Tuesday 13 November 2007

‘Why doesn’t somebody take this goddam thing away from me?”

Continuing the Thurber theme here at Campbell blogspot, I’ve been reading Burton Bernstein‘s 1975 biography of the great man. There’s alway that dreary part at the beginning of the ‘life’ where you have to wade knee deep through a swamp of forebears. I find with this book that I’m not doing my usual speedy dash through the first chapter but relishing every detail:

Aunt Kate’s benign conventionality marked her as the odd one in the family, for her myriad Matheny and Taylor relatives wee a cast of certifiables. As Thurber read the roster, there were, for example: “Aunt Lou, who wrote poetry and believed that everything was for the best; Aunt Melissa, who knew the bible by heart and was convinced that Man’s day was done… Aunt fanny, plagued in her old age by recurring dreams in which she gave birth to Indian, Mexican, Chinese, and African twins…” and one of Thurber’s favorite Ohio creatures- “Aunt Florence, who once tried to fix a broken cream separator on her farm near Sugar Grove and suddenly cried, ‘Why doesn’t somebody take this goddam thing away from me?” then, too, there were the likes of Aunt Clemmens, a loony mystic who smelled dire conspiracy in such disparate phenomena as the sinking of the Titanic and the invention of electricity, and perhaps the queerest of the lot, Aunt Mary Van York, a wisp of a woman who survived till ninety-three mainly on a diet of an estimated two hundred thousand pipefuls of vicious Star plug chewing tobacco.

I'm reminded of the song, Family Tree by Jake Thackray (seven verses with guitar tab):
Up my, my family tree
There hangs my curious pedigree,
My long, my lurid ancestry -
The prancing phantoms and ghosts
Of my rude forefathers.
Nevertheless, despite their sins,
Bless my kiths and bless my kins.
There they all perch to see
Up my, up my family tree.

Up my, my family tree,
No blue blood, no nobility;
No trace of aristocracy -
Except for Uncle Sebastian
Who once raped a duchess.
Nevertheless, despite their sins,
Bless my kiths and bless my kins.
There they perch for all to see
Up my, up my family tree.

whole website devoted to the late singer/songwriter

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Blogger James Langdell said...

One thing that makes factual accounts of Thurber's pre-history more interesting is wondering how many of the details are true in his hillarious autobiographical "My Life and Hard Times".

13 November 2007 at 18:19:00 GMT-5  
Blogger James Robert Smith said...

I once knew a McGregor family in Georgia. Some of their ancestors in Scotland were notorious highwaymen who were finally put down for cooking and eating some of the folk they robbed. The McGregors I knew were quite proud of this heritage and used to brag about it quite often.

13 November 2007 at 23:28:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Jack Ruttan said...

Are you going to post about the later Thurber antics? I hope so! (would have made an interesting, but darker TV show)

18 November 2007 at 12:41:00 GMT-5  

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