moves to West Virginia. Then, 30 years later, another twist. He gets a letter in the mail. Turns out, Lydia is now claiming Barnabas is dead, and trying to claim his War of 1812 pension.
Now this story… it’s the stuff of old folk songs. There’s un-dead men… a sneaky lady. So we asked one of our favorite bands, Lowland Hum, to help us out… to turn the ballad of Lydia and Barnabus into a song. This is their take on the story of your relatives…
Fair Lydia lost her love to the sea
Thrown overboard at the whim of a storm
Though the account was cloudy
Barnabas Cooke, as good as a man can be
Married our widow fair
Built the homestead at the edge of the trees
Don’t you love a quiet house
Content by the fire and your quiet spouse?
Books in the evening while she goes out walking
Returning with arms full
Aster and sweet fern, elder and blue berry, boneset, marsh marigold
Late one night Barnabas woke to find
His bed cold and empty
The high moon big-bellied
He followed a lantern’s glow
To the heart of the wood where sweet Lydia lay in the arms of a man unknown
Was it a ghost or could this be
The first blush of Lydia’s youth who had slept on the floor of a hungry sea
Run, good man, run, as far as you can flee
At night by the blaze of a fire you will gaze ’til the heat forces you to sleep
Thirty years had passed when the letter found our man
Lydia’s wearing black, mourning her Barnabas
Pity the widowed bride
His veteran’s pension will pay her rent and afford her a modest life
Run, good man, run. Carry yourself to the judge,
Tell him the truth that the wife of your youth claims you dead but you are alive.
Just like her sailor and how many other men
Drawn by her siren eyes
Sleep good man sleep
You’re finally out of her reach
Slouch by the fireside
Walled in on left and right
Books and the embers bright
Lydia visits in dreams soft and distant like haze on the morning
We’ll be back with our mystery relative, right after this break.