Joy from a jumping flea

Posted by: Duane Hiatt in Commentaries Add comments

Every person’s life is worthy of a book. I hope you are writing yours, or saving and collecting the material to one day write it.

I am in the midst of mine.

For those of you who just tuned in, this is the next installment of my memoirs currently in production. The previous installments are available on my web pageduanehiatt.com I hope you find it interesting.

The book is titled, Live Long*,  Learn a Little, Laugh a Lot.

I sat on my bike with my empty newspaper carrier’s bag strapped to the handlebars, and looked up the highway for the paper truck. Normally I would be watching for birds, cool cars, and pretty girls passing by; anything but the bundle of papers that launched my daily delivery route. But this day there might be more than the paper bundle, the truck might have my reward for selling subscriptions to the paper, and behold there it was; an unpretentious gray long pyramid shaped box flat on the narrow end without even a label to proclaim itself. I grabbed it from the driver’s hands and hurried back to my bike to peak inside. The content was an equally unimpressive bone white plastic hollow curved body with a neck and strings attached. I pulled it out and examined it with curiosity.

A temporarily insane woman exploded from a house nearby. “I haven’t seen one of those for decades!” she shouted. Out her gate and down the side walk she galloped. “Can I tune it for you?”

“Sure.”

“I don’t argue with crazy people,” I thought and handed it to her.

She plunked the strings, twisted the pegs, stretched the strings, cocked her head, and twisted some more. Then she burst into a sunshine smile as she flogged the strings with her thumb and launched into “Five foot two eyes of blue…”, “Tiger Rag,” and several other classics from the basement of her memory. She handed it back to me, “Not a bad tone. I’ve never seen one made of plastic before,” she said, and cruised back to her house in her imaginary 1922 Stutz Bearcat roadster, dressed in her imaginary raccoon coat, frolicking with her old college class mates and humming “Five foot two…”

“Let me know if I can help you learn to play it. You’ll love it,” she called back over her shoulder.

A ukulele will do that to you I found.

According to one tradition, the ukulele came ashore at Hawaii as a small four string guitar in the hands of a Portuguese sailor. He drew a crowd of islanders as he sat down by the dock and played. Typical of the musically gifted Polynesians, soon the island rang with little guitars made from coconut shells and carved wood. They loved (and love) to strum and sing, But the husky Hawaiians had trouble squeezing their big fingers on to the little fret board. They said their fingers had to hop around like a jumping flea. Their word for flea is “uku.” Their word for jumping is “lele”.

Americans were a parlor piano and barbershop singing people in the first part of the twentieth century. The Yanks in World War One sang to keep in step, and keep their spirits up. (The GI’s in World War Two made wise cracks including notices that “Kilroy was here.” )

Around the WWI era the college crowd discovered a ukulele was easier to carry around than a piano. (That’s what a college education can do for you.) Do wacka do wacka do music floated across American campuses.

For some reason during the depression ukuleles went out of style. Maybe people were so depressed they didn’t want to hear happy music. But after about four decades of being ignored, ukes experienced a small renaissance in some places including Payson high.

Dick Davis and I had been making our musical mark around town and in surrounding communities playing trumpet duets. But playing trumpet can be serious business and the mouthpiece uses up your whole mouth, no room for telling jokes on the side, and adlibbing your way out of mistakes. A ukulele is small, cute, and light hearted, a natural born party animal. Being small has its drawbacks however as when Dick’s girlfriend sat on his in the car, and somebody stepped on mine backstage during a school assembly.

A couple of ukes after my plastic newspaper prize, I found four strings can sound like a little symphony orchestra when you’re in a tent with no other musical options. My uke and I were wailing, “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “The Last Waltz,” and “The Lovesick Blues,” while my fellow laborers, good old boys from the south, tapped their toes, hummed along and wiped their eyes. Nobody ridiculed them, (especially Carl McClure the Golden Glove heavyweight champion of Oklahoma.) A heart felt tune to tired men in a tent far from home can turn the most sophisticated music lover into a melancholy country boy.

In the later 1940’s and 50’s my mother and millions of others all over America would never think of starting their day without the companionship of Arthur Godfrey on the radio. Frequently the high point of his low key homey talk and music show was Arthur, his baritone voice and baritone ukulele musically sauntering through “The Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.”

Meanwhile at the junior high and high school assemblies my friend Dick and I were knocking them dead (or maybe they just wished they were dead) when we launched into country take offs by Homer and Jethro of current hit songs like “Kiss of Fire.”

I touch your lips that’s when the trouble starts a brewin’

I cain’t resist the brand tobacco you are chewin’”

And though I know you’re true to Lem and Zeke and Willie,

You knock me silly with your ‘lil ol’ kiss of fire.

Our rendition of Stan Freiberg’s take off of the country classic, “Dear John” letter to a soldier reflected more innocent days. Neither Dick’s crumpled army hat, nor my comely wedding veil nor Freiberg’s lyrics stirred up a backlash or a backside full of buckshot from the National Redneck Association (I assume there is one.) The lyrics ended with:

“I have always been your best girl, but tonight I’ll wed another.

I couldn’t wait, so I have married your father.

That’s all for now, love mother.”

Our ukuleles got us invited to lots of parties where we met lots of cute girls. On the home front our kitchen rang with ukulele strums and family harmony. My Dad particularly enjoyed singing the ballads he had courted Mom with.

Golden age one of the ukulele passed into history alongside the flappers and gold fish swallowers of the 1920’s. Golden age two faded with the retirement of Arthur Godfrey, perhaps abetted locally by Dick and me.

But good things never die. My cool dude grandsons, in high school just got ukuleles. Recently my wife, Sharon and I taught a fourth grade class of 35 enthusiastic ukulele wielding future balladeers including Marcus, another grandson. My charming, stylish, yoga-teaching sister Jeanie is shopping for a ukulele. Racks of ukes are appearing in the music stores. Sweet, hot and happy ukulele strings are flavoring music again on radios and  ipods. The jumping fleas are rising again.

I am certain we will see a corresponding drop in sales of migraine and ulcer medications. So here is my invitation to lower your blood pressure and lift your spirits. Get a ukulele, learn three chords, and join in strumming for a happier world.

Everybody I know is busy, including me.  Where are those golden years I was planning on of sitting on the back porch picking my guitar? So I will send just one little part of the book at a time. You can give it a quick read and tell me what you think if you would like.

I’ve slimmed that process down to two questions, and four strokes on the key board (six if you count “Reply” and “Send.”)

The questions are these:“A” How much did you enjoy this?

“B” How much do you think a person who doesn’t know Duane Hiatt would enjoy this?

The rating is:1. Glanced at it, printed it out and lined the bottom of the bird cage with it.

2. Sped-read it and filed it with my tax return receipts

3. Thought it was about as interesting as a well written obituary

4. Could have put it down, but didn’t want to

5. Couldn’t put it down. Put it in a magnetic frame and stuck it onto the fridge door

So your response would perhaps be A-4, B-3, (Or maybe A-5, B-5, I’m expecting a minimum number of those.)

Also feel free to add comments if you like.

Also, also, feel free to forward this material to anyone you want to.

Every person’s life is worthy of a book. I hope you are writing yours, or saving and collecting the material to one day write it.

I am in the midst of mine.

For those of you who just tuned in, this is the next installment of my memoirs currently in production. The previous installments are available on my web pageduanehiatt.com I hope you find it interesting.

The book is titled, Live Long*,  Learn a Little, Laugh a Lot.

I sat on my bike with my empty newspaper carrier’s bag strapped to the handlebars, and looked up the highway for the paper truck. Normally I would be watching for birds, cool cars, and pretty girls passing by; anything but the bundle of papers that launched my daily delivery route. But this day there might be more than the paper bundle, the truck might have my reward for selling subscriptions to the paper, and behold there it was; an unpretentious gray long pyramid shaped box flat on the narrow end without even a label to proclaim itself. I grabbed it from the driver’s hands and hurried back to my bike to peak inside. The content was an equally unimpressive bone white plastic hollow curved body with a neck and strings attached. I pulled it out and examined it with curiosity.

A temporarily insane woman exploded from a house nearby. “I haven’t seen one of those for decades!” she shouted. Out her gate and down the side walk she galloped. “Can I tune it for you?”

“Sure.”

“I don’t argue with crazy people,” I thought and handed it to her.

She plunked the strings, twisted the pegs, stretched the strings, cocked her head, and twisted some more. Then she burst into a sunshine smile as she flogged the strings with her thumb and launched into “Five foot two eyes of blue…”, “Tiger Rag,” and several other classics from the basement of her memory. She handed it back to me, “Not a bad tone. I’ve never seen one made of plastic before,” she said, and cruised back to her house in her imaginary 1922 Stutz Bearcat roadster, dressed in her imaginary raccoon coat, frolicking with her old college class mates and humming “Five foot two…”

“Let me know if I can help you learn to play it. You’ll love it,” she called back over her shoulder.

A ukulele will do that to you I found.

According to one tradition, the ukulele came ashore at Hawaii as a small four string guitar in the hands of a Portuguese sailor. He drew a crowd of islanders as he sat down by the dock and played. Typical of the musically gifted Polynesians, soon the island rang with little guitars made from coconut shells and carved wood. They loved (and love) to strum and sing, But the husky Hawaiians had trouble squeezing their big fingers on to the little fret board. They said their fingers had to hop around like a jumping flea. Their word for flea is “uku.” Their word for jumping is “lele”.

Americans were a parlor piano and barbershop singing people in the first part of the twentieth century. The Yanks in World War One sang to keep in step, and keep their spirits up. (The GI’s in World War Two made wise cracks including notices that “Kilroy was here.” )

Around the WWI era the college crowd discovered a ukulele was easier to carry around than a piano. (That’s what a college education can do for you.) Do wacka do wacka do music floated across American campuses.

For some reason during the depression ukuleles went out of style. Maybe people were so depressed they didn’t want to hear happy music. But after about four decades of being ignored, ukes experienced a small renaissance in some places including Payson high.

Dick Davis and I had been making our musical mark around town and in surrounding communities playing trumpet duets. But playing trumpet can be serious business and the mouthpiece uses up your whole mouth, no room for telling jokes on the side, and adlibbing your way out of mistakes. A ukulele is small, cute, and light hearted, a natural born party animal. Being small has its drawbacks however as when Dick’s girlfriend sat on his in the car, and somebody stepped on mine backstage during a school assembly.

A couple of ukes after my plastic newspaper prize, I found four strings can sound like a little symphony orchestra when you’re in a tent with no other musical options. My uke and I were wailing, “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “The Last Waltz,” and “The Lovesick Blues,” while my fellow laborers, good old boys from the south, tapped their toes, hummed along and wiped their eyes. Nobody ridiculed them, (especially Carl McClure the Golden Glove heavyweight champion of Oklahoma.) A heart felt tune to tired men in a tent far from home can turn the most sophisticated music lover into a melancholy country boy.

In the later 1940’s and 50’s my mother and millions of others all over America would never think of starting their day without the companionship of Arthur Godfrey on the radio. Frequently the high point of his low key homey talk and music show was Arthur, his baritone voice and baritone ukulele musically sauntering through “The Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.”

Meanwhile at the junior high and high school assemblies my friend Dick and I were knocking them dead (or maybe they just wished they were dead) when we launched into country take offs by Homer and Jethro of current hit songs like “Kiss of Fire.”

I touch your lips that’s when the trouble starts a brewin’

I cain’t resist the brand tobacco you are chewin’”

And though I know you’re true to Lem and Zeke and Willie,

You knock me silly with your ‘lil ol’ kiss of fire.

Our rendition of Stan Freiberg’s take off of the country classic, “Dear John” letter to a soldier reflected more innocent days. Neither Dick’s crumpled army hat, nor my comely wedding veil nor Freiberg’s lyrics stirred up a backlash or a backside full of buckshot from the National Redneck Association (I assume there is one.) The lyrics ended with:

“I have always been your best girl, but tonight I’ll wed another.

I couldn’t wait, so I have married your father.

That’s all for now, love mother.”

Our ukuleles got us invited to lots of parties where we met lots of cute girls. On the home front our kitchen rang with ukulele strums and family harmony. My Dad particularly enjoyed singing the ballads he had courted Mom with.

Golden age one of the ukulele passed into history alongside the flappers and gold fish swallowers of the 1920’s. Golden age two faded with the retirement of Arthur Godfrey, perhaps abetted locally by Dick and me.

But good things never die. My cool dude grandsons, in high school just got ukuleles. Recently my wife, Sharon and I taught a fourth grade class of 35 enthusiastic ukulele wielding future balladeers including Marcus, another grandson. My charming, stylish, yoga-teaching sister Jeanie is shopping for a ukulele. Racks of ukes are appearing in the music stores. Sweet, hot and happy ukulele strings are flavoring music again on radios and  ipods. The jumping fleas are rising again.

I am certain we will see a corresponding drop in sales of migraine and ulcer medications. So here is my invitation to lower your blood pressure and lift your spirits. Get a ukulele, learn three chords, and join in strumming for a happier world.

Everybody I know is busy, including me.  Where are those golden years I was planning on of sitting on the back porch picking my guitar? So I will send just one little part of the book at a time. You can give it a quick read and tell me what you think if you would like.

I’ve slimmed that process down to two questions, and four strokes on the key board (six if you count “Reply” and “Send.”)

The questions are these:“A” How much did you enjoy this?

“B” How much do you think a person who doesn’t know Duane Hiatt would enjoy this?

The rating is:1. Glanced at it, printed it out and lined the bottom of the bird cage with it.

2. Sped-read it and filed it with my tax return receipts

3. Thought it was about as interesting as a well written obituary

4. Could have put it down, but didn’t want to

5. Couldn’t put it down. Put it in a magnetic frame and stuck it onto the fridge door

So your response would perhaps be A-4, B-3, (Or maybe A-5, B-5, I’m expecting a minimum number of those.)

Also feel free to add comments if you like.

Also, also, feel free to forward this material to anyone you want to.

Comments are closed.