A back arrow

All Articles

The Coldest Day

The Coldest Day

Thomas M. Columbus May 28, 2019

The morning of Jan. 31 is the coldest of the winter. I sit in a Curran Place classroom. A large screen projects the words of John Prine’s song “Hello in There.” We listen to him sing:

Well, it’d been years since the kids had grown

A life of their own and left us alone …

Me and Loretta, we don’t talk
much more

She sits and stares through the
back door screen.


Walt Wurst ’80 is teaching us about Americana music; the seminar is part of UD’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, which offers courses for people 50 and older.

Prine wrote this song about aging when he was in his 20s. As a child, Prine and a friend delivered newspapers room by room in a home for old people, who, Prine said, pretended they thought he and his friend were their grandchildren.

“They probably weren’t pretending,” Wurst suggests.

Occasionally in the course, we will encounter more views of aging. We will hear Emmylou Harris sing Maraca Berg’s composition “Back When We Were Beautiful.”

I hate it when they said

I’m aging gracefully.

I really love my grandkids …

You know they would have loved their grandpa.

Harris once told a magazine, “It’s difficult growing old, because you’re competing against album covers when you were 26 or 27. But ultimately what choices do you have?”

We also will hear songs from the recordings Johnny Cash made shortly before his death. One is a cover of a song, “Hurt,” written by Trent Reznor of the group Nine Inch Nails.

Everyone I know

Goes away in the end …

And you could have it all

My empire of dirt.

The music video shows a gaunt, aging Cash, the small house where he lived 30 years, and his wife, June Carter Cash, gazing sadly at him. Critics acclaimed the video one of the best of all time. A class member will have a contrasting view: “It just sounds like, ‘Poor me.’ OK. But we all get old and die.”

Rosanne Cash saw her father (Johnny), stepmother (June) and mother (Vivian Libretto Cash Distin) die within a two-year period. In the title song of her album Black Cadillac, she sings of a hearse driving away.

There was a black sky of rain

None of it fell

One of us gets to go to heaven

One has to stay here in hell.

It’s not raining on this subzero January morning as we listen to Prine. Wurst prepared for expected weather-induced low attendance by digging out some Shakespeare. He recites Henry V’s words to his vastly outnumbered English army:

God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more. …

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.

He admits, however, that his words are inappropriate today. We may be happy, but hardly few. The weather has not diminished the class; the room is full as we listen to Prine sing:

Ya’ know that old trees just grow stronger

And old rivers grow wider ev’ry day

Old people just grow lonesome.

In contrasting Prine’s song to this roomful of people, Wurst says we band of brothers (and sisters) is different. We have something to do. These Osher classes keep our minds active.

As a great philosopher, Yogi Berra, said, “It’s ain’t over ’til it’s over.”

For those who may find it disheartening to listen to songs of death and despair, Columbus notes that the course ended with a wonderfully amusing video, Nathaniel Rateliff’s “I Need Never Grow Old.” Watch below.