Anthems to hope arose within and around the union movement. This is a tale followed by some union movement music. Just a few of the anthems to the rights of the working class, of everyday people, of you and me. (For Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie Friday Night Music Prompt # 56: The Mary Ellen Carter by Stan Rogers)
When great-grandfather was in his early nineties, his body and his mind began to slow down. So me, being the one usually between jobs, and the one that saw the gentleness behind the hard and the strong, and the reasons for it, was deputized for the employment opportunity. Certain things were pretty constant – woke up by 5 am, calling for me to put the kettle on for his tea.
If it was an okay morning, he’d up himself, and come down those scary stairs. If not, Harvey or Harry from next farm over come and help. Sometimes they would hang out in the kitchen with ggf as I called him for a while, exchanging stories.
Three times at day, including with tea, I asked ggf a series of questions to see what time zone he was in. Asking the year, the month, and some pop culture or near family history question. I carefully recorded his scores – trying different ways to, if not delay the dementia, to make it more easy to descend.
Ggf did time shift and slip: “Girl, why ain’t ya got da radio on for them Leafs playing Montreal – we’ll miss . . . .” or “Girl, why ain’t ya got the tv on, Expos is playing the Reds . . . “ I think he recognized his mistakes at times, and was ashamed to admit it. I’d ask if any aliens had been in town lately, or if he’d fallen asleep in Sleepy Hollow. He’d laugh, usually, sometimes get real mad. But then the raw red hate in his face faded, and he was smiling at his favourite ggc.
“Did I ever tell ya ‘bout the time, they’d tried to break the strike in …” Didn’t matter, I loved his stories; he came alive with them as if his union comrades stood shoulder to shoulder across his living room.
The family’s large enough I did get time off for good behaviour, and one night down at the tavern, I ran into an old classmate and beau, Matt, and this incredibly studdley man who I’d been seeing round town.
“Geneiva, heard you were back for ggf. How’s he doing.”
“Considering dementia and all, not bad. Some time zone slipping, but that’s when he tells the best stories.”
“Stories?” studdley perks up.
“Oh, Geneiva, met Stu; Stu, Geneiva. We’ve got a grant to do a pov then make a theatrical film based around the essence of the docu with a lot of live streaming and internet interaction . ..”
“Huh, Matt. I’ve been out here in the boonies with VCRs too long . . .”
Stu said, “We want to tell a story, maybe stories, from different perspectives and time frames, real and imagined, legend and lies, truth and transgressions.”
“Surely, ya thought of the strikes, “ I said.
Matt and Stu looked at each other and said – another round. Which turned into several. I got the union song singing level down within earshot of the house. That’d get ggf up outta the house in a blizzard wind and he slept in his skin.
Lots of sshing, and I thought we’d made it.
But, ggf was waiting for my return in his recliner in the living room. “Didn’t know you had so many men friends, you was bringing in by 2s,” Ggf being the bastard he could be.
“Matt’s Chaz Hatley’s ggc, and this is Stu Garrison, from away. Matt, Stu, this is my ggf, M.G. Rogan.” Both stepped forwarded to shake hands. “What brings you boys back here with me ggc, by the way, she’s a good girl fair as I know.” Matt tried not to giggle, Stu looked perplexed and I said – “They wanted to talk to you about stories, union stories, the real stories. Make a film” Ggf looked at them with his fierce blue eyes, “None of them gd talking heads Ken Burn’s types in it, I hope.” “Ggf watches PBS a lot,” I added. “He’s got a hate on for the Burns Boys.” “Spoiled documentary film making, I say . ..” my ggf began.
Well past midnight, but I put the kettle on for tea. He’d have them full of head-bustings, and union cards, and army rifles firing at ya, and picking coal from the tracks, and . . . the fingers of dawn would knock on the window for a cuppa too.
Ggf couldn’t make it all the way to the official premiere. A flu, then cold got him down, and the hacking worried me. But, there was a hookup at the local museum, and afterwards, Ggf, the boys, the actors, writers, the neighbours, the labourers all asked and answered questions coming in on the internet from around the world. But my ggf, M.G. Rogan, was the true star. If ever a person knew how to keep a tradition alive, to make sure the anthems continue to be sung, make people see what we’re losing when we loose the unions power, the peoples’ power, it was him. And if ever a person knew how to tell a story, well . . .
As things closed down post show, he leaned over and whispered, “That Stu fellow – he’s no Ken Burns type, ya know. More talks than just his head. Why ggc, you’re not a blushing all red are t‘a?”
To finish off, 3 union standards.
Billy Bragg, Internationale
folkways/Smithsonian Pete Seeger: If I had a Hammer: Songs of Hope and Struggle
Union Maid (Woody Guthrie)