My longtime readers may remember me mentioning my maternal grandfather. He was the one who took on the pseudonym Charlie Young and lied about his age in order to enlist for World War One. He was an extremely colorful character who was a cop in New York City during the first half of the twentieth century. Toward his own children he was the typical autocratic Italian American man. But toward his grandchildren he was like a big kid. He brought us out for hamburgers and ice cream and whatever else he could think of. He would tell us stories of the old days. Some of them quite remarkable. And whenever things got quiet, he’d sing some variation of a song that we thought he had just made up. It would usually go something like this,
“It was midnight on the ocean
Not a streetcar was in sight
Me and my old friend (fill in the name of a particular grandson)-boy
Were eating by the candle light
When along came a big whale
And washed us all away
Then grandma came along and saved the day.”
Now this song varied by the identity of the grandchild and the details of the trip we were on. But it was mostly along these lines. And to a little kid who was out on a fun car ride and getting fast food hamburgers and ice cream it was Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. Well my grandfather’s been gone about thirty five years and about ten years ago it occurred to me to try to find the lyrics to his little poem on the internet. And what do you know? It turns out it’s an old English nonsense poem. And more to the point a song was made out of it by an American country singer named Harry McClintock back in the 1920s called Ain’t We Crazy (catch the words at the 1:00 mark of the song).
Well, at the time the song was only available as part of an imported music collection that cost $600 so I couldn’t buy it then. But this week I found it on an inexpensive album on Amazon and got it. It turns out McClintock also has a song that ended up on the “O Brother Where Art Thou” soundtrack (Big Rock Candy Mountain). I guess he’s not as obscure as I thought.
I sent the above link to my siblings and cousins and many of them have the same fond memories that I have of this little ritual my grandfather had. I think I will adopt it with my grandchildren. Of course, I’ll have to personalize it for each of them but that’s half of the fun of it anyway. And while I’m at it I’ll tell them stories about their great-great-grandfather Charlie Young who went off to war as a very young doughboy and shot it out with 1920s gangsters from the running board of a speeding car. They’ll probably think it’s as crazy as the song.