Friday, August 08, 2008

Funny, the things you remember.

I come from what you could call honest, hard-working people. My grandparents on my mother's side are both gone now, but my grandfather - we called him "Bobo" - was one funny, funny guy. He drank a lot and got progressively more hilarious and good-humoured with every ounce. He played the harmonica like he was born with one in his mouth. He smoked constantly. He would fall asleep on the couch with the mohair throw over him, and when one of his daughters tiptoed up to remove his glasses he would say, without opening his eyes, "Leave them - when I wake up I'll need to know where I am."

He used to sing this song, that I sing to my kids now. Does anyone else, anyone not in my family, remember this song? *

I took my gal to the ball one night
It was a fancy hop
We stayed 'til it was over, and the music it did stop
Then I took her to a restaurant
The finest in the street
She said she wasn't hungry
But this is what she eat.

A dozen raw
A plate of slaw
A chicken and a roast
Applesauce and 'sparagraus and soft-shell crab on toast
Oyster stew and crackers too
Her appetite was immense
When she called for a pie I thought I'd die
'Cause I only had fifty cents

I gave the man the fifty cents
And this is what he did

He tore my clothes and mashed my nose
And kicked me in the jaw
Gave me a prize of a pair of black eyes
And with me swept the floor
Then he grabbed me where the pants hung loose
And threw me over the fence

Take my advice, don't try it twice
When you only have fifty cents.

They had plaques on their walls, with quaint little sayings on them. One read as follows:

We are making a debt for our children to pay
And economists groan as they say it
But we also seem to be finding a way
To create enough children to pay it.

There was an ancient newspaper clipping on their fridge, that said

It's not my place to run the train
The whistle I can't blow
It's not my place to say how fast
The train's allowed to go
I don't take tickets at the gate
Nor even ring the bell
But let the damn thing jump the track
And see who catches hell.

Half the time I had no idea what was going on, at their place. Didn't understand the queer sayings on the walls, was unnerved by the alcohol all over the place, and couldn't keep my eyes off the three-dimensional monkey-shaped ashtray made of hollowed-out coconuts. I think it might have said something like "Aloha from Hawaii" but I could be making that part up.

I'm thinking about learning to play the harmonica, so my children can hear it. Those were my favourite moments, when Bobo would play for us.

I'd like to have a word with Grandma and Bobo now. I miss them a lot. Bobo's been gone since I was 13, Grandma since I was 23. It's been a long time.


---------------------------
Five minutes, a little Google, and look what I found: provenance of "I took my gal to the ball one night". This is an old, old ditty - 1885. Who knew?

13 comments:

Stace' said...

I should call you sometime to hear how the tune goes.

Great post!!

Gwen said...

** sniff **

Those were the days
That I could master
The pace was slow
And I was faster.


One of my regrets is that I was so prissy while they were alive. I wish I'd had the gumption to guffaw much, much louder.

Shan said...

Too soon Oldt
Too late Schmart

Dave Hingsburger said...

Shannon, this was a lovely piece, a lovely tribute to two fine and complex people. At a time when the world was simply not ready to accept or embrace the idea of gay relationships, both of these people managed to reach past prejudice and embrace their son - and in their way, me too. It was extraordinary in that time and that place for parental love to be greater than social prejudice. I count myself lucky to have been at their table, to have shared time with them and to have them tucked away in my memory. Thanks for writing this, you made my day. Joe will be adding his own comment later on today or tomorrow.

kate said...

I envy your deep memories, Shan. How wonderful for you. I hope that my son and mum are growing those memories together.

(My grandparents didn't live in Canada, so I only saw them about 5 times in my life before they passed away.)

lizbon said...

Wow - what characters!

Anonymous said...

When I read the words to the song it brought back memories of the 78rpm records playing on my grandparents gramaphone at the bach (holiday house) where we spent our summers. I was soon singing along for the first half, the second half isn't fimiliar. It got me thinking/singing and the words I remember are the ones which start "She's a pretty little dear". Have a look here
http://www.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=8762#54988
Sounds like 2 songs were put together.
Helen in New Zealand

Shan said...

Helen you're right - the last half is very similar. It's funny the little changes each version has: "a dozen raw, potato slaw" instead of "a dozen raw, a plate of slaw".

Anna said...

Love this post. Thanks.

Annalea said...

Thank you for turning my thoughts to my own grandparents who have gone on. Both of my grandfathers and one of my grandmothers have finished their time here. I miss them, too . . . and wish I could have known them better.

Have you ever dreamed of them? Dreamed they were there, speaking to you, and woken up feeling as if you had actually seen them?

Tabatha said...

Lovely post, Shan.

Veronica said...

Thanks for the lyrics! My grandmother, who was born in 1899 to Irish immigrants and raised in Chicago, used to sing the "Fifty Cents" song with a few lively chords on the piano. The Library of Congress American Memory Collection — online at http://memory.loc.gov/ — offers the sheet music to two versions of this song: one published by Dan Lewis in 1881, the other published by Sam Devere in 1885. But your version is the closest I remember to my grandmother's.

little red 1 said...

Hi I know this song well (my dad used to sing it) and we had another verse as well as a little difference in the wording. same meaning though. Here it is as I remember it (thought I know of it is wrong) I'll have my dad look it over and make corrections.

I took my gal to the ball one night
It was a fancy hop
We stayed 'til it was over, and the music it did stop
Then to a restaurant we went
The finest on the street
She said she wasn't hungry
she didn't care to eat
She said she wasn't hungry
But this is what she'd eat.

A dozen raw
A plate of slaw
A chicken and a roast
Applesauce and 'sparagraus and soft-shell crab on toast
Oyster stew and crackers too
she ought to have more sense
she called for a pie I thought I'd die
for I had but fifty cents

She said she wasn't thirsty
she didn't care to drink
she said she wasn't thirsty
she had an awful tank
she said she wasn't thirsty
but this is what she drank
A whisky skin
a glass of gin
then vodka neat
she called for more and I fell on the floor
for I had but fifty cents
a single malt
Cuervo gold with salt
a glass of beer and rum

I gave the man the fifty cents
And this is what he done

He tore my clothes and broke my nose
he hit me more and more
Gave me a prize of two black eyes
And with me swept the floor
He grabbed me trowsers
And threw me over the fence

Take my advice, don't try it twice
When you have but fifty cents.