When Francis Dances with Me (My father)

I got this one in the authentic oral tradition: my father used to sing it at the dinner table, along with “Sheik of Araby” and “Oh, By Jingo,” and “Lena Was the Queen o’ Palestina” (just because she played the concertina). george1927There were lots of others, including some that I’ve never seen mentioned anywhere and that may have died with him. For example, a fake Russian number with the immortal couplet:

Like a balalaika moaning in a minor key,
Some of our friends are sipping samovar tea.
(That’s “bala-like-a” and “some of our tea.” Get it?)

Anyway, this was one of his favorites, and I’m pretty sure it started out being a favorite because his first wife was named Frances and he used to sing it to her. I was from the second family, and the break-up had not been amicable, but he kept singing the song.

whenfrancisI can still sing lots of songs I learned from my father, as well as telling his jokes and reciting his Yiddish dialect recitations. Speaking of which, I really should pronounce the last line of this song in proper Brooklynese: “I wear a skoit that’s got two hundred slits” — like “Dere was toity doity boids at toity-toid and toid street.” Brooklyn was the mythic wonderland of my childhood, and this song was a notable part of the soundtrack.

If you want another touch of my father’s Brooklyn repertoire, I’ve got a dialect transcription of “Jake the Plumber,” his Jewish parody on “The Face On the Barroom Floor,” on my regular website. And if you want to know more about him, I’ve got a page about his life, with links to a couple of his speeches. He was a biologist and professor, as was my mother, and when I took up folksinging people acted like I took a sharply divergent path from my parents. By me, I was just carrying on his tradition.