My Favorite Love Song

man and woman standing by car

Pap and Granny, ca. 1965

As the world gets ready for this week of Valentines Day I started thinking about my favorite love song. I immediately thought of “When You and I Were Young Maggie.”

There’s certainly something to be said for those first days of courting. From the flip-flop your heart does every time your eyes rest on your beloved to the electric energy you feel between the two of you-it’s all heady important stuff.

Yet as one grows older the thought of love takes on a different sort of meaning.

One of my first bosses told me and the other young girls who worked for her “You don’t need a good looking boy with a fancy truck you need a boy who’ll rub your feet at the end of a long tiring day and clean up your puke when you’re sick.” I’m sure she felt the need to share her wisdom with us because as teenage girls often do we talked about the cutest boys in town pretty much all the time.

A quick google search gave me the history of the song. Apparently a lot of folks list the song as a traditional Scottish tune, but that isn’t where the song was born. The song was written by a Canadian, George Washington Johnson.

The Glandbrook Heritage Society website tells the story of the song:

In 1859, George Washington Johnson, recently graduated from the University of Toronto, came to teach at S.S. #5, Glanford. A native of the adjacent community of Binbrook, George, twenty-one, dark and handsome, soon found himself in love with his student, the fair Maggie Clark who was just eighteen.

She reciprocated his affection and the two shared many hours together. Fond of music they would often sing together at the Clark homestead or in the local Glee Club of Glanford; and frequently summer strolls along the maple lined banks of Twenty Mile Creek took them to her father’s mill, a short distance north of the Clark homestead. It was on one these romantic walks that George Johnson was inspired to begin a volume of verses entitled “Maple Leaves” which would contain the poem “When You and I Were Young, Maggie”.

Much in love, the couple became engaged. However, a storm loomed on the horizon. Maggie who had contracted tuberculosis, then known as the “Great White Plague” made both aware of the threat it held for their future.

During one of his finance’s more serious periods of illness, George made a solitary walk to the hill which overlooked the mill. Here in the “green grove – where first the daises sprung”, George Washington Johnson composed the verse that would provide lyrics for the song.

Unfortunately, they would not grow old together. Whether the lyrics were a denial of reality, a touching pretense or an expression of faith in their future, the couple made plans for marriage.

But first there was a period of separation. Maggie went to the Wesleyan College in Hamilton and George to study at the Fort Edward Institute on the Hudson River in New York State. Distance only increased their love and on October 21, 1864 they were married at the Methodist Church in Glanford Township.

George had now settled on a career of journalism with the “Courier” in Buffalo, New York. His ability as a journalist soon became recognized and he was offered a position with the Cleveland, Ohio, “Plain ‘ Dealer”. Once he was secure in his new post, George and his bride took up residence in Cleveland. Then suddenly, the tragedy they had feared struck. Maggie’s tuberculosis failed to respond to medical treatment. She passed away on May 12, 1865, at twenty-three, less than a year after their marriage. She was laid to rest at the family plot in White Church cemetery near Mount Hope. Overwhelmed by his loss, George resigned from the “Plain Dealer” and returned to Canada and to teaching.

The following year, George visited an old friend in Detroit, Michigan, J.C. Butterfield, who at his request, set the words of “When You and I Were Young, Maggie” to music.

When I read the information regarding the song on the Glandbrook Heritage Society website I was surprised to learn the song wasn’t written exactly for the reason I had in my mind. I thought “Well there was no aging couple who’d spent the last 60 years of their lives together.”

But then I reminded myself, songs mean different things to different people. There’s no doubt Johnson wrote the song thinking of his deep love for his Maggie and there’s no doubt the words do fit perfectly for couples who last through the test of time.

The words below are the ones Pap and Paul sung, to see Johnson’s original words go here.

When You and I Were Young, Maggie written by George Washington Johnson

I wandered today to the hill, Maggie,
To survey the scene below,
To see the creek and the creaking old mill, Maggie,
As we used to, long ago.

But the green grass is gone from the hill, Maggie,
Where first the daisies sprung;
And the creaking old mill is still, Maggie,
Since you and I were young.

They say I’m feeble with age, Maggie,
My steps less spry than then,
My face is a well-written page, Maggie,
And time alone was the pen.

But the green grass is gone from the hill, Maggie,
Where first the daisies sprung;
And the creaking old mill is still, Maggie,
Since you and I were young.

They say we are old and grey, Maggie,
Our trials of life nearly done
But to me you’re as fair as you were, Maggie,
When you and I were young.

I suppose part of the reason I like the song so much is because it reminds me of Pap and Granny. They dated a mere three months before embarking on a marriage that would produce three children and last just over 50 years. If Pap had lived this year would mark their 54th year of marriage.

The song also reminds me of a real life Maggie who lived just down the road from here. You can go here to read about her life and discover the reason her name is still called forth in this community all these years later.


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  • Reply
    February 10, 2020 at 11:25 am

    I so enjoyed reading every little bit of that …..after doing so you take in a deep breath ,way down in your heart ♡ :), so glad you found Maggie :),now to sit back and listen deep to the song…….it truly is good to number our days, and get us a heart of Wisdom…Saturday in our County a young couple, aged 20/21 ran off the road near a pond and flipped their car up-side down into the water, they called 911 to say they were drowning, …so many so saddened,…. but my husband’s twin brother yesterday at church told us she had recently been saved , even her countenance was so changed ,…and I listened to a shared video of her singing at a church on Jan .19…, for this I am so thankful to the Lord. He didn’t know about the young man for they had not been dating long .The song she sang at Calvary Baptist church on January 19 was ”Bless The Lord Oh My Soul” by Matt Redman her name was Marrisa

  • Reply
    Don Byers
    February 9, 2020 at 7:29 pm

    WOW! I did not know the history of this song. This is the first “thumbpickin” tune my cousin, the late Junior Mauney taught me. About 1958 I’d say. He may have had an influence on a couple of my other heroes, Doyle Barker and Henry Wilson as well!!

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    February 9, 2020 at 5:23 pm

    I turned the TV channel to Channel 25, just as Donna Lynn was playing ‘”the River of Jordan” by the Pressley Girls, and had to call Donna and thank her for playing my Favorite. She was working today, although she had a Terrible cough. We agreed that both of us had been “puney”, so I got off quickly. …Ken

  • Reply
    Nancy schmidt
    February 9, 2020 at 3:45 pm

    In the first years of our marriage our favorite song was “The Wildwood Flower”, but after many decades it was “When You And I Were Young Maggie”. It’s one of the songs so well loved by our grandparents generations. It’s in all the old songbooks people used to keep in the piano bench. Actually, I loved playing it as a child. Similar to “Believe Me if All Those Endearing Young Charms” in its pledge of love that will last.
    Nice to hear your folks doing such a sweet version f a sweet song. Always makes me cry, even before I got old.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    February 9, 2020 at 12:37 pm

    I always like it when you tell the origin of a song, especially this one. I have wondered about this song ever since Pap and Paul did this, years ago. …Ken

  • Reply
    Kenneth Ryan
    February 9, 2020 at 12:04 pm

    What a lovely, thoughtful, and well written post…with great comments. Thanks!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    February 9, 2020 at 10:20 am

    My wife and I had such plans, to grow old together, but almost two years ago she left me for another man. I am not angry though for the man, whom many of you know, is Jesus Christ. So, I sit here and bide my time until I take my turn and we are reunited.

  • Reply
    Rebecca Layfield
    February 9, 2020 at 10:18 am

    I really love your page and have always loved history and where people come from and well everything and its history!! Thank you for sharing so much it is a blessing!! You grandparents were a beautiful couple. So handsome and beautiful and you can tell from the picture full of joy and love!! My husband and I dated only 3 months and we have been married 38 yrs. It blessed my heart to see that your grandparents did the same!! Again thank you for sharing all the history and joy!!

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    February 9, 2020 at 10:11 am

    I have always loved this song also. The story of the Author’s wife reminds me of my Paternal Great Grand Mother Sarah Simonds Dehart who was born 12 March 1884, she Married “Andy Dehart 3 Aug.1902, her first child, my Grand Mother was born 22 June 1903 and a son was born to them 23 Dec 1904. Sarah died 15 March 1905 leaving Andy with the two young children, his mother helped until he married again. We have all gotten complacent about expecting to live a fairly long life but this hasn’t always been the case, Both men and women died of illnesses and accidents we expect both will bounce right back from with proper medical care but we need to remember we have no guarantee this will happen so we need to treasure each day we have with loved ones.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    February 9, 2020 at 8:39 am

    So sad they had such a short time together. I expect we take it too much for granted that we will have a long life, barring accident. But not so very long ago that was not the case. Moses in Psalms 90 requested to be taught to number his days. Not a bad plan for any of us.

    I read the post about Maggie’s Chapel. It was once rather common for Baptists and Methodists to share a building and to attend each other’s meetings. We could use that kind of community feeling now. We easily find reasons to divide and can’t seem to find reasons to be in unity.

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