Saturday, October 23, 2010

what this is about.

I have two blogs. One is pretty local - the politics, journalism and education of the province of New Brunswick in Canada. To find it, it's easiest just to googe   The Moncton Times and Transcript- Good and Bad. (It's mostly bad.)

This one is far more general, and even vague - whatever is on my mind at the time. It might be a very short story. It might be something that struck me in Canadian or in world politics; (commenting on those daily was my job for some years.) Maybe to ease in, I'll just pass on a story.

Tonight, I found some old sheet music, among it a copy of “Mighty Lak a Rose.”
That brought back memories of Eve Stervinou. When I was a kid, Eve lived in our very working class district, and attended our church. And nobody thought anything of it.

Now, you have to understand that in our poverty we were proud of our respectability. We were as properly Victorian as the Victorians never were. Even the coarsest and crudest of us in our church had a respect for respectability. When I got the Sunday school prize for memorizing bible verses, Stanley, the kid who sat beside me and would grow up to become a muscle man for the mob, muttered, “You lucky buggar.” And no-one thought that an unreasonable comment.

But Eve was very different, by all our standards. There was no Mr. Stervinou. I don’t know whether there ever was. I never heard of one. Now, in our social setting, divorce was unspeakable and unthinkable. So, not to have a husband in the first place, and to have two daughters, was, well, it just didn’t happen. But there was Eve. And nobody thought anything of it.

She was regularly in church. There were no conspiratorial nudges or grins, no disapproval. She was a good friend of my very respectable parents who neither smoked nor drank and who sang in the choir. She regularly visited our flat, as we visited hers.

Oh, and she was a nightclub entertainer, too. Those were the glory days when Montreal nightclubs were world class, the days before TV when the nightclub was the only source of stage entertainment for the price of  a few beers. Montreal was a magnet for jazz musicians from all over North America. And the clubs, run in wide open style by the mobs who pretty well ran the whole city, and made sure every club had hookers and gambling 24/7. Even the cops could be found hanging out in the clubs after closing hours My parents wouldn't have dreamed of even looking at the door of a nightclub as they passed it. But they could also be perfectly respectable places for a woman. They were even necessary.

Nightclubs meant jobs for quite respectable women in a time when most jobs were closed to them.  Black women in Montreal, for example, could hope for nothing more than baby sitting or char work. The club was a way out. And so it was that the girls you saw dancing in the chorus on Saturday night were the same girls who sangin the choir of the Black church on Sunday morning.

It was that way for white women, too, who hadn't finished high school and had no secretarial training. So Eve worked in the clubs. Nobody questioned her respectability.

She was a whistler. They billed her as The Whistling Nightingale. It still meant she lived in poverty; but it was a poverty which was better than nothing at all.

By the time I was twelve, I could play most popular songs on the piano, so Eve would bring sheet music – like "Mighty Lak a Rose". I’d play; and everybody would gather around the piano; and we’d sing the opening verse; – and then Eve would whistle along with us in soaring harmony and tremolos.

We moved when I was fourteen, and I forgot Eve for the next fifty years. Then I heard she had married in New York, and her husband had died. I didn't know she had married. In fact, the one who died was her fifth husband. (I never found out who the other four were, either, or what happened to them.)

Eve, by then in her nineties and living in New York, decided the east coast was not for her. So she climbed into her old VW Beetle and drove, alone, to Los Angeles.

I heard no more. And thought no more. Until I found that old copy of “Mighty Lak a Rose”. I took it to the piano, sat down, struck the first chord.

And I’m sure I heard a whistle joining in.

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