I don’t know what it is about Americana that makes us decide a driving vacation is a good vacation. Maybe it comes from the 50s, when a car was a sign of proper middle class prestige, and everyone had one. Maybe it’s from further back, from the days when visiting the neighbors took the whole weekend and courtship consisted of rides in carriages and buggies. Regardless, there’s this family car trip/outing idea we still have that was never a good one. Personally the only experience with my family that I found was more scary are those egg-things you ride up in to get to the top of the Gateway Arch (Hint: If you don’t know, it’s in Saint Louis). And the only reason that was more scary is because the enclosed space is even smaller, and it moves in an erratic jerk in multiple dimensions.
So renewed ‘local’ vacation options awake within me a certain dread. Sure, now I’m confined to an enclosed space with road partners I’ve chosen for myself. Friends, even. But somehow these trips can really bring out an ugly streak in certain people. And the conflagrations we get into about proper directions! As a side note, I always know where I’m going. i may not always know where I am, but I ALWAYS know where I’m going.
Back to the story at hand. To pass the time and keep us sisters from bruising each other too badly on long drives, we had the inevitable games. We’d do the alphabet game where people always cheated about q and I got stuck at z every time I was ahead and always lost in the end. We played various I-Spy games and used those little Interstate bingo boards. Finally, when we were all hot and tired and miserable, the sing-along began. I can’t remember what the name was of our particular song book was. I’m pretty sure it involved the work ‘family’, and possibly the word ‘best’. I may not have had the word ‘car’ in it, but I think in some other way referred to its all-American nature. It was a great book, but had one slight misfortune – a lack of actual music. Sure, the WORDS to every known verse of some really popular songs were there. But if you didn’t already know the tune, it’s only so many letters on a page.
Take the case of ‘Frankie and Johnnie’. For most of my childhood, I knew she was her man and she done ‘im wrong, but that was about as far as it went. Without music, the song devolves into rural whining rather than poetry. Or the case of ‘Goober Peas’. For the longest time, I couldn’t even get someone to tell me wheat goober peas were. They weren’t in our encyclopedia or unabridged dictionary. Even my grandfather couldn’t give that much of a lead – he said goobers were peanuts, so that could be what goober peas are. So not only did I have no idea what the tune was like, but even the lyrics themselves didn’t make sense.
After a careful search with all the latest technology (i.e., Wikipedia), my long and careful quest is over. Goober peas are, in fact, boiled peanuts – a waste of a nut if I ever saw one. And since the song is a confederate one from near the END of the war, certain of the lyrics make much more sense. Sure, in my white-bread upbringing I probably didn’t think much about Confederate soldiers on more and more meager rations (less and less adequate?) or any of the realities of war. But at the same time, I probably also wouldn’t have gotten jokes about the relishing joys of bad food when you’re hungry.
Plus, this particular song is just chock-full-o-nut. First of all, there’s the reference to the whole ‘here’s your mule’ joke (which I also now understand only with the aid of the Wiki). Evidently some soldiers somewhere stole a trader’s mule and led him on a Blindman’s Bluff chase around the camp by yelling ‘here’s your mule’ from one corner and then another. It’s better than stone soup! And then there’s the funnies committed on the oldest extant sheet music, which labels P. Nutt as the composer. Ha! For you more snobbery types, the lyricist is listed as A. Pindar (the best known of nine Greek lyric poets who are recognised as ‘in the canon’, though he is perhaps best known because his work is the most well-preserved).
Finally and at long last, I can also listen to the tune (in MIDI format). Thank you, Gods of Wikipedia, for blessing me with understanding. Now the only thing I have to complain about is that I’m not as cool as this girl.