Jonathan Chenette
Dean of the Faculty and Professor of Music
Vassar College
124 Raymond Av.
Poughkeepsie, NY 12604-0004

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Oh Millersville!

by Jonathan Chenette

Poems from the Book Oh Millersville!, by Fern Gravel (a.k.a. James Norman Hall)
Used with permission of Conrad Hall and Nancy Rutgers



1. The Journey to Come
2. Winter Music
3. Arithmetic Again
4. Iowa
5. Winter Complaints
6. The Electric Button
7. Places
8. The Suicide
9. Before the Looking Glass

Total Duration            19'
Spoken Intro from May 2008 performance by the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony, Jason Weinberger, Music Director
5:35, 7.7 MB
Maestro Weinberger's inroduction of Fern Gravel
0:25, 0.6 MB

MOVEMENT 1: The Journey to Come - play (4:31, 5.9 MB)

Millersville, oh, Millersville!
That is my home and I like it, but still
I wish that once in a while I could go
To cities like Omaha and St. Jo.
You get tired of living in such a small town
With so few streets for walking around.
I would like to visit some larger places
And see many thousands of different faces
Of people I do not know at all
That you cannot see in a town so small.
But I wouldn't want to go for good;
Just for a while, and then I would
Want to come back to Millersville,
Because I love my home and I hope I always will.

We lived here once inside and along
But I love trains better than everything;
I would rather travel than anything.
Next summer I am going nearly out of this state,
To Keokuk; I can hardly wait,
On the Mississippi river.  We will stay two days.
It will be the first time I have been such a ways
From Millersville.  I hate to come home
So soon, but I guess we will have to come.
The convention my father is going to
Is for only that long, and when it is through
He must come straight back to his business here,
And I'll have to stay home all the rest of the year.

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MOVEMENT 2: Winter Music - play (2:41, 3.4 MB)

Oh, it is wonderful in Millersville
On many a winter night,
When the ground is covered with snow
And the moon is shining so bright.

You can hear the sleigh-bells jingling
Everywhere around.
I don't think there could be
A more beautiful sound.

There are many foreign countries
Where it is summer all the time,
But I would rather live in Millersville
And hear the sleigh-bells chime.

I couldn't stand it in a country
Without a bobsled or a sleigh.
I would like to see those places
But not to go to stay.

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MOVEMENT 3: Arithmetic Again - play (:48, 1 MB)

Mr. Hendrixon said, “Fern, it doesn't matter at all
If maybe you should not pass next fall
Because of arithmetic.  Do not worry about it.
People can get along without it.
You are good in reading and spelling and geography,
And these are the important ones, you see.
Grammar is very important too.
I wouldn't bother about arithmetic if I was you.”

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MOVEMENT 4: Iowa - play (1:53, 2.1 MB)

Of all the different states in our country so grand
Iowa is the best, and that is my land.
It raises more corn than any other state
And we ship thousands of hogs and cattle to Chicago by freight.
We have only one poet so far as I know,
Mr. Beyers, who wrote some songs a long time ago.
He was very famous in the Civil War.
“Marching Through Georgia” was one. 
He wrote many more.
I am writing another kind of poetry,
And some of my poems are beautiful to me.
I hope, some day, people will travel
To see the home of the poetess, Fern Gravel,
And then I'll remember the day I wrote this verse
About Iowa, my state, and the famous Mr. Beyers.

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MOVEMENT 5: Winter Complaints - play (2:10, 1.1 MB)

The worst thing in Iowa
Is the awful cold and snow.
Yesterday the thermometer
Was twenty-two below.

Even right by the stove
You could see your breath,
And if you went out doors
You nearly froze to death.

If you don't wrap up warm
On such cold winter days
You are nearly sure
To freeze your hands and face.

Sometimes in school
The children have to sit
In their overcoats, the stove
Doesn't seem to help a bit.

Your lips get all chapped
And you have cold-sores.
The wind goes right through
The storm windows and storm doors.

On the worst winter nights
The only thing you can do
Is to go right to bed
When your supper is through.

I love Iowa more
Than I could any other state,
But winter is a thing
I sometimes almost hate.

It lasts so long,
And you think it never will go.
But it isn't always so cold
As twenty-two below.

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MOVEMENT 6: The Electric Button - play (2:50, 1.4 MB)

In the city of Des Moines
There are street-cars everywhere,
And I went with my father and mother
To the State Agricultural Fair.

We were gone two days
And slept one night at the Kirkwood hotel;
And if you wanted anything
You pressed the electric bell.

My father said, “Fern, just push this button
And the bell-boy will come, you see.”
And sure enough, he came in a minute
And my father said, “Bring some cigars to me.”

Our room was on the fourth floor,
And in the office far below
There was a glass case with many numbers
Of the hotel rooms, you know.

And if anyone in the night
Woke up from their slumber
And wanted anything,
An arrow showed the number

Of the room they were in
Where the button was pressed.
I called the bell-boy several times
And he called me a pest.

He said, “If you do that again
I will tell your father.
Don't you think I have enough to do
Without all this extra bother?”

But I really could not help it.
It seemed wonderful to call
Someone far below me
By pressing a button on the wall.

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MOVEMENT 7: Places - play (20, 208 KB)

One of the places that I have not seen
Is the beautiful city of Muscatine;
But some day I am going to go,
and also to Kansas City and St. Joe,
Missouri, and Omaha, Nebraska.
But the longest journey I expect to make
Will be to Alaska.

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MOVEMENT 8: The Suicide - play (1:30, 881 KB)

There are so many things to write,
I don't have the time.
Now I will tell about
The suicide crime.

Mr. Reasoner was a farmer
Who lived not far from here.
His wife was much younger
And they had two children dear.

But many times his wife would go
To Des Moines to stay;
And Mr. Reasoner never knew
How long she would be away.

She didn't have any relations
Living in that place
And for her to go so often
People thought was a disgrace.

She was gone for a whole week
Just before Thanksgiving,
And when she came back
Her husband wasn't living.

He took their two children
To stay at a neighbor's farm.
He had done this before
So it caused no alarm.

But two days afterward
The other farmer went there
And found Mr. Reasoner in the barn
Hanging in the air.

He hung himself with a halter
Because he was sorry he had got married.
And when Mrs. Reasoner came home
Her husband was dead and buried.

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MOVEMENT 9: Before the Looking Glass - play (4:31, 5.9 MB)

I almost never look at myself
Except when I am brushing my hair.
I know, of course, that I am not pretty
But I do not really care.

I am not going to get married;
I expect to travel,
And people will come to hear the lectures
Of the famous Fern Gravel.

That is how I will make my living;
I will not have any special home.
I will live in hotels in the different cities
Where only my intimate friends can come.

And I will be the authoress
Of many many books.
If I am famous for my lectures and poetry
It won't matter so much about my looks.

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created by Jonathan Chenette,11/5/03
last modified, 04/19/11