Tuesday, January 15, 2008

'and they all look just the same....'

as many of you know, my father and his flaming red midlife crisis vehicle (a beautiful machine) were involved in an accident on wisconsin's icy roads awhile back. thank G-d, my father's just fine, but his car has required some serious shop time - the repercussions of which, among other things, have led to his recent reclaiming of the early-90's geo we kids usually drive.

now though i love the geo, i do not begrudge its loss. i am glad my dad's alright and i realize how he misses his hot car. i am glad that the accident's chief impact on my life is that i now have to ask bubbe and grampa, my mom's folks, for a lift wherever i need to go.

bubbe and grampa are only too happy to drive me around, no doubt because my bubbe needs some way to dispose of all the food accumulating in her minivan. "i'll drive you to the kosher meat klub," my bubbe says, referring to the butcher-etc store about five blocks away. "we can eat bananas on the way!"

my grandfather is a more optional component, but when our destinations align with his, he sees no harm in coming along for the ride. this way he can point out milwaukee's many landmarks to me at length, for instance the former site of his boyhood dentist's building, or the various houses he has sold throughout the seventies and eighties. perhaps you are surprised by these choices, since most of them will not appear in any tour guide you'll ever find of milwaukee (if they even make any); i assure you they do not surprise me. i'm willing to wager that i could recite the entire tour back to you verbatim. this does not in any way affect my grandfather's delivery of it.

actually, though, my grandparents did manage to pull one over on me during a drive to target yesterday.

the drive started off typically enough, with my grandfather pointing out the window and highlighting various geographical and autobiographical features of the landscape while my bubbe drummed on the steering wheel with one hand and rummaged around in the glove compartment with the other.

"and if you'll look out your window to the right, you'll notice that the houses in this neighborhood are significantly smaller than the houses in your parents' neighborhood," my grandfather said.

"perel, i still have these bags of crackers in the pic n' save bag next to you on the seat," my bubbe interjected.

"in fact," my grandfather mused, "they almost look like little boxes."

he took a deep breath, and i braced myself for the long, detailed explanation of north milwaukee architecture i knew was inevitable.

but instead, my grandfather looked at my bubbe, and my bubbe looked at my grandfather, and my bubbe began to sing, in her helium-lined voice,

little boxes, on the hillside,
little boxes made of ticky-tack,
little boxes, little boxes,
and they all look just the same...

now, lest you think there is anything unusual about my bubbe singing, this is not what surprised me. she sings all the time. what left me speechless was that she appeared to know all of the words to this song, and what's more, she seemed to be singing them in some kind of order. my shock turned to complete immobility when my grandfather smiled dreamily at my bubbe and, with the precision of a musical, joined in.

there's a green one, and red one,
and a blue one and a yellow one
and they're all made out of ticky-tack
and they all look just the same.

if this was not startling enough, the two of them continued to sing, in perfect pitch, on the exact same verse, for some three minutes as we barelled heedlessly along the highway past various cars attempting to figure out what lane my bubbe would swerve into next. i had that strange, fuzzy feeling you get when you're in a dream. you know, it has that weird self-contained dream logic. my grandparents unhurriedly made it to the last verse, as my bubbe wrestled a pack of m&m's from between their seats, her voice high and thin, my grandfather's zestful and hearty:

there's a green one, and a pink one
and a blue one and a yellow one
and they're all made
out of ticky-tack
and they all look
just the sameeeee.

there was an eery silence in the car after they'd finished. for about a tenth of a second.

"that was a very popular song for some years," my grandfather reminisced fondly, "particularly in 1964."

then, true to form, he glanced over his shoulder at me.

"you probably don't remember it," he noted.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

That song is supposedly written about the houses in Daly City, just south of San Francisco. The houses there really do look all the same, just different colors.

4:06 PM  
Blogger tnspr569 said...

Priceless! I love this family!

5:15 PM  
Blogger SJ said...

Wow. I don't get it.

"Helium-lined voice" --now there is a brilliant description. Love it.

7:46 PM  
Blogger orieyenta said...

The real question is...does your Dad remember the song? heh heh.

6:29 AM  
Blogger Scraps said...

I've heard the song before, but it's waaaaaay before my time.

I love the stories you tell! I know I'll always get a good laugh. :-D

9:03 AM  
Blogger PsychoToddler said...

You have no chance to survive make your time

9:33 AM  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Wow, *I* certainly remember that song. Who sang it? I remember vaguely that the singer was a male folk singer (Pete Seeger, perhaps?). It certainly applied to the several Levittowns that then existed within driving distance of the South Jersey home in which I grew up. If memory serves me correctly, at one point in my life, I knew relatives and family friends who lived in Levittown, PA, Levittown, NJ (whose residents voted to return to the town's original name, Willingboro), and Levittown, NY, and, believe, me, "little boxes made of ticky-tacky that all look just the same" was a pretty darned good description.

10:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How did you know my father for all of these years without hearing that song? I was subjected to it every time we drove past a subdivision. (That's why my mom knows all of the words. She's heard it even more times that I have!)

9:11 AM  
Blogger Stubborn and Strong said...

why is it so werid that they sang that song together? they never did this before?

9:41 PM  
Blogger Tzipster91 said...

I suppose that's where my mom learned it from. We were driving past a hillside of little box houses once and she started singing it...

11:42 AM  
Anonymous scraps said...

Nu? Did you get back to Stern without incident?

3:41 PM  
Blogger RaggedyMom said...

The vividness of the description in your writing makes it one of my most fun reads, after the books I read to the kids (excerpt: "If I can sit on the potty, then my pants will stay dry!" Go on, try to say it with feeling)

Sign me up for the Mwke tour. Are there naps? I could totally use a nap. Also, this made me wonder how my kids will picture their old neighborhood when they're Bubbe and Gramps's ages. Wow, that is a weird thought.

11:15 PM  
Blogger Gila said...

Oh--very cute!

10:18 AM  
Anonymous anonymous mom said...

Neil Fleischman has an interesting take on that song in his blog and his classroom. Catch it on Youtube here:

11:45 AM  
Blogger iguana said...

Bubbe does not really sing that often. She drives Yonina and I home from school (2 blocks away) and does the whole banana thing, sure, but usually she just hums to herself. She usually hums whatever they sang in shull last shabbos.

5:00 PM  

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