Monday, November 22, 2021

Huena verses the world

My late mom Huena Carter (nee MacIsaac) was a singing machine.

Huena sang. All. The. Time.

She had a pretty voice, too. Probably soprano. She wasn't trained, and I don't recall her, like, you know, ever belting it out. Huena simply sang  just loudly enough that anybody within 15 feet of her could hear. 

But she sang all the time.

Huena sang as she baked gingerbread cookies; she sang when she threaded sheets and other laundry through the wringer washer; when she rocked babies. And probably as she was knitting her trademark ambidextrous mittens, which of course could be worn on either hand.

Seems to me Huena sang as much as she talked

I also know that after she left her home in Cape Breton in Nova Scotia and migrated as a single woman to the city of Sudbury to study nursing, she sang to fight off loneliness. I know that because for a few years near the end of her life, she kept a sort of a diary, in a notebook my wife Helena bought for her and in which Huena made mention of that very fact. 

At one point in the early 1940s some officious hospital supervisor told Huena that if she insisted on singing while at work she'd be sent home and wouldn't be able to finish school. Singing  in the hospital, he said, was just wrong.  

Happily,  Huena reported, a local physician who I figure probably had a crush on her, came to Huena's rescue and defended her right to sing. 

She sang on.

Her repertoire was vast and ribald. And she adapted her favourites. 

To wit: In Nat King Cole's hands, the song Honey went like this:

"I'm in love with  you, Honey,
Say you love me too, Honey
 No one else will do, Honey,
Seems funny but it's true.

"Loved you from the start, Honey'
Bless your little heart Honey,
Every day would be so sunny,
Honey, with you"

Here's Huena's rendition, which I like a heck of a lot more: 

"I'm in love with you, Peter
Say you love me, too, Peter
No one else will do, Peter
Seems funny but it's true.

"Loved you from the start, Peter
Bless your little heart, Peter
Every day would seem much sweeter,
Peter, with you." 

Speaking of, another of her favourites, she didn't have to adapt. Eddie my Love was made to order for my older brother. "Eddie my love, I love you only only.." 

Another Huena hit? A delightful item about a soldier with a severe stutter. Goes something like this:

Beautiful Katy
You're the only g-g-g-girl 
That I adore.

"When the m-moon shines
Over the c-cowshed
I'll be waiting for you by the k-kitchen door."

Remind me to ask my wife, a speech and language pathologist, if she finds that one as much fun as I do.

Many of mom's go-to's were old Scottish ballads like Donald where's your Troosers? 

"Let the wind blow high let the wind blow low, through the streets in my kilt I'll go;
All the lassies say 'helllooo' Donald where's your troosers?"

I'm thinking my eldest brother Pat named his youngest son Donald only so he'd get to hear Huena do that one.

What's really important is that when I needed all those lyrics for the purpose of this blog, they were right there where I needed them at the forefront of my brain. I started writing this about half an hour ago. Not one lyric did I have to look up. 

My singing mom engraved lyrics to Wild Colonial Boy and Bell Bottom Trousers in our brains right beside the words to the Our Father and the St. Clement's church Sunday Mass schedule. (9:00 a.m., 10:30, noon. If you slept in past noon you'd have to go to a suppertime French mass up at St. Eugene's.)   

Sometimes I think my mom had so many kids just so she could come up with songs for each one of us. 

Then again I'm such a slave to science I recognize that one of the reasons Huena had so many kids was that my equally Catholic dad Tom really liked when Huena sang. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

One hal of a hallowed evening

BROTHERS IN ARMS: Or in cigarettes, which 
can be just as important.

My daughter Ria to me: "How was Halloween on Grenadier?" (That's our street. Grenadier Road.)

Well now.

I figure between 100 and 125 trick or treaters showed up. Began as a trickle at about 5:30, grew to a steady flow by 6:30  and by seven, things were slowing down. Then around 7:20,  a neap tide of taller, slightly calmer kids revived the spirits for a bit.  That crowd, I can relate to.

So busy did the street get that, at the height of the trick-or-treating--during those extremely rare moments when the four shelling-out alleged grown-ups on our porch managed to stay silent long enough--you could hear ambient laughing and squealing from up and down the street. The air was electrified.

We hadn't heard anything like this for, well, 18 months or more.

Imagine experiencing this junk for the first time!
And the costumes? They get better every year. 

One of my favourites this week?

A kid, in the second batch who looked like he might be in grade five or eight (how would I know?), had a slightly beat-up tin saucepan for a hat.

My brother Eddie, who has been a Halloween fixture at our place for as long as I can remember, said, "Lemme guess. A pothead." The kid nodded.

Best new thing?

Eddie, me and my wife Helena had help shelling out from our neighbour and friend DaJing.

DaJing's about my age.

He and his wife Yan Ping immigrated from China a year and a half ago. But since nobody tricked or treated in 2020, this past Sunday was DaJing's first Halloween ever.


The costumes, the laughing families, the excited kids scurrying up the steps screaming "trick-or-treat" and their moms and dads, also dressed up (my hands-down fave was a mom wrapped in what must have been a few kilometres of cloth disguised as--what else?--a mummy) reminding them to be polite from the sidewalk with, "what do you say?" All this amid  a sheer ka-ka-storm of candy candy everywhere. 

Then imagine being DaJing seeing this for the first time from the vantage point of our eight-foot-by-eight-foot porch having beer, smokes, jokes, snacks and plain nutsing around with me, Eddie and Helena all competing for attention. I don't know about you, but at times like that, I just can't shut up. 

Pretty scary, huh?
But you also have to know this: A few months back, DaJing and I realized we could bridge the language barrier with--wait for it-- Google Translate. Everybody with access to the Internet can use Google Translate and it's the kind of technology my late mom Huena would deem miraculous. It even speaks Latin and Esperanto. 

TOWER OF BABBLE: My mom would deem
Google Translate a gift from God.
Real life example: I typed "My mom gave birth to 5 boys and 5 girls. I'm the youngest."

On DaJing's computer, Google translates it into Mandarin. 

DaJing types his response: "So you're the baby!" 

I read the English translation out loud while DaJing grins and moves his arms back and forth as if he's rocking a baby. 

And at the exact same moment as Eddie says "And he's still the baby," Helena's like, "you wanna talk spoiled? You wanna talk spoiled?" 

DaJing's still giggling but now he's also reaching into the little plastic pumpkin for another handful of OH HENRY!s to hand out to the kids. And he's laughing like a stoned teenager every time he does so.

You wanna talk chaos on the porch? 
Ed had never seen Google Translate before Sunday evening. When he figured out what it could do, he said, "If they had this when I was travelling around Thailand, I would have met lots more women." 

Then, tap tap tap, I could tell DaJing exactly what his new friend Ed said! 

Our goofy little party lasted the exact right amount of time: A hair shy of 120 minutes.

Just enough time to walk away with a few memorable lessons:

First, in response to Ria's original question about how Halloween was on Grenadier.

I can't imagine it being any better. Part of me believes this was the first post-pandemic party we've all been waiting for.  

Another lesson? You wanna talk something that doesn't need any frikkin' high-tech translation gizmo?