by Bodwyn Wook
[some transcriptions from my recent correspondence — BW]
Here is a nice picture of the Alvin Burlesque Theatre in Minneapolis; it is where my English father regaled my rustic maternal Uncle Emmett Jacobson and Second Cousin Leland Jacobson, both out of rural Eagle Lake, MN., and quite, quite overcame the much of both of their decided anglophobias. It was also the grief of his life that he never quite did inveigle them into joining the English-Speaking Union, either one. ‘But at any rate,’ he said, ‘I did get Leland off from wanting to punch me on the nose!’
As to the theatre building shown, I believe that this is a view of the N 6th Street entrance and facing approximately Southeast. As a young teenager walking past these places, I dearly wondered whatever went on within; then, in my majority I went into ‘Mettler’s’ and ‘Someplace Else’, both in Indian-draped & -accursed Old Mankato, MN, and found out.
Although I never heard it said in my nonage that in Minneapolis fifty years ago les danseuses would squat in front of glazed patrons along the rail, swing wide fish-netted knees and haul forth sweat-glossed pubic hairs pinkly from their vulvas to toss into the punters’ drinks; later, in 1980 or so, a Mankato City Council at the behest of State Teachers’ College feminists there would strap merkins on to “the girls,” and so the end of exotic dancing in that last place was polyesterene.
One of you who understandably wants to remain anonymous writes in to say that in the 1950s they was drug by their evangelical parents to services in the auditorium that is named on the party-wall of the palais de dance shown in the attachment; the pay-off was that, afterward, their folks took them to “Bridgeman’s.” That must have been the one on Hennepin, a block from the old Minneapolis Public Library; our mother took us there, too, after “Dayton’s” shopping outings (although, later, we went in instead for bagels at “The Brothers” in a big way!)
Moving right along, MDPIC and me was on our way back on the five or six miles from Delavan tonight, where we wiggled around for a bit to the plangent bad-sound system (!) tunes of the “White Sidewalls,” and I thought of something that has not come to my mind for over fifty years; I expect it floated up because I was caught up in the nostalgia of the night by the unnerving, the terrifying, the horrible & immense, breath-stopping, realization of exactly just how old we are all now about to become.
At any rate, in the late 1950s, back there when all of this carefully-demarcated 1954-1963 Elvis-to-just-pre-Beatles rock and roll was “the thing,” my father told me the following specific story, or rather exact and particular remembrance, of his; we was going East over the Lake Street bridge to our step-grandmother’s house in Langford Park in Saint Paul, it was a gray damp Saturday morning in May and smelled like drowned angleworms on the sidewalk after a rain, and I was in Mrs Anderson’s 3rd grade class in the Minneapolis Minnehaha Elementary School.
And, so, it was in the Spring of 1958 that Pop, Flt Ldr Raymond Peter Smith, ex-RAF, DSO & DFC, and born in 1919, said to me:
‘When I was just your age, I had a great-aunty of my mother’s who was an old lady ninety years old, or more. She told Andy [my father’s brother, d 1940] and I that HER mother, when just a girl, with her sisters would go to meet the stage on the Great North Road [London-Edinburgh] to learn if there were any new Waverley novels out, by Sir Walter Scott.’ Later, my father would give me a copy of Ivanhoe, which was, he said, his favorite.
But only think of this:
That old lady in the 1920s (she would be only my second great-aunt!) had to have been born in the 1830s and just at the very start of Victoria’s reign, and was destined moreover to outlive by twenty-five years or more the good old Queen. (My father was eight years old in 1927.) Therefore, her mother, who was “just a girl” when Sir Walter Scott (d 1832) was grinding his molasses, had to have been born while Napoleon was still being a burden & a curse to the terror & the merciless horror of History.
I, born in 1949, am recording this all now, it is February of 2011, it is something like two hundred and ten years since the birth of my father’s great-aunt’s mum, and so here we all sit, in the middle of a web of remembrance reaching to at least 150 years on either side of ourselves!
I of course never even saw so much as a picture of my father’s great-aunt, and afterward, after hearing this story and seeing my Irish step-grandmother Mary Doran Smith, at home in Ludlow Avenue in Langford Park in Saint Paul, I went back home to my parent’s house on 40th Avenue South, in South Minneapolis, and in front of the “Lawrence Welk” show on Tee Vee glued on the plastic Tyrannosaurus Rex dinosaur skeleton model I had just gotten with my allowance on Friday night, the night before, when we went up shopping up to the National Tea Store, and to the dime store, on Thirty-Fourth Avenue South.
I expect that, then, the dinosaur meant to me something far more actually old than this oddly dull tale of my father’s; my father, I mean, who usually said far more interesting things, about bombing Germany in World War Two, and what he saw at Belsen afterward, and how in World War Three the Russian bombers “probably” would not all be shot down over the North Pole, if they ever did come zooming along with atom bombs to fly around in the air over Minneapolis….
[all rights reserved
[27 February 2011]