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Shut your mouthie go away mama looka boo boo day
This was the chorus my mother sang right after this unusual verse:
That is your daddy.
Like all of my mother’s odd nursery tales and lullabies, we assumed this was created in the complex vortex that was my mother’s brain. The result was always the same; to give us a solid fear of the outer world or well just to make sure we didn’t fit in with those other people.
I remember the day I was reaching just a little too far into the oven to retrieve a tray of fish sticks, ( I came from a major fish stick family), and my mother screamed, “Slova, while you’re in the oven …”
“Slova … I want you to know that if you ever eat pork, you’ll smell your ancestors burning!”
“Your great-, great- and many great-grandfather was burned at the stake by Queen Isabella for refusing to eat pork in front of his congregation.”
“Mom, We’re Hungarian, not Spanish!”
My mother just smiled, her typical, “You’ll see” smile and went back to slicing a head of iceberg lettuce into large, pale-green rings. To this day, I’ve yet to come up with a single reason iceberg lettuce has to exist on this planet except for one, giving fat Jewish mothers something to do while they are torturing their children.
Many years later at a cocktail party, I found myself in the midst of a semidrunken chat with a young woman who had just earned her Ph.D. in anthropology, her specialty Hungary.
“Why, it makes perfect sense that your family might have suffered in the Spanish Inquisition. The flight to Eastern Europe was a common one for the Jews escaping Spain. To wind up in Hungary was fairly normal.”
“You mean Mom was telling the truth?!” I said a little louder then I’d intended.
“Well yeah, probably … but I don’t think there’s a lot of stock to her somehow knowing you are the direct descendant of King David.”
“Guess that shoots the hell out of the second half of that speech.”
“Which is …”
“That I carry the seed of the messiah.”
Oh yeah, that little ditty was a potent one. Mom reminded my sister and I on a monthly basis that since we were in fact direct descendants of Kind David, as in David and Goliath David, we might carry the future offspring who might parent the future messiah so were we to hang a little to closely with Christian boys, we could ya know … poison the line and therefore destroy the chance of the savior being born and all that.
Rather heavy for an 8-year-old, I can assure you.
Then there was the prayer … a typical bedtime prayer, you might say, except this one was modeled after the Pledge of Allegiance.
It went like this, “I pledge allegiance to the torah and to the Jewish people, and I promise to live a nice Jewish life and … marry a nice, Jewish boy … except, of course, for my brother on that one, who was to marry a nice Jewish girl.”
“Mom, is this really a normal prayer?” I asked once.
“Definitely, and it will make God very happy.”
Well, the only thing worse than disappointing your mother was disappointing God, so we said the prayer every night.
I actually recited the prayer like clockwork, without thinking, well after I’d realized that I would not in fact be marrying any boys, let alone Jewish ones. What it appeared I had the biggest yen to marry were in fact black Christian women, preferably from tropical islands.
“I’m guessing that was as far away from my Orthodox Jewish mother on the Jersey Shore as I thought I could get.
Another of my mother’s favorite lullabies went like this:
I love myself; I think I’m grand.
This seemed adorable to me at 6. But at 14 I began to wonder just what sort of message this was supposed to send. Was I supposed to not only fear sex with anyone other then my Jewish husband but also perhaps prefer myself?
Was my mother singing a song extolling the virtues of masturbation?!
“Where did you hear that one, Mom?”
“Oh it was a big hit once,” she replied.
It must have been a big hit when dinosaurs roamed the earth, because I never did hear it anywhere but from my mother’s mouth. Nor did I ever hear her favorite late-night tear jerker, “If You this Crish Should Marry,” a song about a young woman who falls in love with a Christian boy and kills herself so she won’t break her father’s heart.
The chorus goes like this …
“If you this Crish should marry, your father’s heart would break, ’cause you are a rabbi’s daughter and must leave him for his sake.”
Yep, your typical non-dysfunctional childhood here. Sure, most kids get dropped with the “you’re the carrier of the messiah’s seed and must not poison the race, ya know” speech with their morning oatmeal.
I don’t remember a lot of the dreams I had as a kid, but I kinda wonder what those kind of lullabies might have prompted -- nightmares that I was being chased by Goliath, and he was holding the most dangerous of weapons, a true weapon of mass destruction for the Jewish people; a wedding ring from a Christian.
The only thing that gave me courage was the knowledge that my mother’s speeches, like her songs and her nursery tales, were all made up by her and held no clout in the world called reality.
Well, except, of course, for the Queen Isabella story.
A few years after the cocktail party with the anthropologist, I met a Hungarian filmmaker.
“My mom tried to convince us that our family came from Transylvania,” I said joking. “I think it was one Dracula movie too many.”
“Well, actually, some of Satmar and the surrounding area that your family comes from has now been eaten up by Romania, and Transylvania is in that area. So you know, your mom might just be right about your clan coming from Draculaville.”
I blurted the only response I could muster.
But no one, no one, could tell me that the lullabies were not created in Mom’s brain. That is, until a few days ago.
So there I was sitting at Caravan of Dreams, the local vegan joint, getting ready to dig into some spelt pancakes when the song came on the cd player. There it was, loud as could be -- a man singing in a heavy west Indian accent to a beat that sounded like a cross between calypso and reggae, “Shut your mouthy, go away. Mama looka boo boo day!”
I sat back and listened in disbelief as the chorus came on again, “That is your daddy. Oh, no. My daddy can not be ugly so. …”
The sound after that was the maple syrup coming back up my nose.
So what’s the lesson here you may ask?
Well, I guess it’s that the nursery tales and lullabies that Mom shared with us were seasoned with a little bit of truth, a little bit of love and a whole lot of keeping us in line.
I got a feeling that wherever Mom is now, she’s figured out it really doesn’t really matter who we love, but that we love. At least I hope so. As for that pesky messiah business, well, my theory is that if there is such a thing as a savior, then he or she is carried inside each and every one of us.
We all have the power to save the world, or … well … at least vote in a different president.
All material © copyright 2001-3, Rossi
But wait! There's more!
the Family supper
The Last Road Trip
Cabbage and Noodles
Days of Awe
Rabbis and Mozzarella
The Guilt Wheel
The Breakfast March
TOTALLY COMPLETELY AND ABSOLUTELY NORMAL
Miss New Jersey
Ramada Inn Makes Nice Soap
Buying a Piece of Jackie
Introduction to Memoirable ... Return to Kingston Avenue