An old friend stopped by to visit the other day. He appeared at my front door without warning, taking me back almost fifty years to the moment we first met. He is still quite the singer. His stride is supremely confident. Most annoyingly, he finds unqualified joy in every blasted thing he sees and hears. My friend is, after all, The Happy Wanderer.
If you’ve encountered The Happy Wanderer at some time in your life, you know exactly who I’m talking about. He is Mr. “Val-deri, Val-dera”. Those words alone should revive the sing-song tune fried into most brains since childhood. “The Happy Wanderer” could’ve been quarantined within Germany were it not for its award-winning performance by the Oberkirchen Children’s Choir (and subsequent radio broadcast by the BBC), in 1953. Then, Mr. Wanderer went worldwide-viral and there was no turning back ever.
According to his lyrics, The Happy Wanderer (we’ll just call him “Hap”) takes hikes into the mountains and alongside streams, his hat on his head; his knapsack on his back. Hap points out blackbirds and skylarks along the way, and his journey brings him unbridled giddy happiness and laughter (as in, “Val-deri, Val-der-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha…”). Our boy smiles the entire time and boldly invites YOU to join in the singing. In his final verse, Hap wants to wander (and sing) until the day he dies. That’s a little extreme for a children’s song, don’t you think?
Speaking of childhood, Hap and I first met way back then. He entered the “UK Singles Chart” on January 22, 1954, eight-years-to-the-day before I was born. Eight years after I was born, I henpecked Hap’s tune as I learned to play the piano. “Chopsticks”, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”, and “The Happy Wanderer” were almost assuredly the first three pieces I ever memorized.
Hap wandered into my life again in the Boy Scouts. I recall a lot of singing on weekend hikes (not sure why – who’d be happy backpacking forty pounds towards some distant campsite?) Besides “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt” and “The Ants Go Marching…”, we Scouts unabashedly sang “The Happy Wanderer” through mountains and alongside streams. Hap’s tune even made the official list of “Scout songs” (see here.)
I thought I was done with Hap years ago (it took me decades to forget his slaphappy song), but recently he resurfaced. First, on a cruise down Germany’s Rhine River, at an outdoor dinner in the little town of Rüdesheim. I was volunteered by my fellow travelers to play with the band. I manned a big oom-pah-pah drum while another poor soul clanged the cymbals. A band member played the clarinet. And our one and only performance – naturally – was “The Happy Wanderer”. To add shame to the silliness, we marched between the tables as we played. I did my best to look “happy”.
Hap’s other revelation may be a little more prolonged. On the same Rhine River cruise, in Bavaria, my wife and I bought a handmade cuckoo clock. The clock was shipped and arrived in the States two weeks ago. Imagine my delight when I wound the clock and the cuckoo bird busted through his little door, the dancers twirled, and the tiny music box played “Edelweiss”. The “sound of music” every hour on the hour! Er, every other hour on the hour. Turns out our cuckoo clock has two songs. Hello, Happy Wanderer. If I choose to, I hear his gleeful melody twelve times a day. Or, If I choose to, I can flip a switch and I don’t hear anything at all. I expect I’ll be flipping the switch any day now.
If you’d like to add to my hap-aberration, go to 1-800-FLOWERS and have a hardenbergia violacea delivered to my door. HV is a species of flowering plant from the pea family. Some call it a lilac vine. Others give it nicknames like “false sarsasparilla” or “purple coral”. It’s also lovingly referred to as “The Happy Wanderer”.
Heaven help me.
Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.