Jewish or not, as a little girl, I got a present every Christmas. I’d wake up in the morning–of course I didn’t want to sleep–and Poppa and Momma would be there and there would be a present on top of my feet. I always knew it would be there. Whatever it was, I was hocking them about it all year long and it would be on my bed Christmas Day, absolutely. And Poppa would be laughing his head off and he would always say, “Senty Claus was here!”
One year I drove them crazy. I drove them out of their minds. I only wanted this xylophone toy with a hammer to play. Sure enough, Christmas morning, there it was on my bed.
My father-in-law, Solomon, born in Whitechapel in 1887, was noted for singing an endless number of English music hall songs. One in particular springs to mind. Please click the player below to hear Solly’s rendition of Poor Old England (1907), lyrics provided.
Poor old England, isn’t it a picture? Everything you see you must agree, The carpet on the stairs, the table and the chairs are made in Germany. When I go up into me bedroom, lying in a tiny cot Is a little baby boy, mother’s pride and only joy, That’s the only little thing that England’s got.
Pictured above are my in-laws from England, Solomon (“Solly”) and Annie. Solly was born in London in 1887. He possessed an inexhaustible repertory of English music hall songs, developed over decades of dedicated practice. He would sing at the drop of a hat, to Annie’s dismay. In 1955, my husband recorded his dad. I am providing just one example here among dozens of ditties. The recording is a song called “The Weaker Sex”. Click the player below to hear him, lyrics provided…
By the wink of her eye she can capture your body and soul. By the wave of her tongue she can drive you up the pole. She can rush a man, crush a man whenever he goes too far. Oh, the weaker sex are wonderful strong they are.
“East side, West side, all around the town…” You know that famous song from 1890s? For our 50th wedding anniversary, my daughter made a film of my husband and me singing songs of the Gay ’90s. Here is a clip…
The very first live play that I went to see happened to be a musical, in the Hopkinson theater in Brownsville. I had never been to the theater in my life. I was about 10. My mother and father took me. It was a Yiddish play with Menasha Skulnik called Getzel vert a khoosin (Getzel Becomes a Bridegroom). I was so amazed. There were people singing and dancing and hulyan on stage. And I knew they were telling funny stories because everyone in the audience was laughing their heads off. That was the first time I had been to a play and I didn’t know very much Yiddish at the time. I never forgot it. I had been to the movies before. But I knew immediately that this was not like going to the movies. This was real life. It was the beginning of my awakening to the outside world.