I Haven’t Seen Mama in Years

Today’s post was written by Paul.

Pig with scroll

In this week’s story song, “I Haven’t Seen Mama in Years,” we reunite the mother and son that were separated in the first story song of this year’s series (except the son in this song was wrongly convicted). This is another song I learned from Mac Wiseman.

In the late 90’s, when I was traveling to and from UNCA on the weekends, I listened to a cassette of Mac that was fairly recently recorded at the time. I still remember that it had an orange case and that on the front, Mac was standing underneath a tree, wearing a rather loud shirt. You can find that cassette recording of him doing the song (along with the blurry image of the cassette) on YouTube.

I don’t know for sure, but after some cursory searching on YouTube, I think this song might have been written by David Allan Coe. In one way, I should have surmised as much, given his other somewhat infamous song about his mother and prison 🙂 I’ve never been a Coe fan, though his son runs an interesting podcast about classic country musicians (called Cocaine and Rhinestones).

I thought the line about the world being “both old and new” was pretty clever, as was the mother’s recognition of her son even without her sense of sight.

This song, and others like it, harkens back to a time when to be in prison meant to be cut off from communication and to be isolated from the rest of the world. Today, some prisoners have internet access, phones, frequent visits, etc., but it wasn’t true once upon a time.

Pap and I loved to sing the song “Lamp Lighting Time,” and it wasn’t until I searched to find out more about the song’s origin and meaning that I learned that the speaker in that song is also in prison (as revealed in a verse that most singers, including Pap and I, left out or didn’t know).

There are many other songs that have nothing to do with prison but still feature the same type of inability to communicate and that same wondering and longing about family members. To name a couple, there’s “I Wonder How the Old Folks are at Home” (also Mac) and “Not a Word from Home Anymore” (Roy Acuff). Sometimes, it’s the parents wondering about the son, like in “Blueridge Mountain Blues.”

Communication is so easy and instantaneous today, even for soldiers fighting in a war, but again songs like “I Haven’t Seen Mama in Years” capture what it was like before modern communication tools.

With regard to prison, I saw a documentary back in the early 2000’s that posited that if you isolate or cut off prisoners too much, they simply lose their minds and become even harder to manage and rehabilitate. I think that makes sense, though I’ve often thought that if I ever had to go to prison, I would rather be in solitary confinement, away from all the other prisoners, as long as I had a bed and enough space to walk around a little bit, but I know that I’m pretty idiosyncratic when it comes to enjoying prolonged solitude.

Chitter had never heard this song, and we jumped right in with minimal practice. I thought of trying another take since I flubbed part of the break, but I liked the singing and the overall feel of this take, so we left it at one take only.

I hadn’t thought about this song in a long time. It seems ironic to me that I wound up singing and uploading it now when I’m the same age as the speaker in the song (at the time of his release). I certainly didn’t plan it that way, just an ironic coincidence.

The lyrics are below.

Oh I haven’t seen mama in years, and I wonder if she’ll even know my face. No, I haven’t seen mama in years. A mother’s love I pray time don’t erase.

I watch the front gate slowly open on this gray rock federal prison, And I walk out past the walls, into a world both old and new. I was 18 when they put me here. I’m finally free after 30 years. They stole my youth for something I didn’t do.

And I haven’t seen mama in years, and I wonder if she’ll even know my face. No, I haven’t seen mama in years. A mother’s love I pray time can’t erase.

I walk down the same old dusty road I played on many years ago, And I walk across the front porch and hear my mama call my name. Then I see her face so sweet and kind; I see her cane I realize she’s blind. She says that my footsteps still sound the same.

And I haven’t seen mama in years, but now I know she’s seen me in her dreams. No, I haven’t seen mama in years. Oh thank you, thank you, mama for loving me.

I hope that you enjoyed this story song. Thanks for watching! Follow the links below to listen to some of my other music.

Original singles released on Spotify.

Original singles on YouTube.

Shepherd of My Soul (Album released in 2016).


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  • Reply
    March 20, 2022 at 3:08 pm

    Such a touching song…lyrics & tune. Well done!

  • Reply
    GUerry McConnell
    March 20, 2022 at 12:12 pm

    I always love your stories and how you make us feel like we’re in the room with you! Thank you for what you share!

  • Reply
    Kenneth Ryan
    March 20, 2022 at 11:28 am

    I really love the way the song came out. Good job.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    March 20, 2022 at 8:48 am

    It is very true that a person can be identified sight unseen by their footsteps. Long ago, I worked in the basement of a building and I got so I could tell each person who worked there by their footsteps on the stairs. Oddly enough, the biggest guy there had the lightest footsteps among the guys.

    I wonder what proportion of prison sentences in Appalachia say from 1900 to present have been for moonshining. I’m thinking maybe it would be one of the most common offense, maybe the most common.

    The old decommissioned Brushy Mountain prison in Tennessee, ironically enough, now has a distillery in part of it. Back in the day, prisoners worked coal mines up the holler and things happened there in the dark. There is a sizeable cemetery on the prison grounds. Mighty sad ending and a lonesome place.

    • Reply
      March 20, 2022 at 3:34 pm

      Ron, I really enjoyed this post, the song, and your comment. A lot of people on my Mommy’s side of the family in Harlan County, Kentucky were moonshiners. My Papaw was pulling time for moonshining when my Mamaw got killed so I reckon they released him early so he could take care of the kids. Mamaw was on her way to my Great Granny’s house with the kids to take supper when she was hit by a coal truck. The kids were all injured except one, but they survived. My Mommy said my Papaw was an evil man so the kids probably would’ve been better off if they had of left him in prison and sent them to live with relatives.

      Anyway, I often wonder how many of my ancestors made moonshine and spent time for it. They used moonshine for a lot of things back then I reckon. I think of that line in the movie “Coal Miner’s Daughter” (Coal mines, moonshine, or moving on down the line). They really didn’t have a lot of options back then if they wanted to support their families and keep a roof over their heads.

  • Reply
    March 20, 2022 at 8:24 am

    Such a sad song, but well written. Katie and Paul sang and played beautifully. Thank you for sharing.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    March 20, 2022 at 7:47 am

    Nice! Your voices really work together on this one. I really enjoyed it.

  • Reply
    Don Byers
    March 20, 2022 at 7:27 am

    Good article….Coe and I got to Nashville about the same time. Was around him a lot about the time Tanya Tucker had her big hit with one of his songs, “Field of Stone”. e got out on the road after that and so did. Enough said..LOL!

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