Songs My Mother Sang Us

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My grandfather "Dad" and my Uncle Larry riding in a tobacco boat, during their brief stint at farming in Ontario before going back to the USA

My grandfather “Dad” and my Uncle Larry riding in a tobacco boat, during their brief stint at farming in Ontario before going back to the USA

I had a rich childhood full of fun and laughter. Our mother had, and still does have, a very keen sense of humour and she is incredibly witty for someone who is 83 years old. She was raised on the German folk songs that her father brought with him when he came to America. Our Grandfather, Louis Marath was only ever called Dad by all of us; our own father was our Daddy. Dad was a very loving man who passed away when I was too young to have many memories of him. I do remember his beautiful voice, his big warm hugs, and his white moustache, from that last time he visited us from Pittsburgh. He came out of a big silver airplane that we had watched land at the London airport.

Dad loved to sing, as he did for most of that last visit, sitting in the yard of our little white house, watching over us, or holding us on his lap. All of it was in German, but we didn’t care; it was how softly and sweetly that he sang that made us want to listen. I think that his influence on me in those early years is the reason why I am always so emotional when I hear, or have the opportunity to sing “Stille Nacht”—“Silent Night” in its original German form. Obviously, I have a subconscious memory of having heard Dad singing it before. I am honoured that my Mom gave his name to me, in its feminine form. Louise is my second name.

Even in the darkest days of the Great Depression my grandfather was able to sing with joy, because he was still able to feed his family. He was a shoemaker who repaired what people could not afford to replace. With his own earnings, and the pooled incomes of those of his adult children, who had returned home to live in order to be able to survive, there was enough. Enough even to repair the shoes of those who could not pay. His music was a reflection of that joy.

Mom took delight in singing to us some of the simple catchy tunes that were on the radio when we were young like “How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?” by Patti Page, or “Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree With Anyone Else But Me.” by the Andrews Sisters. There were also the little ditties that she had learned in her childhood like “Playmate Come Out And Play With Me.”

These are the words I remember her so often singing to us:

Oh Playmate, come out and play with me

And bring your dollies three.

Climb up my apple tree,

Look down my rain barrel,

Slide down my cellar door

And we’ll be jolly friends forever more!

I’m sorry Playmate, I cannot play with you.

My dollies have the flu’

Boo-hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo

Ain’t got no rain barrel,

Ain’t got no cellar door

But we’ll be jolly friends forever more!

We could identify with that song very well, because we knew all about the apple trees in the orchard on the farm, and even though we had not yet been able to climb them when we first learned it, we knew we soon would. We had no rain barrel to look down into, but we knew that if we did, it might be like the rain water cistern under the back kitchen of my grandparents’ house next door. Because the downspout from the eaves trough wasn’t where it should have been, we could look into the cistern a little from the top. One day when we found tiny baby frogs jumping everywhere all over the yard, we put some in there to get them back to someplace with water, so that they could swim. We, as yet, weren’t allowed to walk through the cow pasture and climb over the fence, to visit the pond in Uncle Archie’s field, so the cistern was the next best thing. A little while afterwards, Marsha and I got down on our hands and knees and took a peek into the hole at the top, right where the downspout should have been. We couldn’t see our baby frogs in there then, only a big old dead one floating around. We were sure all the baby ones likely had decided to jump out as soon as they saw that guy!

We also knew what kind of cellar door you might slide on too, as there was one of them at my grandparents’ house. Theirs was not a large one though, and it would have been hard to get a good slide on it. It covered over the opening that led to the basement, where the chopped wood was thrown down, to be stacked for burning in the furnace.

Any verses that Mom recited to us were only the sort that kids always seem to pick up most easily from one another. Her parents’ ability to share that aspect of their learning with her would have been limited to what they had learned in German.Unfortunately, as they were determined that she should speak only English at home, even if their own command of English was limited, she was never able to pass on that aspect of  their culture to us. On the other hand, I suppose that singing what the heart felt was just too spontaneous a thing for my grandfather to suppress. As a result, although my mother  cannot speak German she can still sing a number of German songs. Whenever any of us kids attempted to mimic our Mom’s German songs it only ever came out as so much mish-mash, so we gave up on that a long time ago. The exception would be  my youngest sister Janice who studied German for a while in High School.

Because Mom had all eight of us kids in eleven years, we were close enough in age to one another that any errors in judgement that she made had repercussions. Her faulty choices for some of our early childhood entertainment, while she herself was still quite young, could never be remedied. They were perpetuated by us, as we shared with younger siblings those humorous ditties and songs, much to their great delight. The younger ones’ ability for near instantaneous memorization was amazing. Particularly if a verse had the word “fart” in it or even worse “turd”. (Sorry Mom. It was bound to get out one way or another.) Yikes! I hated typing those words. Just so you know, you won’t be getting any worse ones EVER!  and then only to maintain the the authenticity of the story.

Here is one Mom likely put her name into just for us giggling kids:

Jean, Jean, had a machine!

Joe, Joe, made it go!

Art! Art! Let a fart!

And blew the dang thing all apart!

In the interest of the preservation of the integrity of our family reputation, I will inflict no further degradation upon the great esteem with which my family is held by one and all, by typing any more of my mother’s verbal indiscretions, and I ain’t just whistlin’ Dixie! You can bet your ass on it! Th-th-th-that’s all folks!

 

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