There aren't that many songs that I know by heart. And under pressure, I can usually recall only one or two. Yesterday, on our 10-hour drive, I could bring to mind only one: Rocky Raccoon. So, I sang it. And the boys wanted to hear it over and over and over again. Ten hours is a long time, so other topics came up between singings, but nonetheless there was plenty of opportunity to examine the story closely:
"Way down in the black-mining hills of Dakota there lived a young boy named Rocky Raccoon..."
F: Is he a raccoon?
W: I think he's a boy.
T: When I was a kid, I thought he was a boy raccoon.
"...and one day his woman run off with another guy. Hit young Rocky in the eye. Rocky didn't like that, said, 'I'ma get that boy."
W: I thought he said, 'I don't get that boy,' like, why would somebody hit me in the eye?
"So one day he walked into town, booked himself a room in the local saloon. Rocky Raccoon checked into his room only to find Gideon's Bible."
W: What's a Bible?
T: It's a book that Christians use to help them learn how to be good people. Some Christians think everything in the Bible is true and they have to follow it exactly. Other Christians, and lots of other people, think that the Bible has some good stories in it that might be helpful, but also some really terrible ideas. But anyway, it's a story book that's important to Christian people and that other people read, too.
"Rocky had come equipped with a gun to shoot off the legs of his rival."
W: What's a rival?
T: It's a person who you are competing with to get the same thing. In this case, they both want the attention of the girl, and they don't want the other one to have it. It's a little bit like enemies, but not always with anger.
"His rival it seems had broken his dreams by stealing the girl of his fancy."
F: What's fancy?
T: Fancy can mean something very fine and nice, like sparkly silver bowls or soft, thick carpet. But here, fancy means likes. So, The girl of his fancy is a girl who he likes a lot, who he wants to be friends with.
"Her name was McGill, but she called herself Lil, and everyone knew her as Nancy. Well she and her man, who called himself Dan..."
F: Is Dan a raccoon?
T: If Rocky's a raccoon, then Dan probably is, too.
"...were in the next room at the hoedown. Rocky bust in, and grinning a grin, said 'Danny boy, this is a showdown."
(That's Woody's favorite line in the song. In the rearview mirror, I could look back and see him mouthing it quietly but with great feeling.)
"But Danny was hot, and he drew first and shot. And Rocky collapsed in the corner."
F: Did he die?
W: No, he just fell down.
F: Is Dan a bad guy?
T: Well, it's hard to say. In this case, he was defending himself against Rocky who was trying to shoot him.
W: But he did punch Rocky already.
T: Yes, he did.
F: Does Nancy defend herself?
T: That part's not in the song, but it seems like she didn't get the chance to.
"Well the doctor came in, stinking of gin, and proceeded to lie on the table."
F: What is stinking of gin?
T: That means he drank too much alcohol. People can smell it on his breath. He's drunk.
W: Why does he lie on the table?
T: When people are drunk, they do weird things. Drinking too much is a little bit like poisoning your body. Your brain and your body start acting funny. People can make weird--sometimes bad--decisions. In this instance, doctors usually put the hurt or sick person on the table to be able to examine them. But this doctor laid down on the table himself, so he's not doing his job.
"He said, 'Rocky, you met your match.' Rocky said, 'Doc, it's only a scratch. And I'll get better, I'll get better Doc, as soon as I am able. So Rocky Racoon fell back in his room only to find Giddeon's Bible."
W: Why do they say, 'fell back'?
T: That sometimes means retreat, to pull back forces when you know you're getting beat. But in this case, too, Rocky is probably stumbling around some because he's still hurt, so you get the picture in your mind of Rocky being in really bad shape when you hear 'fell back.'
"Giddeon check out, and he left in no doubt to help with good Rocky's revival. Ah!"
Looking back at the topics that came up, I wondered at the wisdom of going with this ballad. But, it was a safe and somewhat distanced way to discuss topics that might have been very difficult under other circumstances. Our discussion was natural, and surprisingly positive, given the darkness of the story. (Edited to add: Still, I wish I would have been more contextual and less good/bad about the Bible. I'm going to try and have a better answer for that one next time.) It was neat that they were so taken in with the genre. Maybe "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" next, or maybe something much older, medieval ballads, perhaps. Or maybe, on the five hours that remain of our journey, Rocky et al. will appear yet again, with more questions and connections to these oddly charismatic characters...
My son Woody turned six in November of 2011. That would have been the kindergarten year for most kids, 180 days that mark the beginning of the school career. But Woody did his learning in the big, wide, beautiful world, without school being a part of it.
I'm Teresa Honey, and I kept this blog to document this time in my son's life, to share pictures and stories with far-away friends and relatives, and to add ours to the many stories of families living rich, engaging, loving lives with learning happening all the time and in many forms, totally inseparable from every other part of being human.
Here you'll find 180 or so learning moments recorded from August, 2011 to April, 2012 in the life of a 5-turned-6-year-old radically unschooled kid.