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?