Friday, March 25, 2011

"Friday Night Frolic" - Paper Moons and Cardboard Seas

In honor of National Women's History Month, today's Frolic is dedicated to the late, great Ms. Ella Fitzgerald, the First Lady of Song.

Internet source unknown

It is a breezy spring afternoon in 1952, Mama walks across the Court Street bridge, her pleated skirt ruffling in the wind. Daddy pulls up to her by the curb, in his orange MG roadster, and offers Mama a ride home. She doesn't know him except for the fact that he and his family live in the neighborhood. She's heard he's smart, and she thinks he's good looking. He attends the public high school, and Mama goes to a private girl's school. Daddy is gregarious and confident. He's the President of his senior class, and the Captain of his baseball team. Mama is quiet, and reserved, and prudent, but she accepts his offer, and hops in the convertible, two-seater. 

And Ella croons smooth, easy, jazzy notes.

It is 1954 and Daddy leaves Mama with a diamond on her finger, flies out to Korea and Japan. Two years later, he returns with colorful kimonos, wooden Geta sandals, a black lacquered jewelry box, and a pearl ring for Mama. They dance every Friday night at Rhodes on the river. They jitterbug into the moonlit night, until the dance hall locks its doors.

On a hot summer day in 1957 Mama and Daddy are married. They live in a small apartment in the city. Daddy goes to college on the GI bill and Mama writes curvy, longhand characters for the businessman. Daddy drives their only car to class and Mama takes the bus to work. 

And Ella taps and scatsdoo-wap-dee-do-do, sham-dingly-dee-da, shabu-dee-do. 

It's January 1963 and a pregnant Mama changes the cloth diapers of three bare-bottomed babies. She pins clean white sheets at their hips and returns to the stove top where a stew simmers in the Dutch oven, and glass bottles sterilize in a pot of boiling water.  She stirs their dinner with a wooden spoon and dreams about slow dancing, and a jitterbug, across the dining room floor

Daddy teaches History and English at an elementary school and in the evening drives to college, in a bigger city, to study for his Master's. Before he leaves work he calls Mama at home, in the new colonial, to see if there's anything she needs from the market. Mama no longer works in the businessman's office. She is bloated with baby, and tired, and stays home with the clamorous children. She keeps mixing up their names. She turns on the Hi-Fi and tries to smile.

And Ella swings and sweeps and tisksso-lo-wee, no-no.

It is June, 1968 and five scruffy children set up a carnival in the backyard. Scrap boards from Daddy’s workshop are hammered together, holes dug in the sand, and croquet balls lined up for tossing games. Daddy's jostling his push reel mower around the azalea bushes at the edge of the lot. Mama comes out of the colonial and yells into the yard, "It's time!" Daddy stops pushing his mower, leans it against the wood fence panel, and runs to Mama. They go inside and then come out again with a pink suitcase. Daddy helps Mama into the long, white Buick and they drive quickly down the street and across town to the hospital, where she delivers her last child.  

When Mama returns the next day, the house is clean and Grammy has made pork pies for lunch. Mama walks in with the baby boy, and Daddy steps in behind her, carrying her suitcase. They spend the afternoon setting up a swingy seat that sounds like a metal noisemaker when cranked, and a woven bassinet in their bedroom. They take a long nap with baby. They are too tired to jitterbug. For dinner, Daddy serves green beans from the can and a ham Grammy had basted all day. They make beds and bathe the little ones. The eldest helps dry her youngest sister. The children pinch and poke the sleepy, golden-haired baby boy.

And Ella sways and hushes.

It is Christmas, 1993. All the children have graduated from college, moved out of the colonial, and are working. Some are married. There's no longer the patter of little ones toddling through the house. Daddy's retired from teaching high school English and his part-time job at the bank. The six childrenspouses, boyfriends, girlfriendsare home for the holidays. Turkey roasts in the oven and wine is poured in cut crystal goblets. They visit relatives and unwrap too many gifts. 

When the grown children leave, the house is quiet and feels too big for Mama. Daddy and Mama go to the movies, and out to dinner with friends. They take island trips and Daddy builds a lakeside summer home. They marry off a few more children, and hope grandchildren are not far behind. They smile and sing the oldies, and fly off to Europe. They jitterbug and twist, and rock slowly, closely, along the dining room floor.  

And Ella hums and lilts and floats.

It is the Millennium. Mama and the children bury Daddy. They gather together at the old colonial. They cry and write poems, collect pictures and choose songs for the choir. They remember Daddy's smile and the way he hit the ball with a wooden bat, and how he danced the jitterbug. They remember dinnertime jokes and tales, and the sound of the table saw in the basement. They can still smell the sawdust. They remember years of grading papers and banging nails, working multiple jobs. They recall family vacations that were more like school field trips, because Daddy was always teaching. They compose, or imaginebecause they cannot write, they cannot speaka eulogy. 

They watch the casket lowered into the dark ground and the tumbling, trailing roses gathering in a heap upon the coffin.

And Ella sings the blues.

And everybody knows Daddy would have liked that. He would have liked it very much.


  1. Wow, Jayne.
    How you tug at the heart.

  2. Absolutely beautiful and as timeless as Ella herself.

  3. I'm speechless, what a post and Ella to boot. Great Job and Happy weekend.
    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

  4. Just got home from work, and this floored me. Not your ordinary blog post. Beautiful.

  5. Jayne, you really do have a way with words. That was such a beautiful post. Very, very touching.

  6. As you know J i'm not that easily impressed as most of the blogosphere, basically i find way to much ass-kissing in the medium/community, that said, this is far and away the best thing you have posted. Good stuff.

  7. great post Jayne - thought provoking and informative.

  8. Nessa- Something about Ella...

    Leonora- Absolutely, she'll never go out of style.

    Jules- Oh no - we don't want you to be speechless! Not you, Jules. You've got so many interesting things to tell us! Enjoy your weekend, too. :)

    Tim- Thanks so much. This piece spouted quite organically and quickly and I decided not to tweak, or add layers. (There was a bit of a time crunch, too - to get the Frolic published.) So, it's nice to have some positive feedback for a piece I thought was pretty rough. :)

    Antares- Thank you. You know, I've been feeling as you have - like my writing doesn't matter much in the wake of Japan's tragedy, sort of guilty for even posting - but you have to keep doing what's important to you. I think there's meaning in that.

    SF- Thanks so much. Need to pay you a visit, girl... ;)

    Kono- Yes, I know - there's that, but I think there's also cooperative spirit/mutual respect. And as you know, I respect/value your work/opinion, so thanks for that. As I said to Tim, this is the quickest piece I ever wrote/published (minus the video research). Didn't touch it, didn't have time to create darlings to kill, and while I think it could benefit from some polishing, I'm gonna keep it Kono Raw, my friend. ;)

    David- Glad you liked it. Sparked by Ella, nostalgia, and my parent's generation that seem to have left, or are leaving, this earth all too soon. Damn you, cancer.

  9. for sure it was profound. Hmm my email to you got returned. you may have a technical problem, your end.

  10. Thanks David, I'll check it out.

  11. thanks for reminding me just how much i love the song cheek to cheek.

    heaven, i'm in heaven. i'll be singing that to myself for several days.

  12. BP- It's one of my favorites and I wouldn't have written this piece without it! I still have Louis and Ella's old vinyl Verve record that includes the song, although it's the CD I listen to these days. Sublime. :)

  13. And so it goes.

    It's no ordinary life that can claim Ella for its soundtrack, no ordinary daughter who would write about it like this.

  14. Oh that is a sweet buncha music you have pulled together...very well spotted.

  15. Wow, that touched me. You can write, girl. SO wonderful!

  16. Good writing and good music, a great combination in your post. Reading the words was so sweet and more like fantasy family life since I myself never saw families like this. The music brought back memories and made me wonder why I stopped listening to Ella. When did that happen? Very nice post, better than nice.

  17. Nance- I think it's the ordinary stuff that often makes a life extraordinary. Ella spoke to me from day one.

    Dan- Oh, I hope I did her justice. It was my aim!

    Tana- I consider that a big compliment coming from you! ;)

    TechnoBabe- This story is a bit of a fantasy, but then again, so is Ella. I've got her stockpiled in my music library. ;)

  18. Oh Jayne, this is beautiful, truly beautiful. I am impressed with the sheer amount of work you put into this piece. And great amount of love you put into the words you used. This is one of those posts I will come back and read again.

  19. Jayne..I love how you's always a journey with beautiful visuals...and music. This one made me tear up..that's a good thing. Keep them coming and I'll keep reading.

  20. This is beautiful and so poetic. For some reason I had to print it out to read it through quietly and catch all the lyrics in the words.

    So it took me a while, but well rewarded in the end.

  21. I LOVE soul music. Very moving music where you don't have to be watching the singer to be drawn in, you can hear it in the voice, melody, sound. Better when watching, even better sometimes with eyes closed. Poignant story. Great way to end the month!

  22. I thought this was an absolutely brilliant piece of writing.

    You had me from the first sentence, and like any good piece of writing, I didn't want it to end.

  23. Barbara- Sometimes, I'm not in the mood for a Friday write, but when I hear you say such nice things, and know that the music and story make you and others smile, that tells me it's very much worth the effort. :)

    Leah- I'll do my best!! ;)

    Shopgirl- Thanks for taking the time to print and read. I have a hard time reading longer posts myself, so I sometimes have to transfer them to paper, as well. Thanks so much for your sweet words. :)

    Lines-n-shades: Thanks for stopping by!

    Lin-Ann- You got it! Don't need to see Ella's face at all (although I do like to!) - the emotion behind her every word is palpable and intense. Or sometimes just breezy and sweet. But you can always imaging what her face looks like when she's cooing. She wears her look all over those notes.

    Sally-Sal- Thanks so much! I so appreciate your comment (as well as your stories!). Thank you for joining in here. New music for you every Friday. ;)

  24. Every Friday, huh? It's a date ;)

  25. Continuity, a wonderful balancing of lives and the flavors that touched them. When we look, there are so many threads, though few may be as powerful as music, as enduring as Ella. A very fine job of weaving.

  26. New follower! Stop by if you get a chance...