The whisper of cottonwoods

January 3, 2017

Debbie-ReynoldsWhen I heard the late Debbie Reynolds singing Tammy on the radio the other day, I felt something visceral in her wistful rendition, a heart-breaking nostalgia recalling a far more innocent era –an era we haven’t seen in a long while and, I fear, we won’t see again.

I hear the cottonwoods whisperin’ above
Tammy! Tammy! Tammy’s in love!
The old hootie owl hootie-hoo’s to the dove
Tammy! Tammy! Tammy’s in love!
Does my lover feel what I feel
When he comes near?
My heart beats so joyfully
You’d think that he could hear!
Wish I knew if he knew what I’m dreaming of!
Tammy! Tammy! Tammy’s in love!

Whippoorwill, whippoorwill, you and I know
Tammy! Tammy! Can’t let him go!
The breeze from the bayou keeps murmuring low
Tammy! Tammy! You love him so!
When the night is warm, soft and warm
I long for his charms!
I’d sing like a violin
If I were in his arms
Wish I knew if he knew what I’m dreaming of!
Tammy, Tammy, Tammy’s in love!
Tammy lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., JAY LIVINGSTON MUSIC, INC.
from Tammy and the Bachelor, 1957

When did we last see this kind of innocence? The kind that would make “the old hootie owl hootie-hoos” sound so…lyrical? Today’s contemporary music reflects our own world as much as Tammy reflected the world of the 1950s and really, it suffers in the comparison. For all its flaws, I’d almost have rather lived back then.

Debbie-ReynoldsEvil and virtue, an old story

Reynolds came to the scene at age 20 in 1952, a year after my birth, and for me, had always been there in the background, part of the old Hollywood studio system. Just seven years later she’d be divorced from Eddie Fisher, a four-year marriage that exploded in scandal when he had an affair with the beautiful Elizabeth Taylor. Debbie and Elizabeth: two more polar opposites could not be found. Black and white. Good and bad. Pure and…well, sinful.

My mother was a fan of Photoplay; that and other screen mags were always around the house. Hungry for more and more to read, even so young, I devoured them. (I also devoured the True Confessions she hid in a kitchen cabinet. But that’s another story.) So even at the young age of eight or nine, I remember the wholesome-looking Debbie and her two children left by a villainous Eddie Fisher who had been drawn in by the wiley vixen, Elizabeth Taylor. That’s how it played out in the screen mags.

Later, Reynolds married rich business man Harry Karl, whose gambling and terrible investments left her in dire financial straits. Work became a necessity.

For practically her entire life, she was one of the hardest working performers in show biz. The public never lost their view of her as wholesome, despite gossip about her salty language and ability to drink most men under the table. Someone told me that her alcohol rider for her public performances rivaled that of heavy metal bands.

But that’s not the Debbie Reynolds we knew and loved. Not the beloved star. Not the mother of an actress and writer who was also a true character.  But in a different way.

Innocence lost

So when she died a day after her daughter, Carrie Fisher, it was–well–shocking. After all, Debbie had always been there in the background of my life, representing that guileless, virtuous purity of the 1950s.  All that stuff that’s now gone with the wind, and my pangs of nostalgia when I heard the song, were pangs of, well, a kind of regret that those innocent days are gone and a keenly felt sadness that we’ll not see them again.

In the New York Times, Wesley Morris wrote incisively about Debbie (but not definitively) as a trouper, selling pragmatic romance and stardom. A show girl who was, at the same time, innocent and un-apologetically corny.

And, as Morris closed his piece, she was the good-natured subject of her daughter’s first big memoir.

Who can explain a mother-daughter bond so complex? I thought when I recalled Fisher’s book.

“There was a moving, human beauty in the extremity of that bond,” Morris wrote and her son, Todd Fisher underscored in a moving interview on 20/20. “They so couldn’t live without each other that they couldn’t die without each other, either.”

Here’s Reynolds, singing Tammy. Listen yourself and tell me you don’t feel a little pang of sadness at the innocence we’ve lost.




36 comments on “The whisper of cottonwoods
  1. Clara says:

    Her death is shocking, but not in a way. You often hear about married couples passing within a short time of each other. I think this is a similar type of things. Some souls belong together. I hope they’re reincarnated together as well.

  2. Haralee says:

    Yes I do feel a pang. I remember my Mother disparage Eddie Fischer as a fool, tossing away Debbie for that shallow Elizabeth Taylor for years.

  3. renee says:

    I thought the same thing when I heard the song the other day. I loved the Tammy movies and Debbie. It did make me think back to a simpler time in our lives. At least it seemed so…my guess is it really wasn’t, it was just that we were young and naive. I would love to have that feeling again. Now the world is a scary place and I fear for our future.Thanks for this Carol.

  4. Maggie says:

    There is indeed something heart wrenching about a nostalgic song from the past. It can conjure up bittersweet memories. It was also heart wrenching to hear of daughter and mother transitioning at the same time. As a mother and a daughter I can empathise with the exquisite bond between them.
    I like your post and look forward to more.

  5. Barbara says:

    It’s kind of ironic that we think of the 50’s this way, on one hand, and we fear we will be going back to them with the new administration, on the other. Given the choice, I’ll stay right here.

  6. I love the song Tammy. It brings me back to a simplier time. It is beyond beautiful and I absolutely loved your post. I am happy to have found your site today and look forward to more posts.

  7. Tina B says:

    Such a great loss for a mother and her daughter to pass. Both were so lovely, how hard must it be for the family.

  8. tara pittman says:

    It was a shock to see both of these ladies pass. I barely knew who they were though until the Sing in The Rain song was mentioned.

  9. lyndsey says:

    I love that song! and what a heart wrenching story I never knew! thank you so much for sharing my lovely xxx

  10. Amber Myers says:

    She was so fantastic. I loved her movies and she seemed like a genuine person. I was sorry to hear that she passed.

  11. Lauren says:

    Your post gave me chills. Such a well written piece too. I’m very saddened by the loss of Debbie Reynolds.



  12. This was so heartbreaking! I believe it was her grief…her heart was broken. This is not uncommon at all. Still so sad…May their family find peace in their time of grief.

  13. It was so sad and shocking. Such a tough situation. I can’t imagine. I loved both of them.

  14. Their relationship was bitter sweet however; unbreakable even in death. Much sadness and sorrow at the passing of both. I too yearn for the days gone by; watched much of the same as you in my youth. Feeling nostalgic now.

  15. I heard that Debbie Reynolds died after suffering a stroke and was said to have taken Carrie’s death very hard and told that she wanted to be with her.It was a very sad story and from here we can see the love and attachment of a mother to a daughter that was so deep even death cannot make them apart.

  16. Elizabeth O. says:

    It’s heartbreaking to have lost such a lovely, amazing, talented woman. But I guess she was more heartbroken when Carrie passed away that she couldn’t bear to face the world without her daughter by her side. Thanks for sharing the song, it’s so nice to hear Tammy again.

  17. Wren says:

    It is sad to see her go, I think I feel of Carrie Fisher as you do Debbie Reynolds. Always there and something you remember… and now gone. So sad to see them both gone, but glad they are together.

  18. Kim says:

    Rest in peace to such a beautiful, talented soul!

  19. Anne says:

    The song is so nostalgic. RIP to such a wonderful soul.

  20. Shirley says:

    Rest in peace to such a beautiful, talented soul. Debbie Reynoldsis one of the finest actress and so sad to see them both gone. Thanks for sharing this song.

  21. “I hear the cottonwoods whisperin’ above
    Tammy! Tammy! Tammy’s in love!” That’s the only lyrics that I can hear from my late grandma. I missed her a lot! thanks for sharing this song, i didnt know the title of this until i have listened to it!

  22. What a lovely tribute. I don’t know much about her, but liked learning more by reading your post. I’d like to go back and listen to her music too.

  23. Robin Rue says:

    This story is so heart wrenching of mother and daughter passing within such a short time of one another Your nostalgia with the song is so touching!

  24. Vera Sweeney says:

    This was two sad losses last week!!! It is amazing how much of a difference both these women made in so many lives!

  25. I wasn’t very familiar with Debbie Reynolds at all. I had heard of her, but as far as all of her accomplishments, I didn’t really know about them. She and her daughter, Carrie, will be sorely missed.


    I was seriously heart breaking to hear of her passing!!! She will definitely be missed, that’s for sure

  27. Maria Han says:

    Such a heartbreaking story, Rest in Peace to a talented soul.

  28. Karlyn Cruz says:

    It breaks my heart to see her go but I guess her heart was already broken in the first place. Her bond with her daughter is unbreakable. She’s truly an icon and there’s nothing that can replace her in this world. She was one of a kind.

  29. aziel morte says:

    Omg such a heart breaking story many people would miss her so much, I love the song.

  30. katrina gehman says:

    2016 was a crazy year for deaths. I think this year will be as well as that generation is getting older. it’s so sad

  31. MilicA says:

    Such a nice sond and great loss. Sometimes I wish I was lived in that era!

  32. Anosa says:

    I couldn’t agree more, my husband and I love listening to older music because as you say its just more innocent and light. Its lovely to have on in the car rather than some of the rubbish people sing about now days. Don’t get me wrong I still like modern music but some of it just doesn’t compare. Still in shock that she died a day after her daughter, such a tragic loss.

  33. iris says:

    Gone too soon. Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher were laid to rest today. Rest in peace and thanks for the great memories.

  34. Debbie Reynolds had such an amazing voice. It’s too sad that she passed away just days after her daughter’s passing. I can’t imagine how her family must be feeling.

  35. emma white says:

    I have heard of her but didn’t know anything about her but I do now thanks to you – I do love the oldie songs and have a soft spot for country music

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