Words of Gold

Jeannette Buck

P oor little robin, walkin’, walkin’, walkin’ to Missouri! He can’t afford to fly!” Got a penny for poor little robin, walkin’, walkin’, walkin’ to Missouri. Got a teardrop in his eye.”

That old song popped into my head the other morning as I looked up from my coffee to see a lone robin walking in my yard, checking for worms. He found a couple and enjoyed them while another bird, possibly his mate, joined him. It was a bit chilly out there; an early reminder that summer is winding down and there are cooler days ahead.

I’m sure the robins were discussing their upcoming return to warmer pastures. It is a little early yet, though. And they wouldn’t want to run into a hurricane.

I hadn’t thought of that old song in several months of Sundays. But, then, once it settled into my head, I couldn’t get rid of it. It was popular once upon a time; sung frequently on the radio. It was — and is — one of those ditties that is easy to sing and easy to remember. We sang it a lot but I couldn’t remember just when.

And so, I did what all of us 21st century computer nerds do; I Googled it.

Oh, yes! “Poor Little Robin” was written by Bob Merrill and recorded by none other than Sammy Kaye; Russ Morgan and his orchestra; Swing and Sway. When? 1952, for Pete’s sake! Now, that’s a while ago.

There are three verses but I doubt there are many who recall them. They tell the story of a clueless young bird who left his country home for the big city. He made the mistake many have made: “flew too high; met a birdie who looked so nice — who gave him kisses and gave him sighs — but oh — How she told him lies.” And so, there he was, poor fella, walkin’ to Missouri without a penny under his wing.

I have no memory of ever hearing those verses, although I probably did. As young as I was then, the story didn’t stick with me. However, the chorus? It was catchy and cute and I remember singing it a lot.

Songs used to be like that once upon a time. Well, some were. We couldn’t carry them around on a phone that lived in our pockets back then. So we sang them just for fun. I can’t be sure but I’m willing to bet I tried to pick it out by ear on the piano. It wouldn’t be difficult to do.


The robin couple wandered around my yard for a while that morning and entertained me as I finished a second cup of coffee. They weren’t thinking of heading south just yet, I’m sure. But fall is just around the corner, the fledglings have left the nest, and the packing has begun.

However, I think those old birds have had some experience. They haven’t been fooled by a good lookin’ trickster. They won’t need our pennies. But I can’t help but wonder if maybe there isn’t one young bird out there whose summer didn’t end just as he had hoped.

“Got a penny for poor little robin? Walkin’, walkin’, walkin’ to Missouri. He can’t afford to fly! “

Jeannette Buck is a lifelong resident of the Gold area who, since listening to her Grandma Williams’ stories as a child, has been deeply interested in local lore and history.