Anna Maria Island, November 4, 1987

A tale of two operas

By Gib Bergquist

Dad owned a 1929 emerald-green Chevrolet with yellow, handpainted pin stripes down the sides. It was his proudest possession.

Opening the left, front door, exposed a small metal disc riveted to the door post. This medallion bore a stamped out impression of an old-fashioned carriage and the inscription “Body by Fisher.”

Not understanding the complexities of the various General Motors Corporation divisions and subsidiaries, the Cracker wondered, in his young mind, how Dad’s Chevy could be such a great car if Mr. Chevrolet had to “farm out” the auto bodies for Mr. Fisher to make.

Well anyway, even though our Chevy was garaged when not in use and always parked in the shade where possible on daily runs, Dad insisted on washing and Simonizing that car every Saturday afternoon, weather permitting. The Florida sun was hellish on the best paints of that day.

Dad, being an engineer, was a methodical man and had a system for everything. He divided that Fisher body into four equal parts and assigned one part to himself and the other three to his three older sons. After washing the car, Dad applied the wax and we boys rubbed down our quadrants until we could see our distorted reflections in the finish.

Sure, Dad always had the shiniest car in our village of Pierce, Florida, but the only problem with his system was that with all that polishing, it didn’t take too long for us to polish right through those six layers of Duco lacquer and expose the reddish-brown undercoat. When the car began to take on the appearance of a camouflaged army staff car, he was forced to have it repainted.

While we polished the car, Dad would tune in the Saturday afternoon radio performance of The Metropolitan Opera and turn up the volume so that its melodious strains wafted out into the backyard.

Richard Wagner’s Lohengrin is a great opera to polish a car by, and with Mr. Milton Cross’ running commentary delivered in impeccable English, we Cracker boys soon learned to tolerate and even enjoy it.

George Bizet’s Carmen was and is the Cracker’s favorite, although he had a hard time figuring out why the Spanish heroine from Seville sang all of her songs in French.

When the sun went down on those same Saturdays, the Cracker tuned in another opera direct from WSM, Nashville, Tennessee. It was and is called The Grand Ol’ Opry and has been aired since 1927. While the Cracker’s favorite present-day country music performer is Dolly Parton, for at least two reasons, he still vividly recalls the old timers.

If you also remember them, you have been listening to the Opry as long as the Cracker has.

I loved Uncle Dave Macon and the Fruit Jar Drinkers, who also on occasions sang and played the banjo with his son, Dorris. Uncle Dave’s raucous rendition of Good Ol’ Mountain Dew was a real foot stomper.

Another early favorite was a “natchel born,” self-taught, mouth harp virtuoso named DeFord Bailey. He was the only black performer on the early Opry but was fired in 1933 due to bigoted pressure from other performers. It makes the Cracker sad to note here that this harmonica whiz was to eke out a living in his shoeshine parlor for decades without further public appearances.

The Opry tried to right this wrong during the seventies but it was too late for Mr. Bailey, who died in 1982. His interpretation of The Orange Blossom Special has never been equaled.

Thus it was, through the miracle of radio, that the Cracker grew up to love and enjoy the best of Old World Opera and the best of New World Opry all on the same day.

From Cracker's Crumbs, 1995 Gib Bergquist

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