Thursday, March 29, 2007

Hot and Good

I love the hokey old movie, “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” a story about the incredible life of a Titanic survivor and all-round fascinating character. The movie isn’t particularly true to the historic facts of Molly’s life, but it’s charming in a ridiculous kind of way.

If you’ve seen the movie, you probably remember Mrs. Gladys McGraw, Molly’s next-door neighbor in Denver. Fresh out of Leadville, Molly is enthralled with Mrs. McGraw’s elegance, including the news that she “gives a party when her roses bloom.” Later, Molly meets Mrs. McGraw’s mother, Buttercup Grogan, who is a rough and tumble, good-hearted, backwoods woman. Mrs. McGraw keeps Buttercup hidden most of the time to protect the elegant image she’s created for herself since moving into Denver society.

This is a long explanation to get to the fact that this morning I feel like Mrs. McGraw. Might even answer to Gladys if anyone calls it out. I don’t hide my mother and father in the basement, but I don’t often tell their stories, either.

It’s easy to tell stories about how shocked we were when the teenagers next door showered behind the lilac bushes in the rain. We were shocked. We were only 7 or 8 and had never seen anything like it. It’s harder to report that my dad bathed in ponds and creeks all over Iowa and Missouri when he was a teenager.

You see, Dad and his family traveled with a carnival during the summers of 1948 and 1949. He was 17 and 18 during those summers and they've marked the rest of his life. Part of the musical score of my life has been the call of a carney. Engaged in some mindless task, Dad sings out, “Hot and good and good and hot. Fried in butter and golden brown. Half a cow on a bun for one. Come on in.”

Dad tells stories of living out of the back of a truck, taking baths in ponds, and sleeping on the ground. At every little town, he got paid $4 to help put up the Ferris Wheel and $4 more to take it down afterward. Dad’s mom and dad ran “The Cookhouse” hamburger stand; his younger sister ran a photo booth; he ran a string game.

“Oh these lucky strings. Every time you play, you win. A winner ever time for a dime. Can’t win if you don’t play. Come on in.”

Dad later went to college. I remember his college graduation, as a matter of fact. He was a teacher when we lived in California and owned a substantial business in the town where I grew up. Like Mrs. McGraw, we became “second generation.”

Even today, if Dad is served a large portion of something or another or comes across something larger than expected, he’ll exclaim, “Now that’s half a cow on a bun!” The rest of us say it, too.

How much of my "not that kind of girl" attitude has been an unconscious attempt to cover those roots? I have no idea, but you can bet that now that I've come upon the question, I'm going to dig around down here for a bit.

Our family may not be crazy, but it's damn colorful, don't you think?


Mystic Wing said...

For years, there was a common exclamation made by members of my mother's family, which I always imagined was some kind of foreign phrase, because it was said so quickly and forcefully that I couldn't actually hear the words.

"Crymen Ettalee," is how I heard the phrase.

It was only a few years ago when I ran across a fictional conversation in a book, in which one of the characters exlaimed "Crime in Italy," meaning that something was so outrageous that it would be illegal even in Italy, where lawlessness rules.

This was the exclamation I had been hearing all those years from my mother's family. Who knew? In all likelihood, it's usage began when the first immigrants of the Irish Haynies arrived in the New York area and found themselves struggling with immigrant Italian population over jobs and housing.

Great blog today. I think this will be a very profitable line of questioning for you.

kario said...

I love your family and can't wait to discover some more of the colors! This is too fun. Keep going, Jerri!

Kim said...

Extremely colorful, and your terrific descriptions are equal to the task!

Deb said...

Wow, this made me think of Suzy's circus connection. You ask interesting and not so easy to look at questions. I'm proud of you for giving them the light of day.

I love the colors that you paint your family, and all your other characters, with. They are vivid, gorgeous, larger than life.

As always, I can hardly wait for the next story.

holly said...

Great color that you totally bring to life here.

Amber said...

I think that is great! LOl! What an interesting bit of history for a writer to have in her family. Great!


Nancy said...

And you asked the question a number of posts ago, "so why would I write a memoir and who would read it?"

Please dig around down there for a bit! Loving the colorful canvas you are painting here!

Stacy said...

It's a Kaleidoscope! You Kidding?!!

Carrie Wilson Link said...

Nobody wants to read a memoir about normal!

Monica said...

Definitely colorful. This reminds me a little bit of THE GLASS CASTLE, but you don't hide your background to the extreme she did. But what a fascinating story that book tells. And how fascinating it will be to read yours, too! Digging around even if the roots are deep and dirty and not so pretty is ALWAYS worth it.