By Michael Smith
The Dutchman's not the kind of man
To keep his thumb jammed in the dam
That holds his dreams in
But that's a secret only Margaret knows
When Amsterdam is golden in the morning
Margaret brings him breakfast
She believes him
He thinks the tulips bloom beneath the snow
He's mad as he can be but Margaret only sees that sometimes
Sometimes she sees her unborn children in his eyes
Let us go to the banks of the ocean
Where the walls rise above the Zuider Zee
Long ago I used to be a young man
And dear Margaret remembers that for me
The Dutchman still wears wooden shoes
His cap and coat are patched with love
That Margaret sewed in
Sometimes he thinks he's still in Rotterdam
He watches tugboats down canals
And calls out to them when he thinks he knows the captain
'Til Margaret comes to take him home again
Through unforgiving streets that trip him
Though she holds his arm
Sometimes he thinks that he's alone and calls her name
The windmills whirl the winter in
She winds his muffler tighter
They sit in the kitchen
Some tea with whiskey keeps away the dew
He sees her for a moment calls her name
She makes the bed up humming some old love song
She learned it when the tune was very new
He hums a line or two
They hum together in the night
The Dutchman falls asleep and Margaret blows the candle out
I became familiar with this song many years ago. It is very familiar to me, and one of my favorite songs of all time.
The song for me elicits memories, and a certain fondness. It might be blasphemy of sorts, but I prefer Steve Goodman's rendition much better than Smith's.
Friday March 3, 2013 when I looked outside and saw the daffodils were covered with a layer of snow, sleet and frozen rain, I hummed a line or two.
The song tells the tale of dementia, and a woman's struggles with caring for her aging mate. Yes, he's mad as he can be, but Margaret only sees that sometimes. The song intimates they had no children. It seems there is nobody else to take care of the two of them besides each other, but the Dutchman is no longer able to look after Margaret in most ways. The responsibility for the care of both of them rests squarely on Margaret.
It is a ballad that holds true for many couples in this age when medical science keeps us alive well into our golden years. Living, but perhaps not alive, is often the case, much like the Dutchman, and Margaret.
I'm not certain if by stating the Dutchman still wears wooden shoes, and he wears an old patched coat, we are supposed to believe they have a very limited income. Instead, I think it is a testimony to the vagaries of the human condition and how we cleave to our old ways. It might be one of the signs of dementia, where often the short term memories are lost, while those memories more ancient, more soothing remain.
Smith has been asked many times if the song was written as a tribute, and what he meant by some of the words. He has always evaded the questions and answered in very vague and general terms. But many have tried their best to analyze the song, and figure out the meaning. Many, including yours truly, just apply the words to their own lives, and to the lives of those around them.
I believe one day I will believe that tulips bloom beneath the snow. It will no doubt be rooted in the memory of the May blizzard of 2013, when indeed the daffodils bloomed beneath the snow.
Until next time-
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In to the Wind and this column are copyright 2005 - 2013 Mike Gilchrist. Readers, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org via email, or write to me at P.O. Box 255, Toledo, IA 52342.