May Laura entered the world and like most babies knew only enough to scream for some food, and maybe a bit of heat. What she didn’t know–wouldn’t realize for some time–was that she was swaddled immediately by family. Six older siblings would plant their first kisses; parents of her parents would come coo a lullaby. Aunts and uncles and cousins would bring gifts and greetings as the the muddy roads permitted. May Laura Stevenson, born April 29, 1874, would grow up along the Monongahela River, just outside the bustling town of Greensboro surrounded by her kin, and by the memories of those who had lived along those banks for decades. Ellis and Mary Jones Stevenson came from settler stock, and among their ancestors were distillers and fullers, iron furnace operators and glass blowers, hotel owners and farmers. Phillips, Gregg, Stevenson, Eberhart, Jones, Rhodes–all families that had shaped the life along the Monongahela since 1800. Baby May would find great comfort in that sense of place, in that network of love. Life would hold some very hard lessons.
In 1946 the songwriting team of Charles Tobias and Nat Simon captured the hearts, and ears, of a post-war audience with their tune, The Old Lamp-Lighter. Band leader Sammy Kaye recorded the song, featuring vocals by Billy Williams, and the haunting melody hit the Billboard Best Sellers List by November. The Old Lamp-Lighter stayed on the charts for fourteen weeks, peaking at #1. Among Sammy and His Orchestra‘s many fans was fourteen year old Marilyn Minor, a young pianist and talented vocalist living in rural Greene County, Pennsylvania. Every Friday she traveled into nearby Waynesburg, to stay overnight with her Grandmother May Minor for her Saturday piano lesson. I imagine this young teen sitting at the bench, determined to parse out the arrangement’s rhythm of dotted eighth and sixteenth notes. And I wonder if her father, Donald, sang along, “He made the night a little brighter wherever he would go…”