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It’s always a risk to go sailing down rabbit holes, because you never know what you might turn up when you hit bottom. Thus, after a recent conversation with a family member about the previous paternal generation of “She” and its love of the early-20th-century music-hall oeuvre.
My father and his siblings were veritable treasure troves of archaic hits. You can see a bit of it here, recorded only a couple of months before Dad died, in a conversation with his younger sister Pat:
Auntie Pat died on December 10, 2022, at the age of 99-and-a-half. It’s the end of an era for my family, and the first time in 115 years that neither my dad nor one of his siblings has trod the earth.
Things don’t move as swiftly, when it comes to funeral arrangements, in the UK as they do in the US, so her funeral service will be held on February 3, at the church where she and her family were lifelong members, and with I’m sure dozens or more of her former pupils — all girls–attending.
I won’t be there. My part in the performance has been to oversee the formatting and layout for the order of service program and–in what I think is an inspired move–to put together a booklet of memories to hand out at the reception.
That’s been occupying most of my time for the last fortnight or so.
Pat’s teaching career extended from the late 1940s until the mid-1980s. She was so beloved that I’ve written quite a few posts here referring to her as our very own “Miss Chips,” a take-off on the James Hilton novel about the beloved English schoolteacher. (If you want to watch the movie, pick the 1939 one starring Robert Donat and Greer Garson. Under no circumstances should you watch the 1969 musical remake starring Peter O’Toole and Petula Clark. The mind boggles.)
As of this writing, the booklet (which is composed of A4-size pages–similar to US letter-size, but slightly different–folded in half) has 24 pages, and no sign of running out of memories sent in by former pupils, friends, family members, and even a 93-year old contemporary teaching colleague. It’s funny, sweet, and heartbreaking, all at once.
The music hall thing came up in preliminary discussions about the order of service, and what music to play while exiting the crematorium. My vote was for Vera Lynn, and “We’ll Meet Again.” A disruptor suggested “A Little of What You Fancy Does You Good.” A peacemaker offered to go out and find some instrumental versions of the songs Pat loved–the happy music without the sometimes bawdy words.
And that’s where we ended up.
Along the way, someone mentioned “Lily of Laguna.” I couldn’t place it at first, but a day or so later in the shower–where I do some of my best work–it came to me:
You are my Lily of Laguna
You are my lily and my rose!
So I looked it up.
Wikipedia (the fount of all knowledge!) says it was originally a “British coon song” written, in 1898, in the “eye dialect.” So, racist. And if recountings of the original lyrics are accurate, they are truly awful. (I’m glad those lyrics haven’t been canceled (yet), even on YouTube (where you can still find renditions), because it gives me the chance to say that. The problem with “cancel culture” is that it removes such an opportunity, at the same time as it reinforces the opprobrium associated with the original insult, which you’re no longer allowed to see.)
I wasn’t familiar with the term “eye dialect,” but having looked it up, I’ve seen it in action. It’s the use of non-standard spellings or pronunciations by which an educated speaker tries to show that he’s a man of the earth with humble roots: “Wimmens” is probably the most common example, but there are plenty of others” that are widely used, even unto this day. Frankly, I’ve always thought such a thing was rather silly. And demeaning not only of the audience, but also of the speaker.
I’m very sure that nothing about my family’s musical hall experience was racist or encompassed eye dialect. And indeed it seems that if Lily of Laguna started out that way, it got fixed pretty quickly. Early in World War II, it was recorded as a traditional love song–with inoffensive lyrics–by the likes of Bing Crosby and Mary Martin, and, according–again, to Wikipedia, it’s been featured in innumerable instances of popular culture, even going so far as to–perhaps–being used as a signal to the French Underground for action during World War II.
Back to Auntie Pat’s memory book
I don’t think I should publish what others have said, without their permission. (So, sue me. I don’t think we should profit, either monetarily, or through social credit, from that which doesn’t belong to us), but I will include here what I said at the end of the booklet, after what was really an overwhelming response:
I do wish that for all of us. That our loved ones live forever in our hearts and in our lives. And that we “refer” their memories to those whom we love ourselves.
I’ve written before about how I think this miraculous phenomenon of referred memory is unique to human beings. Animals can’t do it. Chairs can’t do it. Hay bales can’t do it. Bacteria can’t do it.
But we can. And we should.
So thank you, Auntie Pat, my darling Miss Chips.
May you live forever.
PS: Please note the inclusion of my personal blog’s logo on the last page of Pat’s booklet. It’s “The Lily and the Rose.” Go figure.Published in