Legendary songwriter Jimmy Webb wrote “If These Walls Could Speak”. He also wrote “By The Time I Get to Phoenix”, “Wichita Lineman”, and “MacArthur Park”, among many others. It’s been recorded by him, Glen Campbell, Nanci Griffith, Shawn Colvin, and (of course) Amy Grant.
Amy featured it on her 1988 Album “Lead Me On”.
To me, “If These Walls Could Speak” is about a beloved place. It might be the home you grew up in, a church, a school, theater, or gym. It’s wherever you have special memories. I think of my grandparent’s home on a farm in Iowa. I wonder what those walls would say.
Maybe something like this…
I welcomed a newly married couple in September of 1921. Times were different then. There were no outlets for electricity, light switches, or air-conditioners in my window. I recall three children growing up, watching them play, study, and sit around the radio in my dining room. I heard the faint cries from a mother whose first-born and only son went into the Navy during World War II. After he left, she hung a service flag with a blue star in my window. I held it there until he returned home.
Years later, I felt the company of children visiting the couple. Grandpa and Grandma would stand at my front door on the porch, excited to greet them for every visit. They spent many days outside my walls playing catch, collecting eggs, and going to the barn in the morning to separate the fresh milk. The kitchen always smelled like something fabulous was baking, and there was always something sweet to eat with afternoon coffee. Many days it was the aroma of fried dough, cinnamon rolls, Ostkaka, and apple pies from the apples they had picked in the yard. While the pies baked, I would look over their shoulders as they played Rummy, or enjoyed an episode of the Lawrence Welk Show. Through my windows, I could watch the children playing in the yard around the Sweet Peas on the fence, and pumping water at the well to drink out of the old tin cup that hung on its hook.
When it was time for the children to leave, they would take home a hug and a kiss, and either a plate of cinnamon rolls, or a container of fresh homemade butter.
At Christmas time, my windows were illuminated with colorful candles, and the living room carried the scent of the live Christmas tree into the kitchen where it was met with the aroma of Lutefisk, Swedish meatballs, bologna, and sugar cookies cut into the shape of reindeer with one Red Hot candy for an eye. The piano in the dining room was surrounded by caroling cousins until it was time to eat. Everyone would gather in the kitchen, stand in a circle, and bow their heads as Grandpa would give the blessing of the food in Swedish. After dinner, everyone gathered in the living room. The TV went off, presents were passed out, and the children gathered under the tree for the annual photo. I saw those tiny children grow every year until they were adults, and no longer able to sit “under” the tree. When their Christmas Eve celebrations came to a close, I watched with a smile at the yearly ritual of the never-ending “goodbye”. While the men started the cars to warm them, there was a hugging scene going on inside that gave me such joy.
I was proud they chose to spend the holidays and special occasions with me. I smelled popcorn balls on Halloween and chicken dinner on Sunday. I saw all of the little details, too. There was a candy dish that never went empty, the Omaha World-Herald newspaper that was read cover to cover, and a sewing machine that was kept busy making doll clothes.
There were nights of card parties, and fun get-togethers. And, there were days of sadness. One evening in June, every person in the house cried tears of sorrow after a tractor rolled on two members of my family. There were all emotions of life. Happy and sad, I saw it all. I felt a little helpless when my lady couldn’t remember things like she used to. I saw the pain in her husband’s and children’s eyes as they saw her slipping away. I wanted to remind her of everything I had witnessed in all the years they had spent with me. I was the one who had protected them from the storms, snow, and extreme heat.
I held their photographs, artwork featuring teams of horses, and blue collector plates. I knew where they kept the chest of toys, the box of photos, and the “View Master” with reels from the Grand Canyon, and other National Parks.
I was “family”, and I wanted to help her. But I couldn’t. And the couple had to move where she could get more help. So I sat lonely for a very long time. Christmas came and went, and the live tree never saw the inside of the living room again. The piano was sitting here, but no one played it. One day I saw some of my family come back, and I thought they would be staying. But they had work to do. They shared stories, shed some tears, and said, “Goodbye”.
Years later, I heard a strange voice. There were people and machines here I didn’t recognize. After hearing the roar of the machines for what seemed like hours, I felt something strange. I started to shake, and I felt unstable. Something was hitting me, and trying to move me off of the foundation I had stood so proud on for over 90 years. The machines kept pushing at my walls. The walls that held the photos of their grandchildren, and kept out the rain. The corner broke away that was reserved for the Christmas tree. The window that held the service star was shattered.
I was falling down. I was dying. I knew my family wouldn’t do this to me, but I didn’t understand why this was another person’s idea of progress. The last thing I remember is lying in a pile, and feeling the piano next to me. The piano that my children had sung around, and my lady would play.
The light from the sky was shrinking, and I felt the earth falling over me. I didn’t know what to do, but I did hear a very comforting and familiar sound. As the dirt fell over the keys of the piano, the rocks and debris hit them in a way that almost sounded like music.
The last sound I heard before I went to lay in darkness forever, was the first line of “Silent Night”.
And then, all was calm.
The house is gone now, but before it was destroyed, I took my kids there, and snapped this photo of them.
I wish they could have seen it the way I remember it. But I’m grateful they were able to go to this very special place where their great-grandparents, Papa and his sisters had lived.
My children walked in the footsteps of people who value a family home more than they worship the profits from the ground it sits on.
The walls may have been torn down, but they still speak to the people who appreciated the time they spent within them.
Our rendition of “If These Walls Could Speak” was arranged by the amazing Wally Minko, who also plays the Rhodes piano, bells, and synthesizer with extraordinary tenderness. Tom Evans adds a gorgeous tenor sax solo that beautifully accentuates the emotion behind the sentimental feelings we have for those places we can visit only in our minds.
It’s been said this song “stirs the most deeply buried longings of the heart, awakening an ache for lost things”. See if you agree as you take yourself back to the coziest place you remember being happy in.
Can you imagine it THOSE walls could speak?
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