I called my grandmother "Nonna" because she was of Italian descent--though born in Massachusetts in 1915. And if I had to sum her up in one phrase, it would be "she liked to make people lawf" (note Boston accent). I've often wondered if I inherited my love of theater from her.
She led a good long life with plenty of interesting stories, but my favorite was always the story about how, as a teenager, she and a friend put together a vaudeville act for a charity benefit show. They called themselves "Two Saps from Saugus," sang, danced, and did comedy. My grandma was pretty tall (as am I!) and her friend was short, so they wore costumes that accentuated this difference. Their first song was an original, by Nonna's friend's father--and seventy years later, these were the only lyrics she could remember:
Took a walk in the pa'kBut, for their encore, they performed the popular hit song "The Spaniard that Blighted My Life." Nonna even banged a tambourine!
Stole a kiss in the da'k
Like a doggy did ba'k
Bananas, they call me
Wherever I go
What is the reason?
I'd like to know
By the time I was a little girl, Nonna had forgotten most of "The Spaniard that Blighted My Life," but I was anxious to hear the rest of the song. I became convinced that the words were there somewhere, locked inside her head, and that they would come to her, sometime, when she was falling asleep or not thinking too hard about it...they'd come. Two days after I told her this, she burst into the room I was sharing with my mom, crowing that she'd remembered all the words. I transcribed them, and present them now:
List to me while I tell youSince then I've found the "real" "Spaniard That Blighted My Life" lyrics online, and this YouTube video of a little girl singing it, which gives a better idea of the tune (not all of it came across in my grandma's old-lady voice).
Of the Spaniard that blighted my life
List to me while I tell you
Of the man who said I'd be his wife
Twas at the bullfight I met him
I was watching his daring display
And while I went out for some peanuts and a program
The dirty dog beat it away, Oh!
If I catch Alfonso Spigoni, the Toreador
With a mighty swipe I'll dislocate his bally jaw
I'll find that fighter, I will, I will
The bounder, the blighter I'll kill, I'll kill
He shall die, he shall die
He shall dee-lee-i die-die-die die-die-die die
He shall die, he shall die
Or I'll plant a bunion
On his Spanish onion
If I catch him bending tonight!
Dee-lee-i die die die die, die-die!
But I still sing the tune and the words I learned directly from Nonna, not the more "correct" version, because it's more personal. After her funeral, five years ago, we had a memorial luncheon, and I sang it there. And recently, I've discovered that it's a great way of making my housemates "lawf" when they are buried under the stress of too many papers. Maybe it would seem weird to an outsider, that I commemorate my grandma with raucous renditions of a vaudeville song about revenge on a cheating Spaniard (who seems to have an Italian name--really, Alfonso Spigoni?). But she would have loved it. Also she'd have loved that today is Mardi Gras--next to making people laugh, her favorite thing was to cook for them. So we're all eating our beignets and sweet things and thinking sweet thoughts about her.