I’ve never understood the mechanism by which things we do our damnedest to remember slip through our brains without a trace while other matters on which we have expended no conscious effort at all to recall hold on forever.
There’s mystery attached.
Why my brain picked its beloveds when it might have held on with a bulldog grip to the stylings of Steve and Eydie Gorme or Jack Jones, is beyond me. OK, I just listened on the internet to those acts, and, eh, maybe not such a mystery there.
I’m talking here about snatches of songs, comedic routines, that neighbor’s thick accent, a commercial for Purina Cat Chow, all things that sink so deeply into one’s makeup that even the lever of Archimedes cannot dislodge them.
Speaking only for myself here, most of my earliest memories center on the countless little songs and silly stories off those brightly-colored Disney 45s and albums that always seemed to be about the house. Like the recording about a small boy with an 18-syllable name that began with Nikki Nikki Tembo. This boy, it seems, fell down a well and there he remained for a long time because no one could pronounce his full name. Eventually, it was shortened. About side 2, I remember zip, although I’m sure there had to be one. Having no second side would have been like having an inside without an outside.
My inner recording device latched onto the opening songs to F Troop, Car 54 Where are you? and “My Mother the Car.” Critics say that last one, about a guy whose dead mother’s spirit came back as a car, just may be the all-time stinker of a television show, but the tune was catchy:
“She’s my very own guiding star.
A 1928 Porter.
That’s my mother dear.
‘Cause she helps me through everything I do
And I’m so glad she’s near.”
If others could look into my psyche — and I suspect the psyches of many others — they’d find a hopeless farrago of this stuff.
I know this trait is not unique to my family. A college roommate, a good fellow from Tonasket named Joe Burnett, clued me in. Interesting guy, that Joe. He was brewing brandy in our room in a glass jug to which he’d attached Groucho glasses and a sweater. Joe liked to walk about the hallways and room without shoes or socks. Not even the ground had such dirty feet.
Anyway, one night Joe started singing a little ditty, which, without his knowing it, opened up a window on his own childhood.
“Chick, chick, chick chick chicken, lay a little egg for me,” Joe warbled.
I am honored that he shared with me what would have sounded ridiculous to anyone with a modicum of the sophistication I have never possessed. But I got where he was coming from — his childhood.
At family get-togethers, we, the children of Maurice G. and Irene Whale — especially my sisters Carole and Diane, and I — still sing tunes we sang and rehearse lines we learned when we were very small, and even after more than half a century, are still able to find joy and laughter in these shopworn things.
A special favorite is the Burl Ives’ album of songs for children, and in particular, one of the tunes — for reasons that should be obvious — told the story of Sara, a whale in San Francisco town “with a most amazing appetite.” Here I quote in part.
“Her name is Sara and she’s a peach/ But you can’t leave food within her reach/Nor nurse-maids, nor Airedales/ Nor chocolate ice cream sodas.
“…So what can you do in a case like that? What can you do but sit on your hat/ Or your toothbrush, or your grandmother/or anything else that’s helpless?”
In addition to the Beatles and Jimmie Rogers and Paul Revere and the Raiders, our catalogue includes showtunes from “Fiddler on the Roof,” “The Music Man,” and songs of the Irish Rovers and even the Cowsills.
But it’s not all about melodies. The tales of Dr. Seuss come up frequently.
My sister, Carole, does a kicking version of Seuss’s “The Pair of Pale Green Pants With No One Inside Them.” And my sister Diane will occasionally summon up a bit from the book “On Beyond Zebra,” handing me the first line about a letter called Humph Humph a Dumph: “There’s a real handy letter. What’s handy about it? You just can’t spell Humph Humph a Dumpher without it.”
OK, to what I said earlier about the lever of Archimedes, I must now admit at least one glaring exception.
Bill Cosby’s comedy albums played a major part of my childhood. But the revelations about him in recent years have turned Fat Albert, and Old Weird Harold, and The Chicken Heart That Ate New York City into subjects that we no longer talk about.
But they’re still in the psyche. And damn Bill Cosby for mucking up a major part of my kidhood by being a criminal, and then refusing to go away.
For the most part, however, I am happy with the happenstance jumble, and would have it no other way. It ties me to happy memories and people too numerous to count.
Columnist and reporter Robert Whale can be reached at email@example.com.