There used to be an old song that went, “My mother told me never to put beans in my ears, beans in my ears” (etc.) that one of our teachers at school when we were kids used to sing all the time under his breath, like the way some people hum.
Anyways, our niece Cathy was over the other day with her son, Little Jim (who’s somewheres around two or three, I guess). And what does he start singin’ while he’s drivin’ his dinkies over the pattern in the tablecloth? “My muvver tole me never put beans in your eawes” (But, of course, he don’t talk all that great yet, so it sounded like he was sayin’ not to but beans in your arse, instead of your ears, so that just made it funnier.)
I guess he musta picked it up from one of the kids Cathy babysits now or somethin’, but as soon as I heard that song, it took me right back. It’s funny, eh, how a bit of music or an old familiar smell can take you right back to a time in your memory the way nothin’ else can.
So I hear Little Jim singin’ the song and I remember it like it was yesterday. I’m about six or seven years old, sittin’ at the kitchen table. Me and my ol’ man are sittin’ across from each other, both of us sippin’ our tea.
The radio on top of the fridge is on, and what Ma’s doin’ is takin’ a thing of hot biscuits out of the oven. And what me and Da are doin’ is tryin’ to get our hands on a few of them biscuits. And what Ma’s also doin’ is tellin’ us to get-to-yer-flyin’ until they cools off.
Now, there was never a dull moment with my ol’ man. If we had five or ten minutes to kill, it was a guarantee he’d have me laughin’. What he used to do was, he’d wait for me to take a sip of my tea (or juice or whatever I was drinkin’) and then he’d cross his eyes and twist up his face in a way you’d swear wasn’t possible if you hadn’t just seen him do it. And of course, he’d time it so when I burst out laughin’ I’d spit the tea out all over myself and the table and whatever was in front of me. Sometimes that’d be my homework, or Ma’s grocery list, or the phone bill. Then Ma would yell and we’d both get in trouble.
So anyways, that day he twisted up his face and made me choke twice in a row, until Ma took my tea away and said I’d get it back when I could drink it like a normal person.
It was just us home, so with nobody to try to choke to death with funny faces, Da looked around on the table until he found a pen next to Ma’s grocery list.
Now, I know I was pretty lucky growin’ up because some people got fathers who drink all the time, or go runnin’ the roads and all that. But with my father, probably the worst bad habit he had was, whenever he found himself with itchy ears, he’d pick up whatever was handy, stick it in his ear, and scratch like hell.
It used to drive my mother somethin’ foolish. Over the years, I seen him use toothpicks, the ripped-off corner of a cigarette package, the sharp point of a steak knife, and, in one extreme case, one of Ma’s egg beaters after he licked the swirly end.
Anyways, Ma’s at the stove, so he looks over to make sure her back is turned, then he looks over at me and winks just as he sticks the pen in his ear and starts scratchin’ away.
Of course, that’s right when Ma turned around from the stove with the plate full of biscuits we were finally allowed to try. She turned right into Da’s elbow and the pen sunk right up to the cap all the way into his ear. He hollered out in pain and that made Ma jump, which made it rain fresh biscuits in the kitchen for the next couple of seconds.
Da had to go to the hospital to get the pen out, and he got the hearing back in his ear after a while, even though he pretended to be completely deaf for a good year or so after that, just to be funny.
Just about every time somethin’ reminds me of the old man, I find myself laughin’. And that’s one sure way to know somebody was a good man.
Anyways, when I seen Little Jim singin’ that song, I burst out laughin’ but I sorta got a little tear in my eye at the same time. Maybe after supper, I’ll see if Minnie wants to take a drive out the graveyard with me.
Doesn’t matter how long it’s been, ya never stop missin’ ‘em.