Friday, November 30, 2001

Folklore Parody song to tune of Auld Lang Syne


Genre: Folk Song (parody?)
Mike Tuggle, male, 60s
poet and painter
American, born in Oklahoma
Nov 30, 2001
Cazadero CA (residence)


JOSEPHUS & BOHUNKUS
(Sung to the tune of Auld Lang Syne)

There was a father had two sons
and these two sons were brothers.
Josephus was the name of one,
Bohunkus was the other.

Now these two boys to college went
for reasons quite specific.
Josephus was religious bent
Bohunkus, scientific.

Now these two boys are dead and gone.
Long may their ashes rest.
Josephus of the cholera died.
Bohunkus, by request.


I first heard Mike Tuggle sing this song to the tune of Auld Lang Syne, at a poetry reading he was giving in 1980, in Sonoma County, Ca. Since then, I have heard him sing it at dozens of readings; it’s become somewhat of a trademark of his. And though I’ve sung the song to many others over the years, no one else seems to have heard of it, nor is it in any of my songbooks including my Irwin Silber Songbook, and my Alan Lomax folk song collections.

Mike said that his father taught it to him when they lived in Oklahoma, and that it was passed down through the family. Mike is Irish-American and Cherokee descent. He thinks it’s a folk history of sorts, modeled after a real event. I agree. I think there was also a middle verse with mules too.

I like to sing the song, because there’s more of it than first meets the eye. Even though it has a biting, moral tone, it offers an interesting world view. Given that the song is at least 75 to 100 years old, it refers back to an earlier era, perhaps the early 1800s, and the idea of both brothers going to college would have seemed unusual (and expensive) for midwesterners. (It turns up as a college song in at least two midwestern colleges).

It doesn’t strike me as a particularly eastern song, it seems to fit within the cowboy lament genre, even though one brother is a scientist and the other, a preacher/scholar. And the fact that they’re cremated seems a bit fantastic. Most songs—laments of the funereal genre, like The Streets of Loredo—tend to have coffins and graves in them. I like the irony of the last stanza, whether they were good or bad, they both still died in the end.

NB (7/2104): With a little sleuthing (the internet 13 years later is fantastic: this piece was collected and researched in the pre -Google era!)  I later found variants of the ditty in several collections, but Mike's version, handed down to him by his father in the early 1940s, is older, by far—which makes his verified collection date from around 1915, and if it was handed down in the family from his grandfather (25 years = a generation), that dates the song back to the 1890s, easy. 

Cholera arrived to America in the early 1900s via the port of New York City; arriving in 1849 with the Irish coffin ships. President Polk died of cholera in 1849. The thing that gets to me is that the bodies were burned. Not a normal practice—unless there was an outbreak of cholera or the plague. Cremation became popular in the late 1850s after major cholera epidemics. There was another major cholera outbreak in 1890.

Josephus and Bohunkus are definitely not Irish names. Josephus is Biblical while Boohunkus sounds like secular slang—like Hunkie. So how did these tow polar opposites meet up? Sacred and profane?

Mudcat also has early references to the Grimes version dating back to the 1920s. Last entry at bottom of page has this: Roud #764, Albert G. Greene, said to be the author of the ballad of " Old Grimes," in the 1822, a fugitive poem circulating in the oral tradition that went rogue when it met up with Bohunkus. Reference: Brown III 321, "Josephus and Bohunkus" (2 texts plus a fragment). Spaeth-ReadWeep, pp. 83-84, "Bohunkus" (1 text). Recorded by Ernest V. Stoneman, "Josephus and Bohunkus" (Victor, unissued, 1927). 

In the oldest documented version I could find online, at Missouri State Ozark Folksong Collection, both verses are there but Josephus and Bohunkus have swapped places. But Josephus is a Biblical name…he's the good guy. Cain & Abel.


Collected by Parler Dick Upton, West Memphis, Ark. Mark Williamson, Little Rock; Lem McCrary, Lonoke, Ark. Phillip Purifoy, Texarkana, Ark. 
January 14, 1960, Reel 356, Item 5 

Bohunkus

There was a farmer had two sons,
And these two sons were brothers,
Bohunkus was the name of one,  (swapped lines)
Josephus was the others.

Now these two boys had suits of clothes 
And they were made for Sunday,
Bohunkus wore his every day,
Josephus his on Monday.

Now these two boys to the theater went
Whenever they saw fit,
Bohunkus in the gallery sat,
Josephus in the pit.

Now these two boys are dead and gone,
Long may their ashes rest.
Bohunkus of the cholera died, (swapped lines)
Josephus by request.

Now these two boys their story told,
And they did tell it well,
Bohunkus he to heaven went,
Josephus he to_____.



But only the first stanza is similar.

VERSE 1
There was a man, he had two boys (sons)
An' these two boys were brothers
Josephus, was th name of one
Bohunkus was the other

Cat. #0658 (MFH #332) - As sung by Reba Dearmore, Mountain Home, Arkansas on January 7, 1969

Ironically a similar second stanza was collected in Santa Rosa.

VERSE 6 (Grimes' two sons)
Now these two boys are dead an' gone
They now are laid to rest    (Long may their ashes rest)
Bosephus died for want of bread  (Bo-Josephus of the cholera died)
Bohunkus by request
Bohunkus by request

Cat. #1474 (MFH #332) - As sung by Bill Ping, Santa Rosa, California on September 20, 1972


Apparently, a variant sendup of it is also the song of Ohio State University.
It's also printed in Dirty Work at the Crossroads p. 49 (1969) with a Yale twist that dates back to 1882.

Mudcat: From Yale Songs, compiled and edited by Frank B. Kellogg* and Thomas G. Shepard (New Haven, Conn.: Shepard & Kellogg, 1882), page 43:
BOHUNKUS

1. There was a farmer had two sons,
And these two sons were brothers.
Bohunkus was the name of one.
Josephus was the other's.

2. Now, these two boys had suits of clothes,
And they were made for Sunday.
Bohunkus wore his every day;
Josephus his on Monday.

3. Now, these two boys to the theatre went,
Whenever they saw fit.
Bohunkus in the gallery sat;
Josephus in the pit.

4. Now, these two boys are dead and gone.
Long may their ashes rest!
Bohunkus of the cholera died;
Josephus, by request.

5. Now, these two boys their story told,
And they did tell it well.
Bohunkus, he to heaven went;
Josephus he to—Sing-sing. (was opened in 1826)

More Mudcat parodies here. Roud Index lists a dozen entries  (No.6360), all from the USA or Canada, with titles like Josephus and Bohunkus, Bohunkus, Old Grimes is Dead.

So I'm sticking with my 1849 cholera epidemic theory. Who was Bohunkus, anyway? A parallel song to Old Grimes. Fodder for another day.



UC Berkeley Folklore Collections
Kroeber Hall, Dr. Alan Dundes

Thursday, November 22, 2001

Folklore: Superstition, Unexpected Guests/ Hospitality/ Luck


Genre: Custom/ Superstition Irish-American? (myself)
To set an extra place at the table during a feast
because it might attract an unexpected guest
(what is implied, an unexpected guest brings good luck).

I first remember observing the custom of setting an extra plate for the unexpected guest in the late 1950s when I was eight or nine years old—for Thanksgiving dinner. Because my grandmother who raised me, (Jennie Walsh Reilly, born in 1893, Co. Cork, Ireland), had a large family of eight children—with children of their own.

Thanksgivings were a huge affair with my cousins at the little table, and aunts and uncles & spouses galore at the big table. It was a madhouse of some 20-30 people, plates and chairs, all crowded in to the dining room & adjoining living room. How we were supposed to fit an extra guest in, I wasn’t sure. But we always set an extra plate, just in case—and invariably an unexpected guest arrived at the door just as we all sat down

My grandmother would always be the last one to sit down at the head of the table. It was almost as if she were waiting for that extra place to be filled before she sat down. She’d stall until we all got upset and demanded that she sit down. I’m not sure how I arrived at the idea that an uninvited guest arriving during the holiday was considered to be good luck. I just “knew” it, probably because when someone did arrive unannounced, my grandmother would welcome him with excitement and happiness (especially if it was a tall, dark, handsome man).

I suspect that this custom held some elements of a Celtic hospitality custom. My grandmother grew up in the oral tradition in the Southwest of Ireland, and I learned many Irish customs and tales from her. Serving tea to unexpected guests was part of that welcoming custom, though it would not be considered causal magic superstition. 

As I was collecting folklore, my aunts explained to me the custom of “George” the mythical extra guest. I’d heard about “George,” but never understood that other members of my family (3 generations) thought the extra place was for him as well—as my grandmother, Jennie, didn’t use the saying. She sometimes mentioned a McGregor. 

I remember her annotating it with a reference to Elijah—perhaps to tie it in with the Christian tradition. Though I didn’t find a specific reference in J.H. Brunvand’s “The Study of American Folklore,” (Norton, 1966), he does write that: “Superstitions associated with home and domestic pursuits (category III) usually concern cooking,...changing households....[and methods of] allowing someone to enter the house...” (p. 385).


UC Berkeley Folklore Collections
Kroeber Hall, Dr. Alan Dundes

Folklore: Extra Dinner Guests

Genre: Proverb, British-American (myself) November, 22, 2001
“Wherever McGregor sits, he’s always head of the table.” 


As two dozen of us sat down to Thanksgiving dinner this year out in the yard like pilgrims, having outgrown the house because another family had joined us, my uncle was late at arriving to the table. His wife, my aunt “Toddy” repeated the family saying, “Wherever McGregor sits, he’s always head of the table.”

I first remember hearing this saying in the late 1950s when I was around eight or nine years old—as we sat down for Thanksgiving dinner in Forest Knolls, Ca.

Because my grandmother who raised me, (Jennie Walsh Reilly., born in 1893, Co. Cork, Ireland), had a large family of eight children—who also had children of their own—Thanksgivings were a huge madhouse affair with my ten cousins (whose ranks later swelled to 18) at the little table, and aunts and uncles with spouses galore sitting at the big table—it was a sea of people, plates and chairs.

 How we were supposed to fit McGregor into all this, and who McGregor was, I wasn’t sure. But invariably some unexpected guest came to the door as we sat down and was squeezed in at the extra plate. I confused the two customs and thought the plate was for McGregor.

My grandmother would always be the last one to sit down—which was always at the head of the table. Why would she say this when she was already at the head of the table? And as she sat down, she’d say: “Wherever McGregor sits, he’s always head of the table.” 

I wasn’t too sure who McGregor was. She wasn’t a McGregor, she was a Walsh-Sullivan, but for years I figured he was an ancestor or relation of sorts. But he was Scottish and we were Irish. Even though a great-aunt married a Scotsman (Ward), I wasn’t too sure where McGregor fit into the scheme of things. I remember once worriedly looking up at the Reilly and Walsh family coats of arms on the wall, wondering what his crest would look like—maybe with a turkey or a plate in it.

I confused and conflated the saying of McGregor with another custom we had which was to set an extra plate at the table for the unexpected guest—an uninvited guest arriving during the holiday was considered to be good luck. 

As I was collecting this folklore, my aunts explained to me the custom of “George” the mythical extra guest. I’d heard about “George, but never understood that they thought the extra place was for him as well, as my grandmother didn’t tend to use the saying. She sometimes mentioned McGregor. I remember her once annotating it with a reference to Elijah as someone unexpectedly arrived at the door in time for dinner. 

Part of my confusion with McGregor/George had to do with the fact that I had to sit with the ever swelling ranks of little kids and I wasn’t allowed to join the big table until I was about ten. My birthday fell on Thanksgiving that year, I was allowed to join the adults. I remember puzzling over McGregor.

Interestingly enough, when I explained my confusion about McGregor and the extra plate, my aunt Jane, 73, went ballistic and thoroughly chewed me out with a character assassination which left us all stunned as I was explaining to my family that what made folklore unique was that there were variations in folklore and that this was my own (if flawed) variation. I don’t know why she got so angry, but that made it impossible to probe deeper into the origins of McGregor.

I had to later re-interview my other aunts and cousin in order to get their opinions as to what they thought it meant. I think Jane was threatened by the process of analysis of the folklore which they rejected the idea that McGregor had something to do with Scots thriftiness and stinginess, though they did mention freeloaders and free meals. 

My aunt “Toddy” said the association with McGregor was “so nobody would feel bad wherever you sat because you might get shifted from your place if a stranger came.” We all learned to associate McGregor with the extra plate.

I always thought my grandmother’s usage of McGregor had to do with the famous betrayal and slaughter of the Scottish Highland McGregor clan, invited to the rival Campbell clan’s stronghold for a feast at Glencoe, then killed by the treacherous Campbells—a horrific breach of Celtic hospitality. She’d often use “The Campbells are coming” as a threat. I thought she was honoring the slain McGregors, they’d always be welcome at our table. But when we looked up this story, we discovered the McDonalds were slaughtered in 1692 by the Campbells, not McGregor.

The idea of resurrecting clanship may not be far off the mark. I think my grandmother, as acting head of the Reilly clan, abdicated her personal role, and stood in place for the absent chieftain (hence the mythical McGregor), since her husband had died in the 1950s. My grandfather, as the eldest surviving male Reilly (a sept of the O’Neils), had the legal right to claim the family holdings in Co. Longford, Ireland, but he chose not to do so.

Note Bene: Looking McGregor up in Scottish and British proverb sources yielded nothing, but when I flipped through Archer Taylor & Bartlett Jere White’s “American Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases, 1820-1880,” (Harvard, 1958), while looking up “shank’s mare,” another favorite of my grandmother’s, I stumbled upon: “Wherever Macdonald sits, there is the head of the table.” The quote is listed as Emerson’s Works 1, 105, (p. 232), but I suspect it’s much older than that. Thiis makes our McGregor an interesting variation indeed.



UC Berkeley Folklore Collections
Kroeber Hall, Dr. Alan Dundes


Thursday, November 1, 2001

Integration Games ('Lupe)

‘Lupe turned out so beautiful it made your eyes hurt, with her blue-black hair, honey-colored skin and green cat eyes all turned up at the corners with lashes that threatened to put Maybeline right out of business. But then, I hadn’t seen her since eighth grade when her family moved away from the Valley after her uncle Dean died. So strange seeing her working at the health clinic like that, after all these years. Not exactly a place you want to run into a long lost best friend. Not too many families from our end of the Valley ever escaped ’cause no one ever seemed to have two dimes to rub together, let alone, two month’s rent in a row—especially in winter when work was scarce.

Over the Hill, the idea of Town was another country, another state of mind most of us were incapable of traversing. The Valley, with its rural poverty and geographic isolation was practically a third-world country by comparison. White’s Hill was always threatening to slip at the pass after heavy rain and the townies, they just kept away, afraid they’d slip off into the ravine, or worse, into poverty, as if it was the clap or something. The old timers always said the pavement at the pass was over 50 feet thick and that was before it dropped another 5 feet during the big storm in the Fall of ’64. So the townies, they mostly kept away, which was fine by us, except they called us Valley Rats just to even up the score.

And if the National Seashore hadn’t happened with LadyBird Johnson and all, I bet we’d still be cut off from the world. Instead, we prepared for mass invasions each weekend, but the townies, they never stopped, they never bought anything at the Little Store, or at the House of Richard—that’s a hippie store in Forest Knolls—or DeLacy’s Store in Lagunitas.

They say Darryl Wilburn mostly burned down the rest of both the villages—village is too big a word for where we lived— there wasn’t much left to stop for anyway—unless you needed gas at Urien’s gas station, which was coffee shop where you could get a candy bar, some smokes or a beer. By that time Darryl had burned down all the historic building and watering holes: Speck McAuliff's bar, The Little Store, the ice cream parlour. The only thing he didn't burn down was the Saloon, but it was made of stucco and a family later bought it, so it was a steadier source income than selling firewood.

There was also a garage at Uriel's where our school busses were repaired and a trailer park out back. The Uriels diversified—but the price of gas was too high even for the townies. But Don Uriel was fine to look at standing behind the bar in faded jeans and a white teeshirt choking down a cool one—even if he was old. He really looked like James Dean but if he fixed your car, there were extra parts left over.

I remember how I was so lonely that last year in grade school without ‘Lupe showing me the ropes like—how to rat your bangs. Or what happens if you throw a cherry bomb down the girl’s bathroom toilet and time the flush just right. ’Lupe was always explaining important things like that. Ratted bangs were where the older townie girls stored their arsenal, as she sprayed a half-can of Aqua Net on her bangs to keep them firmly anchored in place. They were frosted so stiff it was like a picture of the wire on top of the Berlin Wall in winter. We were all gearing up for the Big Move to high school Over the Hill. We were being bussed into new territory like those kids from Montgomery, Alabama, only we weren’t Black, we were just poor.

Talk about climbing over walls, I had to find out the hard way about the wall that also divided the Valley when I accidentally repeated to July about what I heard about Kathy Unterberg doing it and maybe being knocked up. I’d never been in a real fist-fight before. I refused, I didn’t want to hit her in the jaw; afraid it might break. It’s not like I didn’t know how, with my brother and all. I always got into more trouble if I hit his face. But she came at me like a watermill and I had no choice. I wasn’t mad at her, so my heart wasn’t in it. She was from Woodacre, you know—the snotty end of the Valley. I was glad ’Lupe wasn’t there to see me so humiliated.

I guess I was kinda jealous ‘cause Katrinka was going out with ‘Lupe’s cousin, Duane de la Ventana—who was to drop-dead-to-die-for gorgeous. July finked that secret out to the world too. Some friend she was. One step up from trailer trash, and living at the dividing line between San Geronimo and Woodacre, she was quickly figurin’ out what side of the Valley her bread was buttered on.

Duane, he was so gorgeous, I couldn’t wait for Thursdays after school—that was catechism day—when we all rode the bus down to St. Cecelia’s church together. He was so cool, he combed his hair just like Elvis. He was always patting his pompadour like it was a newborn baby, and admirin’ it in the mirror or in windows when he thought no one was looking.

Taydie Waverwick was absolutely nuts for Elvis too, she used to wear her hair like his too—which was confusing. She could croon every song he recorded but she was sorta weird with her big boobs and all. She always wore these cowgirl outfits with rhinestones and white go-go boots.

We used to speculate that Taydie's boobs were fake water balloons. She was big as a cow—not at all like Dolly Parton—and she wore rhinestone glasses to match. She used to pick on us runts until one day, in self defense, I accidentally punched her out in the boobs. I was cornered, no place to run—I was the fastest kid in the school. But like I said, I was cornered and I was too short to hit her in the jaw. I really expected them to pop, or something, but her eyes got all watery instead and I felt bad. Anyway, after that, she decided to be my friend. As long as she didn’t want to mash her lips on me it was OK, I guess.

That’s how I inherited the new girls, Phoebe and Elvie, as friends—through Taydie. I knew I was stepping down the evolutionary ladder a bit, but beggars can’t be choosers. Elvie and Eddie, the twins, had already been to Juvie a few times, and their mom was officially on welfare—we always knew who was on welfare on account of where they lived, down on Resaca Road where Papermill Creek always flooded in winter. What I didn’t know was many others were on welfare until much later. Folks was good at hiding things.

Phoebe talked funny ’cause she had a hare lip. She showed us the place where the hole in her palate was and then push some food through it just to gross us out. But sometimes after school, we’d all sit around as if we were good friends instead of accidental leftovers and we'd lip sing all the songs to Elvis’s albums: Don’t be cruel to a heart that’s true... I heard Taydie later became a cowboy singer in Vegas. I didn’t ask as to what sexual persuasion.

When I was younger, I especially loved going over to ‘Lupe’s house after school, her mom would make us the best fresh tortillas and there were always babies to play with. ‘Lupe smelled so fine, like the roses on her saint’s namesake. Her mom only used her whole name when she was real mad at ‘Lupe, which was almost never ’cause ‘Lupe was that kind of sweet. I hardly knew who saint Guada’Lupe was—other than the fact she had roses on her lap.

Once I was chosen for Queen of the May and had to climb up the altar and crown Mary’s head with roses so that sort of made ‘Lupe and me sisters under the skin. One time we both had wounds and so we sealed it with blood. Like with Katrinka. It seems there were always plenty of babies smelling like sour milk and poop, not roses—no matter whose house I was at.

‘Lupe’s mom was usually expecting, but then, so was Katrinka’s mom, Mrs. Larsen, there were 11 kids in her family and we always thought there was something not quite right about Beanie & Booboo. One of ’em fell on his head out of a car which didn’t improve things any.

Mrs. Walton also had 11 or 12 kids but they were all way older than us—except for Scotty, the baby—his brother Clark was old enough to be his father, and he was blind as a bat as well, but he could sing real good. Especially Peter, Paul & Mary songs. He never shaved and looked like a prophet right out of the Bible with his beard and baggy clothes and all—I guess he couldn’t see to shave and no one else wanted to do it for him.

His brothers used to lead Clark up and down the dirt roads—it was like Blind Man’s Bluff, but for real. I was especially confused by this as I once thought he might be related to Superman, and I thought that maybe he was faking at being blind ’cause he was really in disguise, you know, like Clark Kent.

The Waltons lived at the top of the ridge where Mount Barnabe joins up to the long ridge where I lived on the other side. You could go for miles on those ridges and never see a soul: Nicasio, Bolinas, even Fairfax, but to get to Mount Tam, you had to cross the ravine at Alpine Dam but the horses were too afraid of the bridge.

Sometimes, after school, I’d sneak up over the ridge on horseback over the fire road that connected our little Arroyo valley, off Barranca Road, where I lived, to the Walton’s place in Lagunitas— only there weren’t any lakes in Lagunitas, they were all at the other end of the Valley, the rich end, but our end, all the lakes were dried up and stingy—except for the one at Borrillo Ranch near the school.

After ‘Lupe moved, Duane’s family moved into the Borrillo Ranch for a while so I’d ride my horse past whenever I got a chance. When they moved to San Geronimo, it was harder to think up an excuse to ride by ’cause they lived at the end of the fire road. And if I did ride by, you know, casual-like, to be cool, but then I was stuck riding for several hours along Bolinas Ridge above Kent Lake to Lagunitas and then I had to double back on the next ridge just to get home ’cause you couldn’t get off the ridge in between, the ravines were so steep and besides, the scrub was impenetrable. And in fall, with the days growin’ shorter by the minute, there just wasn’t enough time after school to ride both ways and get home before dark. Forget about homework, you could hardly sit after that kinda ride.

Anyway, sometimes Mrs. Walton would give me fresh doughnuts—still sizzling from the hot grease. Don’t ask how I always knew when she was frying doughnuts, it was luck, I guess. Riding home in the dark, licking sugar from my lips took away some of the edge of being under the tall pines where you couldn’t even see the horse’s ears in front of you, but Chiquita—she was steady as a bulldozer—she could see just fine, even if it was pitch black and besides, she always knew the way back home, no matter how far we roamed.

The Wilburns—they had a lot of kids too but they were another matter altogether, they even adopted a couple of their sister’s youngest orphaned cousins—it seems she couldn’t handle her growing tribe. I was convinced Brenda, the redhead, was specially put on this earth to make my life miserable whenever possible. But she’s dead now. Water under the bridge. And my grandma said not to speak ill of the dead. I wonder whatever happened to her that she’d take her own life like that, behind the post office where we’d smoked our first cigarettes....

Don’t you dare tell a soul...I don’t wanna say too much more about them as I’m telling you about real people and they’re all still alive and as mean as ever, thinking they’ve come up a notch in the world and now they own the local bar—the one Darryl didn’t burn down. Them’s that aspire toward the middle class are the most vicious.

But it’s my story and I have the right to remember—even if some folks don’t like it that way, preferring revisionist history to the truth. I guess I could change all the names for the story’s sake, but then I never could think of anything better than the real thing. Besides, their real names resonate in me like bells until I get goose bumps on my heart like when I look at the sacred heart of Jesus or like when the cat licks your lips and your stomach goes all squidgy on you like with your first kiss.

Besides I’ve nothing they want, and it’s all common knowledge anyway. Except they could burn down my granma’s house—which at this point would be a favor since the cousins moved in. As I was saying, it’s really ironic, as Darryl, the eldest kid, proceeded to burn down half the Valley, leaving us with no villages at all—just greasy wide spots in the road where the buildings used to stand. Darryl, he got ’em all, only no one could prove he did it.

The Lagunitas ice cream parlor, both train stations, and the Forest Knolls store with its covered boardwalk—which was a cryin’ shame as they were just like props out of a western movie, only they were real, not fake. But all that pyrotechnics put poor Harry Bolton right out of business.

Harry, a newcomer with money to burn, fell in love with the vintage buildings and had big plans for the Valley long before Marin was “discovered.” It was pretty exciting while it lasted. We even forgave him for building his monstrosity of a house on Horse Hill at the foot of Arroyo Road. It was real cool, with a fake waterfall inside it.

But Darryl really fixed his wagon. Wherever Darryl went, buildings mysteriously burned down. I bet he burned down half the River. Maybe it’s because his father sold firewood, I don’t know. Why, when he was a young child, he even burned down his own family home. Only problem is, everyone was still at home when it happened. That was when it all started, when we knew something quite right, but everyone said he was just a child—couldn’t have known what he was doing—except two youngest brothers also died in the fire.

I remember Mr. Begley coming around collecting clothes and mattresses for the Wilburn family—on account of him having a truck. It was a baby blue Ford and it looked so odd without its camper shell and its vegetables all in neat rows. Instead, all our discarded belongings were stacked up naked like in the movie, “The Grapes of Wrath.”

I didn’t want to give up my favorite old quilt as it was my grandpa’s and he was dead… but Grandma said I had to, ’cause there was folks out there less fortunate than us. But Darryl knew what he was doing alright when he burned down the store, ’cause he did it a third time too. Any empty building seemed to be fair game.


Someone later said that one of the new owners of the Lagunitas Store banked on Darryl's firebrand reputation to burn down the Lagunitas Store and collect the insurance. Stories have a way of coming out eventually. Darryl got blamed for it just the same.


Now, I ain’t sayin’ Darryl did it, but when McAulliff’s bar burned down, that was the worst loss of all, ’cause Teddy Roosevelt used to stop there after huntin’ and they say Maple Leaf Rag was composed on that piano. Someone was burning down all our heritage until there was nothing left. Now some fancy-ass contractor lives there—says he restores historic buildings and all that, but I see he hasn’t bothered to restore McAulliff’s.

Anyway, up the hill from McAulliff’s, that was where Mrs. Begley and her whole tribe of kids lived—all in ragged Ma Joad clothes and that wall-to-wall dirt on their faces made their eyes seem especially watery and puckery on account of the Pink Eye—they were like sour grapes when you bit them in two. You just wanted to squeeze their eyes until the dirt made runnels down their cheeks.

Mr. Begley—who sold us vegetables from his camper truck, he was nice—he sometimes gave us kids the small wilted carrots. We’d all pretend we were Bugs Bunny and say: Hey, what’s up. Doc? and munching like demented rabbits. Here the Begleys had no money at all, and he was giving us the stuff he needed to sell. Dinner at the Begleys consisted of lots of rice and vegetables. That’s the first time I ever ate zucchini with catsup.

Now, Mack’s mom, Mrs. LaRoche… I sorta lost count of how many kids she had—maybe ten? twelve? Anyway, Mack—he was an altar boy along with Mark French and Johnny Hoffmann—they used to finish off the sacrificial wine on the sly when Father Connery got done with it. But Mack was murdered by the Zebra Killer and later on, his little brother went crazy, killing an old lady he was robbing for dope money. The hardest thing about his trial was that I had friends on both sides of that courtroom. He pleaded insanity.

Come to think of it, it seems like there was something not quite right about most of the youngest kids in all those big families. It’s hard to say whether it was genetics giving out, or that it was the mothers who were just plain old worn out after raising and refereeing a baker’s dozen of kids squabbling and carrying on like banshees—with the babies literally getting away with murder.

My grandma, she only had eight kids, and the only one who was really crazy was my mom. Two of my aunts are a bit crazy too, but everyone thinks they’re perfectly normal—which is much scarier than having a bonafide crazy mom. We call them The Bags on account of the cavernous naugahyde purses they carry—you could furnish entire bathroom suites with them.

At least everything’s out in the open with my mom. I didn’t see very much of her as she was always off to Hollywood or Vegas—working for Frank Sinatra doing the showgirl costumes. Mostly feathers and beads. Yes, Sinatra. Old Blue Eyes himself. She said he was real nice; had a drink with him. She knew people like that.

Sometimes it was off to Napa State Hospital too. So it was hard to tell fact from fiction…. Remind me to tell you sometime about Tommy Smothers and Sterling Hayden—they used to baby-sit me over at the Gate Theatre… but that’s another story…. Also, remind me to tell you about the time my baby cousin visited Jerry Garcia’s medicine cabinet on Resaca and had to get her stomach pumped too...

Where was I? Oh, yeah, babies. Anyway, I hardly ever saw any of the moms at the communion rail who weren’t expecting It was as if there were this invisible line across the Valley at the Nicasio turn-off where the big families began. We were all segregated out in second grade when the nuns came and asked us Catholics to raise our hands and there we were, branded from the San Geronimo and Woodacre kids who came from small families and usually had their fathers living with them.

My mom must have had something of the bad Valley seed with her as she once sent me home a baby brother which I didn’t particularly want. Home was with my grandma. My mom was always wild, bucking what my grandma said about sticking to your own kind—you know, race, religion, and all.

My mom, she was like a cat always dropping litters—most of them died—two more lived, but I don’t want to talk about them. One was adopted by an aunt but wound up in Pelican Bay and the other lives in Azuma somewheres—see, he has cerebral palsey and was in a wheelchair—he was kidnapped by the state. That’s what made my mother crazy.

‘Course, I never actually told a soul that she was crazy. I said she was an actress in Hollywood, which was true, and she was in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World with Jack Lemmon—but she was pretty hard to spot in that crowd scene.

Anyway, the state, they lied about stealin’ the baby and my mom spent 25 years looking to find that poor child. She knew that he existed, I mean, she gave birth to him and that’s something you’re not likely to forget—even if you were crazy.

He—Billy Panis, the baby, he was named after this Filipino guy she married so that he could get a green card— he made costumes too—but some gay lover murdered him. It was in all the papers. I once helped sew beads on Miss Korea and Miss Universe’s dresses—they were like angel wings.

Anyway, Billy, he eventually found her when he was an adult and the laws changed, but by then, it was way too late. She was just too used to being crazy. I think it was 60 Minutes or some TV show like that who wanted to do a story on the reunion and all, but I don’t think middle America was quite ready for us. Even we were never quite ready for us, ourselves. Where was I? Oh yeah, I was telling you about my first major crush, on Dennis De la Ventana….

Once a week, I used to love waiting out at the fence post by the bend in the road, for Duane's father, Dean, who was the milkman. He always had something for me: a candy or a kind word. But in winter it was just too hard to get up that early and sometimes the milk would freeze in the bottles and the cream would push up the little paper flap that said “Lucas Valley Dairy” on it, and all the cats would be lined up around the three bottles licking away at the little white pillars of cream while fighting off the birds.

My grandma always got three bottles. If one went off, she made these cottage cheese pancakes for dinner—especially during Lent. One time I ordered orange juice from him but she made me give it back ’cause we couldn’t pay for it. You could get eggs too but we got ours’ from Mary Bianchi.

Dean—he looked like Dean Martin—he used to drive around in this big white convertible with red seats—it was like a steamboat. Sometimes he’d pick up Duane and ‘Lupe after school and give us rides home. But one night after the bars closed, Dean, he flipped that big white convertible on the hill at Lucas Valley Road, and that was that. They say it was a closed casket ceremony.

I was surprised to see Duane in school the next day. Didn’t know what to say to him. I mean, what do you say to someone whose father had to be scraped off the road with a spatula? But Duane, he wore this black sweater with a big purple band like arms wrapped around his chest and carefully patted his hair. That was when I decided purple was my favorite color. I was a little in love with death and wanted to embrace the color of mourning, or of forgiveness, more like it.

But after that, things began to change, everything unraveled and ‘Lupe’s family moved away, into town. I was so lonely without my best friend. The others didn’t quite fill the void that ’Lupe had left. And I never even got to kiss Duane, not even once.



10/31/2001

rev © 2002 Maureen Hurley

This version of these pieces were written in our childhood dialect for a MFA monologue class with Roy Conboy. We had to change the names of the people but not the actual events. An interesting assignment of reportage and character development. I was surprised at how visceral the characters became when I changed the names to protect, in this case, the guilty. It is an interesting tightrope between monologue and memoir as fiction. I had an interesting correspondence with poet Sharon Doubiago who is writing her memoirs, She said that when she wrote about famous people and poets, she always used their real names, but with close friends, she tended to fictionalize them. Apparently I am Lacy Murphy. Maybe Lacy will appear in some of these stories.

Segregation Games (Archie Williams)

SEGREGATION GAMES

Our idea of cruising was to take the horses down to the highway on hot summer weekends—especially Saturday afternoons—to catch the tourist traffic coming back from the seashore. Used to be no traffic out here in the valley. But after Ladybird Johnson and her Secret Service came here in ’66, there’s been a steady stream of traffic ever since. Saturday afternoons, you could hardly cross the highway for the traffic. As I said, it was summer, we were all dressed up in halter tops and cut-offs, we’d collect our horses up between our creamy thighs and they’d rear and leap like Pegasuses. You know, like in the MGM movie? Not that I got to see that many movies, we didn’t have a car to get into town. On horseback, we’d race alongside open convertibles the size of boats, full of rich Sleepy Hollow boys all dressed in white tennis sweaters, sunburnt golden and blond, heading back to town. We’d try to catch their eyes in the hopes of tracking them down later on in school. But their girlfriends ran a pretty tight defence, with their dagger eyes. We couldn’t get past ’em.

Where the guys hung out in school was critical. The parking lot was segregated into the hard guys’ and jocks’ turf. Sometimes there were skirmishes when one gang crossed into another’s territory, but they saved the gladiator games for after the football matches. The cheerleader types sat on the jocks’ laps in their souped-up cars parked by the gym, smoking and necking during recess. The hard guys and Spics who hung out by the palm tree, all looked like James Dean, hair greased back, tight T-shirts n’ jeans. Tino was to-die-for-gorgeous, he’d wear these tight black jeans that wrapped ‘round his hips like snakeskin and teeshirts so white, they’d blind you, but those guys never went out to the ocean. Fourth Street was their turf.

You could always tell the greaser chicks, no matter where they hung out, they were always ratting their hair and spraying it until it was stiff as glass, and they were forever rebuilding their eyelashes with Mabeline. The palm tree in the hard guy’s corner always reminded me of the story of Jesus riding into Bethlehem on an ass. Or was it Mary? Once I had to play Joseph dragging my white ass through Marin City, with all these little Black kids who never even saw a donkey before, let alone a skinny white kid dressed in bedsheets in their neighborhood. It was a long way to Bethlehem at the bottom of the hill.

First Corridor was for the scientifically bent, you know, higher math and the geeks; but it was pretty sparsely populated. Here and there, a lone guy with horn-rim glasses, slide rule poking out of his pocket, leaned against the rail, checking his watch every 30 seconds, waiting for recess to be over. The hard chicks, they took over the first corridor bathroom on account of the fact that there were no scientifically bent chicks. Or if there were, they never went to the bathroom. The two cross-corridors were devoid of life unless you were an absolute zero. Jennie was pretty geeky, her mother used to dye her nylons. She talked with a snotty accent of those who aspired toward wealth. You know, the blueblood DAR types whose ancestors came over on the Mayflower and all that. And those neo-Nazis never let you forget it for a minute either.

Second Corridor was strictly intellectual turf; my locker was right next to Mr. Lucey’s room, and I sometimes got mistaken for the Sartre crowd—but they were so full of crap, always talking about some dunghill beetle rolling shit uphill. Rubbish! Everybody loved Mr. Lucey—he was really handsome, a shock of black hair falling across his blue eyes. Too bad he was a hunchback in a wheelchair. But this was right before the ‘Nam vets began coming home in wheelchairs and boxes. One time, as I was closing my locker, somebody shoved me, and I got all tangled up in his wheelchair. I was wearing this new mini skirt that Micaela and me each made from an old dress. There wasn’t quite enough material for two skirts from it, so they were pretty short. Anyway, Mr. Lucey and I, we were spinning around in circles in a macabre dance with me straddling the chair like a demented hooker from Bermuda Palms down by the canals. I nearly died. I was so embarrassed. Bare-assed, more like it. Luckily, the bathroom was nearby. My nylons were ruined though. I never could look him in the eye after that. I could barely go to my locker. Never took any classes from him either. Way too mortified.

Third Corridor was the true home for us artists, on account of the ceramics lab being open during recess. The kiln roared like a lion, cozy in winter. Most of us were from the valley, bussed in on Greyhounds over White’s Hill every morning. We didn’t quite fit in anywhere else and the jocks and the hard guys hated us for being the sensitive types, or for being plain poor was more like it. They never missed an opportunity to jeer: valley rats! Next to the ceramics lab was my art room where Mark Adler used to draw cartoons of talking rats for me. His father was a classical musician, not like Steve Tristano and Pete Sutton’s absentee dads who played the jazz clubs in New York. In second grade, Steve used to sneak over to the piano during recess and play the Boogie Woogie for us. We’d be rocking out and the teacher would come in and get all upset. But Pete didn’t like music, only the cold clay—he’d slap it around like he was in the morgue. Most of us who grew up in the valley didn’t have fathers anyway. Or mothers for that matter. No one asked for the details. It was my granny who raised me.

My art teacher, Mr. Fairbanks, he went to school with my mom at Polytechnic. First day of class, he mistook my face as hers.’ we used to pass for sisters, she had me young. I think he must’ve liked her. But I couldn’t tell him, or anyone that she was crazy and living on the streets of San Francisco under the name of Kelle Green. He was having a torrid affair with that stuck-up Rachel with the frizzy hair. She was only a sophomore but acted like a senior. During class she would yell out inappropriate comments about how her tie-die bedsheets bled beneath sweaty bodies. We knew what the score was. We heard that he left his wife and Rachel married him after graduation and they moved to Bolinas.

Fourth Corridor, down by the creek, was no-man’s land—except for Mrs. MacKay’s class—she was real cool, she wore rose-colored John Lennon glasses and lived in the Haight. For English class, we’d listen to Country Joe and The Beatles lyrics: And it’s 1, 2, 3, what are we fighting for?. . . Because the sky is blue. . . Fourth Corridor was for the druggies and acid musicians—when they weren’t scoring behind the bleachers. Kelly was secretly dating the Nark so while they were scoring behind the bleachers, everybody was lighting up and scoring up front. You know, the dregs. Like the amateur junkies, Steve Tristano and Scott Weaver. Not that we were so far off the mark ourselves, valley rats, children of welfare moms and alcoholics and/or Catholics. The townies had country clubs and tennis courts, but we had our horses, our tickets out. Keep you legs together. On the horse and you were safe, not like that poor family in Lagunitas who all slept in the same bed. Sally, who wasn’t too bright to begin with, had to drop out of eighth grade. The said her brother did it. I always knew I had to escape the valley or wind up like Eva—and her twin brother Eddie, always in and out of Juvie—or the rest of the child-mothers. So I kept my legs together, of course. When a cheerleader type sweetly asked me if I got off on riding horses, I felt so defiled. She just didn’t get it—besides, she was knocked up by graduation anyway.




MATH GAMES

In school I was very gifted in math, I dreamed in equations and algorithms. I counted binary stars and divided them by light years, and I red-shifted planets into overdrive with my little finger. I knew about the secret language of numbers. I knew about computer cards and numanistics and equations and gold medals and Hitler because my math teacher, Archie Williams, showed us his Olympic medal. I knew that racism wasn’t real, that he struggled to teach us white kids a thing or two about math at a time when Black wasn’t yet beautiful and Selma, Alabama was very far away. And King was still alive. I remember it was in the Fall, dead leaves dancing in a frenzy along the empty corridors. A threat of snow in the air.

I lied, most of this is made up from an alternate universe. Because this was the backwater ’60s, really a hangover from the ’50s. You know, Leave it to Beaver (except we didn’t have any TV—and even if we did, it was all snow anyway). What did I know about bedsheets or men? The trajectories of spitwads and why we cruised Fourth Street long before the movie American Graffiti was made. Why we used to check out a guy’s thumb to get an idea of the size of his pecker. The long finger or his nose was a good indicator, or so they said. That was the real extent of our higher math skills. Not that I knew so much. Never got a chance to test out those hypotheses either.

The twins Adrian and Adair Daley (Adair goes by Adair Lara now—she writes for the Examiner), were always the major math brains—ever since third grade. I'm so math-challenged, the only thing I remember from my math teacher—aside from spitballs from the jocks—was his story about how he met Hitler at the Olympics. I wasn’t too sure who Hitler was, but once I found a Nazi dagger with an enamel swastika, buried up the hill. One of my uncles must’ve lost it, but only Uncle Bill was at Pearl Harbor, so I don’t know where they would’ve gotten it. Our neighbor at the end of the road, Old Man Latindorf was the German Consul and hand to go underground during the war so my Irish grandfather was acting German Consul for a while. Anyway, someone stole the knife from me. What goes through my mind like a Moebius strip is what it must've been like for Archie living in Marin, which wasn't particularly liberated in its pre-peacock feather and hot-tub days—we had Marin City, you know. Alright, so I was pretty lousy in math, Archie taught me a thing or two about equations. But it was years before I got any answers. Let the games begin.

(NB I took out Integration Games with Lupe)


OLYMPIC GAMES

for ARCHIE WILLIAMS,
May 1, 1915—June 24, 1993
“When I came home, somebody asked me, ‘How did those dirty Nazis treat you?’ I replied that I didn’t see any dirty Nazis, just a lot of nice German people. And I didn’t have to ride in the back of the bus over there."
I remember after moving here, I remember wondering how I’d survive in this place where color was segregated by money. This county, where the rich assume that you’ll adjust to their standards. Yes sir, no ma’am. No questions asked. Did they care whether or not I graduated from Cal, that I was a scholarship boy, or that I was the fastest man on earth at the quarter mile, or that I broke the 400 meter world record at the 1936 Games in Berlin? All those years of training for 46 seconds of fame. Yeah, I won that gold medal all right—in front of Adolf Hitler and his fellow Germans. I remember it took me 3 quarters of a second to shake Hitler’s hand and 3 quarters of a lifetime to clean it. His hand, it was so clammy and limp and moist. They say the reason for the handshake was to prove that you weren’t carrying a knife. But Hitler’s arsenol... My running mates and I debated whether or not to take the medals—to have come this far and not take it because Jesse Owens with his four gold medals, was a Jew, and they took his medals away. And here we were, ten Black men, representing America. Do I take the medal, take his hand? Below the eternal flame, all those goosefooting Gestapo soldiers saluting their Kaiser, eyes of the world upon me. What was I to do?

The weight of that medal around my neck, it was an albatross weighing me down. I felt the yoke of the south dragging me back—from the back of the bus, and men in bedsheets burning crosses on folks’ lawns, to Oakland, to California, to the edge of a continent. And there I was, with my hamstrung leg, and nowhere to run. At the head of what line? For what? So during W.W.II, I became theweatherman, it took a damned war to make me the first Black pilot to fly in that white sky, yoking the sun to my wings. Didn’t I break the Color barrier? Here I was, a lieutenant colonel, instrumental in getting Black men in the Air Force and into the sky. For 22 years I taught the next generation of sky pilots how to fly—I taught them how to fly, all right—I taught them to fly right into that bright sun at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and later, it was Korea and Vietnam.

It was OK for a Black man to be an athlete and win honors for his country. But after the war, I still couldn’t get a job. So I stayed in the Air Force for 22 years before I retired. All I ever wanted to do was to teach kids math, but they wouldn’t let me. And then, when I got there, the kids didn’t want to learn. Hell, most of ’em, they didn’t even know who Hitler was, let alone, what he had done. And the school expected me to be an alchemist and turn base metal into gold. All those boys turned to metal all right, they turned right into drafting age. Fodder for the war machine. I don’t blame my oldest kid for tuning out and becoming a musician. What else was there for him to do? Or any of them for that matter? Canada? Was it any wonder that I took to drink now and then to ward off the damp chill?








10/2001

rev © 2002 Maureen Hurley  I'm posting this under first draft date vs revised.

Disclaimer: this is fiction. I’ve no idea if Archie Williams ever drank now and then, or how he felt, this is pure conjecture/fiction in that I imagined his life. He was an incredibly kind and gentle man and it must’ve been hard for him. Some facts I gleaned from his math classes at Drake High School in San Anselmo, CA, he'd often digress and talk about his life—but I was barely 14 and not literarily bent in those days. But he touched my life—even if I never did learn any math. But I got to hold his Olympic gold medal.

I wrote much of this piece before there was internet (gasp) and there was almost nothing available on Archie's life at the library. How much the internet has changed since 2002! Even in 2002 there was little to be found on Archie. I ran into his son Archie when we were bartending an event at Davies Hall ca. 1999. We swapped some stories and in 2000, we had our 20-year high school class reunion, another fertile gathering ground.

The genesis for this piece was in the late 1980s or early 1990s, I fell asleep with the TV on and I was awakened at 3 AM by a newscastor's voice announcing "Archie Williams and Jesse Owens." I immediately woke up and began to write down notes in a dream state as I'd missed most of the broadcast. I turned it into a prose piece of sorts and then forgot about it.

Then in 2000, I was accepted into the San Francisco State Creative Writing Department for poetry. In order to be accepted into both the MA and the MFA program, I had to take a correlative course (a minor) and fiction scared me off—as a poet, I write the truth as I know it— so I focussed on playwriting which allowed me to straddle genres. I zeroed in on the monologue as that was closest to poetry. I never did break away from the urge to transcribe reportage, but I was able to imagine characters (myself) speaking. So many of these pieces are an amalgam of biography/memoir and an attempt to capture persona via dialogue—er, monologue.

This version of these pieces were written in the persona/voice of our childhood dialect for a MFA monologue class with Roy Conboy. I'd dusted it off in Brighde Mullin's MFA class and developed it as she had us mining our old writing drawers for material. We also had to change the names of the people but not the actual events. I never did break away from that strong autobiographical state so Artchie's piece was the closest I got to fiction. An interesting assignment. I was surprised at how visceral they became when written in the voice of a character.

By readying these pieces for my blog, I have had to revisit them and see them again with new eyes. Alas, the art/urge of revision is never done–even long after the fat lady has left the building! Besides, without biographical data, I found I couldn't expand the piece.

However, I just found an Olympic oral history online on Archie Williams and at one point, I will take the facts and add them to this piece. Stay tuned.

http://www.aafla.org/6oic/OralHistory/OHWilliams.pdf

NB 7/2012—Now there's lots of info on Archie Williams on the internet—he even has his own Wiki page! Wiki says Archie didn't shale Hitler's hand (or vice versa) but Archie told us he did shake his hand. What's a writer to do? Change it to match the Wiki facts?