Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Cruel Mother and The Ballad of Susan Smith.

I was trying to find a way to start this post without spouting some long repeated statement about how mothers killing their children really, really, upsets people. You know what I mean: "perhaps no crime is horrifying then mothers who blah, blah, blah."

Really though. The idea of a mother killing their own, is horrifying. I think people would rather believe that all killers are unknowns that lurk in the shadows, rather than pondering the idea that a woman could kill her child. A child who loves her and trusts her; who she's supposed to protect with her life.

 "The Cruel Mother" has many versions and variants: "The Greenwood Side", "Fine Flowers in the Valley and the "Minsters Daughter of New York" are just three of them. The story however remains pretty much the same. A woman has two illegitimate children in the forest. She kills them. As she walks home she sees two children at play. She tells the children how well she would treat them if they were hers. They inform her that they are her children, and when they were hers she killed them.  The song typically ends with her being cursed to hell. (Link)

 What keeps certain songs alive is having a universal quality, something that people in every age can relate to. The Cruel Mother speaks to that horror and disgust that we feel, that same horror and disgust that people felt centuries ago when they heard a mother had murdered her child.

 That horror could have inspired Lee Ann Brown's modern retelling of "Cruel Mother", "The Ballad Susan of Smith." In 1994 a woman named Susan Smith claimed that she had been carjacked, and the man who did it had driven away with her children Michael and Alex still in the car. The story made headlines, bulletins went out all over the nation. The news broadcast interviews of a tearful Susan begging for her "babies".(Link)

 Then nine days later it happened. Susan Smith confessed to the murder of her children She had driven her 1990 Mazda Protege' to John D. Long Lake. She got out of the car, put it into drive, and let it roll in to the lake with her sleeping children inside.(Link)    The public's sorrow and anger was instant.  Sorrow for two precious children.  Anger for the woman that did it.  The possible motive: that she had done it to win back her rich boyfriend, further enraged people.  "That bitch." "That monster."  

I remember watching a clip of the funeral with my father. At one point he sucked in a breath, wiped tears from his eyes and said, "hope she rots in hell."

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