Poison Ivy

Strivin' ivy

Strivin’ ivy

The undersung green in the landscape. Everyone rhapsodizes about the coming of spring, but no one rhapsodizes about poison ivy.

There’s a lot of it out there. It climbs up trees, it lurks under scrub oak and huckleberry, it even grows into bushes.

I’ve got considerable affection for this particular tree because it gets me humming the last lines from one of the greatest break-up songs ever written.

The last lines go like this:


You go out to the kitchen
To get somethin’ to eat
I watch you pick your bay leaves from a poison ivy tree
I got a feelin’ you’re gonna starve to death when I’m gone
Here’s a brand new dime
Now you call me if I’m wrong.

“I Got a Feelin'” was written and sung by the great Willie Tyson. If you weren’t around the women’s music scene in the 1970s and early ’80s, you’ve probably never heard of Willie Tyson. After putting out three LPs — Full Count (1974), Debutante (1977), and Willie Tyson (1979) — she left the music biz. This was before CDs, never mind iTunes and YouTube, so there are few traces of her on the World Wide Web. If you’ve had your ears open over the years, though, you might have heard one of her two best-known songs: “Witching Hour” and “Debutante.”

Partial cover of "Debutante," featuring Red Satin (left) and Willie Tyson. Photo and album design by JEB, long before Photoshop btw.

Partial cover of “Debutante,” featuring Red Satin (left) and Willie Tyson. Photo and album design by JEB, long before Photoshop btw.

“Debutante” features a southern belle and an over-the-hill cow who inadvertently get switched: the cow goes to the cotillion and the belle goes to the cattle auction. It’s a hoot. It spawned several “debutante balls” in women’s communities of the late 1970s. We knew how to have fun, and some of us really knew how to dress.

So this particular poison ivy tree is a window into the past, and a reminder of how much wonderful stuff has happened in the world that hardly anyone ever heard of — but those of us who did are probably still carrying the memories with us.

I’m determined to work some Willie Tyson lyrics into The Squatters’ Speakeasy. I’ve got at least one character who’s familiar with her work, so it is going to happen. When I took that photo of the poison ivy tree, I was humming “I Got a Feelin'” but I sure didn’t think I was going to be blogging about it.

Now I’m thinking how cool it would be if a technologically adept soul got some of Willie’s songs out on YouTube. This stuff is too good to be hiding in some of our closets and some of our heads.

About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has been preoccupied with electoral politics since 2016. She just started a blog about her vintage T-shirt collection: "The T-Shirt Chronicles." Her other blogs include "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories," about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard, and "Write Through It," about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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3 Responses to Poison Ivy

  1. Hal Davis says:

    Willie Tyson wrote some fine lyrics. You can read, if not hear, them at http://www.queermusicheritage.us/apr2012wt2.html
    where they have scanned in the LPs’ lyric sheets..


    • Yeah! One of the few covers that Willie recorded was Peggy Seeger’s “I Was Gonna Be an Engineer” ( on Debutante, 1977). My intro to that song and pretty much to Peggy Seeger, of whom I was only dimly aware at the time.


      • Hal Davis says:

        That was the reason I bought Debutante. Had heard the song, but did not have a recorded version. Then I got to enjoy the rest of her music.


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