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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Of Turks, Spaniards and bathtime

There's an old story about a newly married woman who is preparing dinner for her parents for the first time in her new home.  Her mother wanders into the kitchen and watches as her daughter is preparing the Roast Beef:  First she cuts about a third of it off from the main hunk of meat.  She then places the large chunk of meat on it's side in the roaster and stands the smaller piece up next to it in the pan.  Then she puts in all the seasonings and vegetables... and finally prepares to put it into the pre-heated oven.

Her mother, who has been watching all this time, asks her why she has cut off a big chunk of the roast and stood it up?  The question catches the daughter off-guard and she answers, "But mom, I've been watching you do that for years... I just assumed it helped the meat cook more evenly."

Her mother smiled and shook her head when she heard this, responding, "No dear, I always did that because the only roasting pan we had was one we got as a wedding gift and it wasn't big enough for a large piece of meat to fit unless I cut off a chunk and stood it up.  But you have this nice big roasting pan so there's no need to do this!"

I doubt this exchange ever actually took place, and it is probably just a nice illustration of how some family traditions get started.  I'd also like to think that, despite the adequate size of her roasting pan, that the young woman continued to cut her roasts in two so that someday when when her daughter asks why, she could tell the story of how her grandmother used to prepare Roast Beef for special occasions... and both the tradition and the memory of how it began could be passed down through the generations.

Each family has its rituals and traditions, great and small... important and trivial.  Some are related to tasks and chores (such as cooking Roast Beef) while others involve celebrations and/or religious observances. 

In the past I have written about how my children were brought home from the hospital wrapped in the same blanket as my sibs and I were wrapped for our first car ride after being born.  In that post I also mentioned that all of our children ate their earliest 'solid' food from an heirloom porringer that had also served my siblings and me.

These are examples of tangible family traditions that can be passed down from generation to generation without too much worry.  But I was recently thinking about what would would become of the less tangible traditions... the bedtime & bath-time rituals that our children might forget before they have a chance to pass them along to their own children.  What of these?

An example of this is a song called 'Golden Vanity' that Zahava used to sing to all of our children from their very first bath in the kitchen sink, until they were old enough to bathe themselves.  No matter where in the house I was I could always tell it was bath-time when I heard this song accompanied by the squeals of delight and splashing water.

The lyrics of the song are actually kind of gruesome, but since we all grew up on a steady diet of cradles crashing to earth from treetops and spiders creeping up on unsuspecting little girls while they eat cottage cheese, I figured what could be the harm in Zahava singing a cute little sea chantey about a ship's captain tricking a cabin boy and allowing him to drown while our kids were sloshing around the bathtub, right?

The basic premise of the song's story is that a ship is in danger of being captured by an enemy.  The captain asks who in his crew has an idea of how to save them all.  A young cabin boy volunteers to jump overboard with an auger (drilling tool) and swim over and sink the enemy ship by drilling holes in its hull... but first he wants to know what the captain will give him as a reward for this feat.  The captain promises him 'silver and gold' and even the hand of his daughter if he is successful.  The cabin boy sinks the enemy ship as promised, but when he swims back to his ship, the captain refuses to take him back aboard.  Finally the crew hoists him out of the ocean and he dies on deck.  The cabin boy is then wrapped in a blanket and tossed overboard (buried at sea).

Nice, huh?

Anyway, I figured that since so much of this journal documents obscure (and often embarrassing) aspects of my children's up-bringing that might otherwise be lost in the mists of time (or our inevitable senility) I decided that it might be a good idea to write down the lyrics to this song here on treppenwitz. 

However, my good intentions turned to worry when I Googled the song and found about a gazillion versions of it out there on the 'Net *... with some dating back as far as the mid-1600's!

The one thing they all seemed to share in common was that none was exactly the same as the version Zahava had sung to our children. 

The ship was sometimes called the 'Sweet Trinity' (apparently in a 17th century jab at Sir Walter Raleigh) and sometimes the 'Golden Vanity'.  The enemy ship is alternately Turkish, English, French, Spanish or even Mongol (did they even have ships?).  And the song sometimes ends with the death of the cabin boy in the water... sometimes on deck... and sometimes not at all (having received his promised reward from the grudging captain).

Far from being worried that 'our version' might not be correct, the wide range of lyrics convinced me more than ever of the need to commit 'our' version to writing so that there would be no questions when some future, hypothetical bath-time rolls around for my grandchildren and Ariella, Gilad or Yonah have doubts as to how the bath-time song goes.  I mean, this was far more serious stuff than a simple Roast Beef recipe, wouldn't you agree?!

So here they are in all their glory... the Bogner/Pomeranz (Zahava's maiden name) version ** of the bath-time song:

The Golden Vanity

Oh, there was a lofty ship and she sailed upon the sea,
    and the name of that ship it was the Golden Vanity,
She once feared she would be taken by the Turkish enemy,
    as she sailed along the lowland sea!

Chorus (I usually omitted)
As she sailed upon the lowland, the lowland, the lowland,
    as she sailed upon the lowland sea!

Up stepped a cabin boy just the age of twelve and three,
    and he said to the captain “What will you give to me
If I swim along the side of that Turkish enemy,
    and sink her in the lowland sea?”


“Oh! I will give you silver and I will give you gold,
    and the hand of my daughter if you will be so bold
As to swim along the side of that Turkish enemy,
    and sink her in the lowland sea!”


Well the boy he made a-ready, and overboard jumped he,
    and he swam along the side of that Turkish enemy,
And with his little drilling tool he bore holes three,
    and he sank her in the lowland sea.


Well the boy he turned around, and back again swam he,
    and he hollered to the captain to haul him from the sea,
But the captain did not heed, for his daughter he did need,
    and he left him in the lowland sea!


Well the crew they hauled him up, out upon the deck he died,
    they wrapped him in his blanket, so very soft and wide,
They cast him overboard, to drift along the tide,
    and he sank beneath the lowland sea.

Oh! There is a lofty ship and she sails upon the sea
    but she sails without a cabin boy the age of twelve and three,
She once feared she would be taken by a Turkish enemy,
    as she sailed upon the lowland sea.

I've shared this here today mostly for safe-keeping before my own, or Zahava's memory begins to fade... but it is also a reminder to anyone reading this that there is no time like the present to safeguard the little family rituals and traditions that are uniquely yours before they are lost.

* Here are some links to other sites that discuss the well-loved song and its many versions:

Here, here, here, here here, here, here, here, here, and here.

** The lyrics Zahava sings she learned from Mr. Reber, her fourth grade teacher. He had a penchant for folk music and old ballads.


Posted by David Bogner on April 11, 2007 | Permalink


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Ah, that song is campfire material. Summer camp in the Adirondacks... Golden Trinity and Turks in our version as well! :-)

I have, however, never shared it at bathtime...

Posted by: nrg | Apr 11, 2007 2:33:48 PM

I am .... confused. I could swear you blogged the beef tale before. But then, the rest of this post doesn't sound familiar.

Am I overworked from codes and humanities?

Posted by: a. | Apr 11, 2007 3:29:34 PM

nrg... It's never too late to start. If you're going to be paying for therapy anyway... :-)

a. ... Nope, not that I remember. But then it is an old story so you could have heard it in a hundred places. Of course you could be thinking of the infamous 'bee froll' scandal. :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Apr 11, 2007 3:37:00 PM

This is certainly a new way to preserve memories. Nice.

Posted by: tnspr569 | Apr 11, 2007 3:39:35 PM

No, it wasn't that shoe post; I know I have read exactly that story here before. Maybe someone featured it in the comments at some point?
Anyone remember? It's driving me a bit nuts ... :)

Posted by: a. | Apr 11, 2007 7:01:34 PM

That's a great idea! I'm working on the genealogy of my family and writing a family history. Just now, your post inspired me to add a little song that I made up when my kids were little, to teach them to treat our cats kindly:

[to the tune of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat]

Pat, pat, pat the cat
Gently on her fur
Meow, meow, meow, meow
You can make her purr!

Posted by: Shoshana (Bershad) | Apr 11, 2007 7:28:19 PM

Well, I've never heard the beef version of that story before. The version I learned was the epitome of treif - you guessed it - it was an h-a-m - and involved the new husband asking his wife why she cut off the ends, and the answer being of course that her mother always did it that way. The husband, when he sees his mother-in-law, asks why, and she says her mother always did it that way. The grandmother, when he gets to ask her, says "to make it fit in the pan". Since of course no Jewish woman would be cooking such a thing, one could assume that the story would of course not apply to her, since she wouldn't be so foolish as to follow this silly - habit. Can't quite elevate this one to the status of a custom.

And I've never even heard the song before. Missed the opportunity to inflict that cause for therapy on my child. And I think I'll leave it that way....

Posted by: Iris | Apr 11, 2007 7:58:24 PM

a) Sounds like the version my dad taught me from the Chad Mitchell Trio (that may bring back memories).

b) When my parents made their first Pesach, my mother wanted to serve stuffed cabbage at the Seder. My grandmother insisted that was against the law. The issue was finally clarified by my great-grandmother, who simply said: "Cabbage was not available in Poland at Pesach-time." This is how traditions are born. Needless to say, my mother's Pesach stuffed cabbage has been served ever since.

Posted by: Elisha | Apr 11, 2007 8:55:44 PM

Oh, I just loooove those Pesach "traditions", Elisha. We don't eat so many foods because my grandmother says they didn't eat them in Europe. I can't wait to break those traditions.

Posted by: SaraK | Apr 11, 2007 10:27:42 PM

Great idea, preserving family memories on ye olde blogge. I just posted one of my own. (The link doesn't show up here, for some odd reason, so here it is.

Posted by: Shira Salamone | Apr 12, 2007 3:04:05 AM

The enemy ship is alternately Turkish, English, French, Spanish or even Mongol (did they even have ships?).

The term "kamikaze" comes from the "divine winds" that prevented a pair of seaborne Mongol invasions of Japan.

Posted by: JSinger | Apr 13, 2007 10:48:07 PM

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