PNN North Carolina--Vaudeville "Hoofer"
(Co-editor's note: This is the debut of PNN North Carolina. As co-editor of POOR, I am overjoyed to feature "Vaudeville Hoofer" from my mother Florence Mayberry. Mom is a native San Franciscan. She has seen the landscape of the country written on the faces of people on the east coast and down south and in between--inspiring her to compose songs. She trekked cross country with her husband Pete several years ago in a return to the Bay Area after decades in Florida. However, the mountains called her and her songs and poetry grow like the most verdant garden. Her words come down from her Hendersonville, North Carolina home--calling upon the voices of the past, the tapping sounds of her father, my grandfather--a tap dancer, a worker, a father and grandfather. My mother's voice is gentle, yet powerful like the mountains that she walks. The community of trees and voices that live along the rivers and in the wind rise like fire in her voice which is the voice of prayer and the echo of earth mother. We're thankful to feature "Vaudeville Hoofer" in love and respect to Robert H. French)
Today, June 15th is the day my father was born. Thinking of him on his birthday and also the fact that Father's Day is this Sunday is what motivated me to write the song "Hoofer's" daughter" to honor him.
My dad was a tap dancer on the vaudeville circuit, which was a series of theaters in strategic cities across the country. These theaters offered a wide variety of entertainment that they brought together on a single bill. They were immensely popular and operated for decades beginning before the turn of the 20th century and continuing throughout the 1930's. These vaudeville theaters featured a variety of acts such as singers, tap dancers, jugglers, female and male impersonators, as well as novelty acts such as performers who could spin on their heads long before the breakdancers who do this trick today, were even born.
When my dad met my mother, he was still dancing, but had a "real" job driving a truck during the day. This was around the end of World War II. Once they were married and I came along, my father retired his tap shoes and took a job working as a bus driver for the San Francisco Municipal Railway, commonly known as "Muni." He had a dream though; and it never expired. It was that at least one of his four children would follow in the "old man's footsteps" and show some sort of an interest/talent in performing on stage. Years went by. The older children all grew up and followed their own passions. This left me as his last hope.
Dad's job as a bus driver required him to arise at 4:30 a.m. to be on his bus by 5:30 a.m. As most drivers do, he had a break during the midday. These breaks lasted a couple of hours, which was just long enough for him to come home and relax a bit. Frequently his breaks coincided with my arrival from school.
Dad would arrive, forehead glistening with sweat and often clutching a white cotton handkerchief that he kept in his back pocket in order to wipe the moisture from his forehead. He'd be wearing his navy blue uniform that featured a jacket with brass buttoned epaulets, and a zipper up the front; standard issue light blue shirt; navy blue tie; matching uniform pants; and cap with the "Muni" emblem across the front, which he always wore cocked back on his head. On his ring finger was his only adornment; a heavy silver ring, which he never ever removed. Through a child's eyes, his uniform made him look like a police officer. He jingled with every step he made as he entered through the front door and up the steps to our second floor flat, because of all of the loose change that filled his pockets; nickels, dimes, quarters, half dollars, all with which to make change. He'd head for the kitchen and hang his heavy jacket on his chair at the dinette table and begin to unwrap a tuna burger that he had just purchased from the Tic Toc drive-in on his way home. Once his lunch was completed, he'd slump back into his chair.
Meanwhile, I'd be tapping away on the kitchen floor; repeating the time step the way I'd learned it at dance class and relishing the sounds that I made when my shoes hit the linoleum floor. "If you're going to do it, you need to do it right," he'd say. And that was just enough impetus to draw him out of his seat and onto the floor. "This is how Bill Robinson did a time step." "Bojangles" is what they called him; the greatest tap dancer that ever lived." One, two, three and four; dad did it so fast. Next I'd try it. Finally, he'd end with a series of blinding shuffles and slides the way he did it when he was on stage. "Wow dad," was all I could say. "That's not the way Betty May showed us." After that explosive finale, he'd grab his white handkerchief and mop the sweat that was running down his face, secure his suspenders back on his shoulders, and say "That's it for today. This is enough to give your dear ole dad a heart attack. I'm not as young or as thin as I used to be, you know." He'd then glance down at me and say "On second thought, just do it the way your dancing teacher showed you. I think that would be best.