"Golden Years"

© 1988 Lee Ruth


Photo: Sam Griffin

Cathy Barton &
Dave Para

Cathy Barton - Vocal & Guitar

Dave Para - Vocal & Guitar

  MP3 Sample of Lee's Original


Song Lyrics:
Lee's Lyrics:
They were married on Thanksgiving Day in 1938.
Though times were hard and war was near, their life together would not wait.
And it took them an even dozen years to fill the house with kids.
If they ever had regrets, they kept them hid.

Golden years, golden years,
After fifty years, they're still romancing, still go dancing,
Dance the night away.
Golden years golden years
What a blessing to be in love for fifty golden years.

Hard work and overtime, Mom did as much as Dad
To keep the house in order and the kids all clothed and fed.
And then one day they looked around, the kids were grown and gone.
It was their turn to do some moving on.

From Texas to Alaska, they heard the highway's call.
And it's northward in the springtime and southward in the fall.
And I'm always glad to see them every time they're passing through
On their way from someplace old to someplace new.

Well, I bet it's been ten thousand days I've enjoyed their company,
And it's strange to think that it's come down to one, or two or three,
Or five, or ten, or twenty times I'll see them on this earth.
So, here's a song to thank them for my birth.

They were married on Thanksgiving Day in 1938
Though the times were hard and war was near, their life together would not wait
And it took an even dozen years to fill the house with kids
And if they ever had regrets they kept them hid

Golden years, golden years
After fifty years they're still romancing, still go dancing
Dance the night away
Golden years, golden years
What a blessing to be in love for fifty golden years

Hard work and overtime, Mom did as much as Dad
To put their house in order, and keep us clothed and fed
Then one day they looked around, the kids were grown and gone
It was their turn to do some movin' on


From Texas to Alaska they heard the highway's call
Northward in the springtime and southward in the fall
And I'm always glad to see them when they are passing through
On their way from some place old to some place new


Now I bet there's been ten thousand days I've enjoyed their company
And it's strange to think it's down to the last one, or two, or three
Or five, or ten, or twenty times I'll see them on this earth
So here's a song to thank them for my birth

(repeat last line)

Artists on the Song:
Lee on the Song:
Though we like Lee's writing a lot, most of the songs we have learned from him are those by other people, from Jerry Reed to Chuck Berry. He wrote this song for his parents' 50th anniversary in 1988. Dave rewrote some of the lyrics for his parents' anniversary two years later, but always sings Lee's original words, remembering the affection for his music that Lee communicates so well when he plays. Lee incorporates strains of Perry Como's hit "Catch a Falling Star" (by Paul Vance and Lee Pockrissa), a family favorite. Somehow, we misheard it for "Sugar Time" (by Charlie Phillips and Odia Echols) from the McGuire Sisters, also in the same year of 1958, a favorite from our childhoods.

It was November 1988, and preparations were underway--in California, where my sisters lived, and in way-south Texas, where my parents lived--to throw a gala party to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary: the party to be held in Texas at Thanksgiving (the seventh time since 1938 that their anniversary had landed on a Thursday). Meanwhile in Missouri, we were hunkered in for the winter--with a six-month-old baby, the older kids in school, a fire to tend in an old house heated only with wood, no reliable transportation, not enough money to make the trip to Texas, not even a prospect of buying a suitable anniversary gift for the auspicious occasion. In short, we were feeling a bit outside the loop and deprived of the opportunity to participate and lend our hand to the festivities. About a week before Thanksgiving, the thought crossed my mind that perhaps I could write a song for my folks--an anniversary song I could record at home and send off on a cassette to arrive in time for the party. Likely it wouldn't be all that great a song, but it would be personal, it would be from me, and from the heart, and that should be sufficient to warm their hearts and compensate some for our absence.

I sat down of an evening, with my guitar and a spiral notebook, and began to try to put a song together. Several different threads of thought and feeling I'd been holding in my mind and heart began to weave themselves into words and a melody emerged along with them, and in almost no time, there was "Golden Years." I looked at it on paper, sang it through several times, almost couldn't get through it without breaking out crying as it was such an emotional experience to first be singing it. I rarely have any critical perspective on my own songs; they just are what they are and I'm stuck with them, for better or worse, but I felt almost immediately that it was as good a song as any I had previously written. Time-wise we were down to the wire--I called my oldest daughter, Jennifer, who lived twelve miles away in Wooldridge, told her about the song, and we made a plan for her to come over at first opportunity and sing harmony with me and attempt to record it. She did, we read the written-out words off a music stand (no time to learn it by heart), sang through it a couple of times, and recorded a take--not perfect, but good enough for family, we decided. I made a cassette copy of it, put it in the mail the next day, and it arrived in Texas the day of the party. Everybody loved the song, and we were told it was the next best thing to having us there. Well, we would still rather have been there, but "Golden Years," of all the songs I've written, is the one that has most fully found a life of its own. At my parents' request, I have rewritten it slightly with altered geography to fit the life-circumstances of friends of theirs who were celebrating their own golden anniversary. On two occasions, friends of mine rewrote the song to better fit and honor the lives of their own parents, and on another occasion a woman from Arkansas had me record a guitar-accompaniment-only version of the song so she could sing it to her parents. Thanks to Cathy and Dave for recording, for the second time, their beautiful rendition of "Golden Years."

Artists on Lee Ruth:
Lee on the Artists:
Cathy and I are among the scores of Lee Ruth's students over the many years. Cathy owes some of her first banjo chords and picking styles to him, and she keeps vivid memories of lessons with him in the basement of his parents' house. We often marvel at Lee's wide musical knowledge as well as his own musical invention, and his warm honesty endears him to us. Lee has a special sense of timing that enables him to come up with just the right song at a given time. We can always learn something from Lee.

Cathy must have been around thirteen years old when she took some banjo lessons from me, and I'm thinking that the year must have been around 1970. I guess I'm guilty of getting her started on playing banjos and guitars and such. She was a good student, and it was only a few years later (in 1975, I think) that I next saw her--as a young woman, playing banjo very vigorously as part of a group of young old-timey musicians at the Paquin Street Café in Columbia; 'twas, as I recall, a KOPN benefit. From that day on, she has been fully engaged in the central Missouri folk music scene, becoming a regular on the scene at the Chez Coffeehouse, where I was a bit of an irregular regular. She met Dave there, whenever it was that he came to Columbia and started hanging out at the Chez.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank them for providing me the chance to do what may be the "folkiest" thing on my resume, which was to sleep in Jimmy Driftwood's barn. The genesis of this took place a year or so earlier at the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kansas. Jimmy Driftwood was one of the performers at Winfield, and he concluded his performance by inviting the audience to come and visit him at Timbo, Arkansas, and he further offered us the opportunity to sleep in his barn. It must have been a year or two later, April of 1977 or 1978, and I had hitch-hiked down to Mountain View, Arkansas, for the Arkansas Folk Festival--yet another spring when the old van hadn't recovered from the winter in time for me to take it on the road. (It might have also been the year that I got a ride with two young men who had a cardboard box with rattlesnakes in it right next to me on the back seat. The box did have a lid, but I had my fingers crossed for the entire forty- or fifty-mile ride that they wouldn't run off the road and roll the car.)

I ran into Cathy and Dave in Mountain View. By then, they were a couple, in life and onstage, and they invited me to come with them after the evening concert to an all-night pickin' and singin' party at Jimmy Driftwood's house. So I tagged along with them, had a great musical time, and around 3 or 4 in the morning headed out the door and found myself a soft stretch of straw in Jimmy Driftwood's barn, laid out my sleeping bag, and proceeded to get a few hours of much-needed shuteye. After the festival, they were kind enough to give me my first ride back toward home, all the way out of Arkansas (where I always had a hard time getting a ride) and a good ways into Missouri.

It was in 1975 or 1976 that I met Dave, at the Chez in Columbia. He was a regular player there and for a goodly period of time a resident, and already a good guitar player and singer. In those days the Chez was swarming with fiddlers, banjo players, guitar pickers and strummers, singers, songwriters, etc., and various combinations of the above-mentioned. I was quite a bit older than most of the people on that scene, but I found it a heady and invigorating place to float in and out of. Got to be friends with Dave, and though as a guitarist he was well past the point where he was in need of my course of instruction, on occasion there was some specific song or riff or lick or even musical genre that I was able to help him find a way into. I'll wrap this up by saying that it has been a pleasure through the years to know Cathy and Dave, and to watch them find, not stardom, but true success as folk musicians, finding a network of musical companions and audiences close to home as well as across the country and beyond, and always expanding their musical skills and insight into the very heart of traditional folk music and tradition-based contemporary folk music. And thanks for not leaving us behind.

Producer's Notes:
Recording Credits:
Cathy and Dave are among the few artists on this tribute who did not need to learn their selected song. They have been playing "Golden Years" for a long time. They arrived at the studio after a very long day, and driving back from Kansas City, and then knocked out two keeper takes that made it hard for me to decide which one to choose. The takes varied by less than half a second, which is pretty amazing on a song that is over five minutes in length. I can see Cathy and Dave playing this song at their own fiftieth wedding anniversary some day in the future, their voices in tuned harmony with smiles on their faces and a glint in their eyes.

Recorded at Pete Szkolka's Studio

Record Date: 2/27/03

Mixed: 1/9/04

Mixed by Pete Szkolka and Steve Donofrio with assistance from Sam Griffin


The Project
Songs & Artists
Order Form
News & Reviews