The Johnny Mercer lyric that constitutes my title has a deeper meaning for me than his inspiration, the Savannah River. I was recently reminded of the song in an essay, written by Catholic columnist, Peggy Noonan, for the Wall Street Journal.
Entitled An American Song, an American Crisis, her piece was more about the sorry state of American society with its home grown terrorism, its armed violence and random killings. And perhaps between the lines, one might feel her loss of faith in experiencing a peaceful America in her lifetime. Her thoughts turn almost to a state of panic as she urges us to just do something, whether or not it may work or not. The frequent violence has sent her into a deep, dark funk that even songs like Moon River only remind her of an America that was no more.
To her, Mercer’s Moon River represented the nostalgic state of an America on the move, especially among its immigrants. As she writes, the song comports with my sense of America as a vast place settled by people from somewhere else, most of whom were on a losing strain—no money, no prospects. As visualized in Moon River, they changed that by moving West or as Mercer put it …I’m crossing in style.
Noonan also sees Moon River as a classic song of yearning and loneliness. Though I wasn’t aware of it until I read her piece, right after college, the song perfectly underscored my Biblical loneliness and my yearning for God to send me my Eve.
When I finally found her in Charleston, Missouri, Moon River quickly became the first of a trio of Andy William’s hits in the sixties that served as our songs for Judy and me in 1966, just before our August wedding. The Mercer hit was a perfect fit with William’s Dear Heart and Almost There. They collectively provided the human energy and feelings that got us to cross the river that separated single people from a married couple and over 50 years of marriage.
Judy and I visited Mercer’s hometown and his river on two occasions. The first was many years ago as part of a Tauck Tour that included Charleston, South Carolina as well. I remember our arrival night in March and the damp afternoon of touring the city. It was St. Patrick’s Day and the city, despite the rain, was festooned with green and hordes of visitors, including three of New York City’s finest.
In 2016, for some inexplicable reason, Judy wanted to revisit both of those cities.
Since we usually vacationed with her sister and husband, we had to go in July. That particular Summer, it was beastly hot, and my wife had not been feeling well as it was. I believe the seeds of her October demise were sown during those torrid days in the South.
Shortly after her death, the yearning and the loneliness returned with a vengeance. Ten months after Judy died, after a special trip to the statue of the Blessed Mother in the nearby Carmelite Monastery, I met my Anna. From that moment on, the native Sicilian became the light of my second life. We were married five months later on the Feast of the Epiphany.
While Anna and I never had a song or songs like Judy and me, unless you count Volare, which is the only popular Italian song I knew, surprisingly there was a Moon River connection.
During our courtship, we took a late October trip to Savannah with her youngest child, Grace, and her husband, Bill. They lived in suburban Atlanta. This time, we all took a peaceful boat ride to experience the Moon River in daylight regrettably.
On a significant side note, Savannah was also the birthplace of one of Catholicism’s most brilliant writers, the Christian Realist, Flannery O’Connor, who died of Lupus in 1964 at the age of 39. During that exhausting July trip, I left Judy and her family and walked several blocks in the wet heat as sort of a one-man pilgrimage to find the childhood home of this saintly woman at 207 East Charlton St.
Inspired by her imaginative work, I now see the moon over the Savannah River as God’s nightlight for me and my two wives. The river is a heavenly sign that connects all three of us in a mysterious union that has constituted and unified all the joys of my life. And to fall back on Johnny Mercer lyrics a bit, we’re all after the same rainbow’s end…Moon River and me, which for us ends happily in Heaven for the three of us I pray.