Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Power of Nostalgia in the Digital World

This fragment of a 78 record, Glenn Miller's The Woodchuck Song, 1946, is all I have left of one of my favorite childhood memories. Click on the record to enlarge. Record is superimposed over my painting, "Checkerberry Memories."

R E M E M B R A N C E — I've written in this blog before of my aunt Hoohoo, a tremendous lady that helped me through a most difficult period in my young life. She fostered the young artist in me, showed me the way to create with my head and my hands what I was feeling inside. If you haven't read about Hoohoo, there's a great photo of her and I in 1967 here and a post I wrote about her here

I had two rooms all to myself in her beautiful 200+ year old colonial saltbox home in Leete's Island, the Daniel and Charity Leete House. I had a great bedroom, the Red Room, for my overnight stays, and a little room next to it, Art's Room (named for her uncle Art as much as the art we made in it), full of antique toys, a Depression-era Victrola. and paintings and drawings on the walls she had done as a child and young adult. 

The nights I would spend with her we'd inevitably end up in the little room cranking the Victrola by hand, and playing old 78s of her younger life. We listened to Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, The Andrews Sisters, The Ink Spots, Glenn Miller. We'd sing and try to Jitterbug, well quietly Jitterbug as the old home's 1766 beams shook like a tiny kitten in cold bathwater if we moved around too heavily, lol. We'd look through old magazines and books, she pointing out the old dresses and fashions and me pointing out the old cars and trying to guess what they were. She'd show me how to draw cats,and birds and houses, and anything else that would pop into my head. "How do you draw the sky, Hoohoo?" I was full of questions for her, she had endless patience, and endless affection for her little wide-eyed nephew. I really don't think I would have made it to my teens without her. Hoohoo stepped up when I needed new karma in my life.

One of the songs that highly amused the 8-year old me to pieces was Glenn Miller's The Woodchuck Song. It was silly, it was fun, it was full of that fabulous forties harmonies, and we'd play it over and over, reveling in the scratches and the 'waviness' of those recordings and the player. I learned all the words by heart, and we'd even sing it walking around the yard sometimes. Even though I have all of her 78s to this day, more than 250 or so, and the vast majority are in playable-to-mint condition still in their jackets, the Woodchuck Song's early shellac-resin disk cracked decades ago. It was one that I always put out on my shelves, and through one move or another, one crazy friend or another, or one all-nighter or another, it ended up in fragments. For the past 25 years all I've had is the one small piece scanned and posted above. I hadn't heard the recording in at least 35 years until last night.

Looking at the fragment on my shelf last night, it occurred to me I might be able to find the song online. I checked Youtube, and, seriously, within 5 clicks of my mouse, I was listening to the familiar notes of Tex Beneke and the Glenn Miller Band swing like they never stopped. The lyrics came flooding back to me:

     How much wood, would a woodchuck chuck, 
           if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
     How many cats would a cat nip nip, 
           if it nipped at a cat if it could?
     Just how high would a horsefly fly. 
           if a horsefly could fly high? 
     How many fish would a fish fry fry,
           if it had any fish it could fry?
     You're a whiz at tricky phrases,
           A walkie-talkie on a street,
     Put away those silly phrases,
          They mean nothing to me.
     How much wood, would a woodchuck chuck, 
          May be hard to say it's true,
     Let's have fun, Try an easy one, 
     Say, I—Love—You.

To hear the entire song, including the second verse, please click over to the YouTube recording here. Its swing-era saxophone, the licks and curls of the trumpets and the rest of the band, the phrasing of the singers, it all just knocks my socks off every time, lol. THAT was singing and THAT was music, and THAT was Hoohoo. I'm 8 years old again, smiling and swaying, my mind a million miles away from my life. At the risk of sounding 100 years older than I am, it's amazing, almost miraculous to me that all of these memories, all of these emotions, are available at the click of a mouse, a push of a button, a link to a site. The digital world we live in can be cold and sterile, it can cause untold grief in the hands of the unscrupulous, and yet, it's also a tool we can connect, and reconnect, with the outside world and with ourselves. Talk about yin-yang! 

My digital piece, Gloria's Loss, incorporating a Glenn Miller album,  the Depression-era sign for my great-uncle Art's beach store, and one of my self-portraits, The Day Judy Garland Died, among other collectibles.

My upstairs foyer today, showing some of the vintage toys and games from my room at Hoohoo's home. The Victrola is downstairs, although not currently in working condition.

Paper Bag Dreams, one of my pieces, utilizing the fragments of a very fragile charcoal drawing done by Hoohoo in the early 1930s on a brown paper bag. That's a school photo of the young artist at just about the same age she created this Depression-era dreamscape of a colonial home, a lake with a sailboat and evergreen trees all around it. A little girl's dreams realized on her mother's reality—Black Friday's stock market crash and resulting Depression affected every member of the family. Cut-up brown paper shopping bags replaced drawing pads for the budding artist.


  1. I was really touched by this story. I have similar memories of my Grandmother when I was very young. We never know what impressions we give to children. Also when I had my first home back here in Missouri, 20 years ago, I named all the rooms as I redecorated them and made them my own. The Wimbledon Room, a yummy yellow with one wall papered in a vintage style wallpaper; tennis ladies pondering their game in their long-skirted tennis dresses. The Garden Room with a wall papered picket fence border at the bottom and a ceiling on which I painted puffy clouds and added stars that would glow at night. The grand-kids have fond memories of this room.

  2. thank you. this one was fun to remember and write about.