Category Archives: blue funks

Talking to my Aunt

Post-vaccination, I made a recent trip to my parents’ house, the first since October 2020. I did the usual daughterly things: climbed a ladder to clean the gutters, sewed a quilt with my mom, got take-out for dinner, dusted the china.

Mom and Dad and I know what to talk about and what not to talk about. We have learned to avoid serving baited hooks to one another. The fact that Dad is hard of hearing and doesn’t like wearing his hearing aids makes this easy. I can always mumble my snarky reply to his latest FOX-inspired query, and when mom brings up Seuss, I make the sewing machine whir faster. We want to stay a family. I want to honor my friends who are deprived of inalienable rights by some of the policies the party not currently in power spews: LGBTQ friends, friends of color, friends of libertarian leanings, friends who want to shove that MyPillow guy into one of his own zippered cases, and friends who want to put a pillow over their ears and la-la-la into Spring.

I’m done trying to be all things to all people. I answer to Jesus, I want my family as a family, and I love my friends. I have begun ignoring those who scream I’m doing it wrong because I must choose truth and justice over family, or family over truth and justice. It’s come down to a case by case decision-making basis. No wonder we’re all exhausted.

Anyway, my aunt called while I was there. This is the aunt who bought us Christmas presents every year without fail. Snow White necklaces, fuzzy stuffed animals, our first watches. She and her husband ran a chain of stores similar to a Big Lots thing; they always had good stuff like Godiva Chocolates around, so of course she was our favorite. She was also the most fun. We did cool things we never told Mom and Dad about at her house. Mom’s still annoyed Auntie took me for an unauthorized haircut, but Auntie and I both knew the adhesive was never going to come out.

Auntie had mentioned to my parents a couple of times that she would love to hear from me, but did I get around to calling her? I did manage to drop a spontaneous card over the summer, which made me feel virtuous. So when Dad unexpectedly had her on the phone this recent trip, I asked to say hi.

We exchange how are yous and love yous and whacha been up tos, and then my aunt says, “I was rereading your book Little Bookstore the other day, and thinking about all Jack went through to be an American citizen, and got so mad. These days all anyone has to do is walk up to the border and they get right in. It’s awful, they’re rapists and murders, the lot of them.”

When I could speak again, I asked, “How is the food at your nursing home?”

She spit out more racism 101. In that gorgeous Midwestern accent so familiar to my childhood ears. The voice that said “wanna go to McDonald’s” when grandma made the hateful tuna casserole, and we snuck out of the house. The voice that asked, “Did you hurt yourself” followed by the laugh that let me know the broken lamp was of no consequence, after my sister and I faffed around indoors despite being told not to. It was an expensive lamp.

I stammered out again that I loved her, wished her well in recovering from the latest nursing home infection (not COVID) and gave the phone back to my dad.

Every day. Every day, we negotiate the edges. She’s in her ’90s. She was my childhood, she can’t be our future. I still love her. Dammit.


Filed under blue funks, Life reflections, small town USA, Wendy Welch

When the Saints go – – –

Jack gets in over the wire for a change with the Wednesday guest post –

There are often events that are described as marking the end of an era, and the death yesterday of Chris Barber certainly seems like that for me. The path that led me to a love of Scottish traditional songs and music started, as it did for many others of my generation, with the New Orleans style jazz popular all over Britain in the 1950s and 60s.

Popular bands including those led by Acker Bilk and Kenny Ball regularly topped the hit parade with numbers like ‘Stranger on the Shore’ and ‘Midnight in Moscow’. But the Chris Barber Band was by leaps and bounds ahead of all the others.

The original line-up was really just the Ken Colyer Band minus Colyer, with Barber becoming the leader and Pat Halcox replacing Colyer. The story is that the members of the band wanted to experiment with music from outside the strict confines of New Orleans and that led to the split. The first big hit for the Barber band was ‘Petite Fleur’ featuring clarinetist Monty Sunshine and that brought the band to a much wider audience. Then the guitar/banjo player with the band, Lonnie Donegan, began interspersing blues and old-time American songs between the band’s instrumentals. One of these – ‘Rock Island Line’ even topped the US charts!

However Barber himself was very much in charge and stamped his personality on the band from start to finish although that seems to have been necessary with personnel changes over the years. Despite these changes the sound remained recognizable. They had always had a broader repertoire than other bands of the period, including pieces by Count Basie and Duke Ellington and this became more evident as additional players were added. There was a period in the 60s when he ran a London club called The Marquee where modern jazz would often feature with folk like Tubby Hayes and Johnny Dankworth, and this, I’m sure was how the Barber band got the inspiration for their broader approach. At that same time he was bringing blues artists from the US and touring with them as well as putting them on in the Marquee. That was how he and Donegan became the ‘firelighters’ for the likes of the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and even the Beatles.

The last time I saw the band was around 2007 at the Burnley Mechanics Theater in Lancashire and by that time they had become ‘The Big Chris Barber Band’ but Pat Halcox was still there on trumpet and Chris Barber on trombone. They were both in their late seventies but you wouldn’t have known it! What I loved about that concert is that they had a section in the middle where everyone except the basic seven piece New Orleans outfit left the stage and we were transported back to the 1950s for half an hour.

I think my lasting impression of the man is the curious mixture of uninhibited playing and very English laid back humor, always delivered in an immaculate suit and tie!

RIP Chris and thanks for everything!

PS – here’s a track from an early album I still have that I bought when it came out in 1959 –

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Filed under between books, blue funks, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch