Sunday, March 6, 2011

"Fish Don't Clap"

Yesterday I spent the day at a genealogical conference, oddly advertised as a "Day With Bing." You see, Spokane is proud of having been the childhood stomping grounds for Bing Crosby. The Secretary of State's office - which has a genealogical division - who knew? - figured they would attract people interested in family history by holding a day-long conference exploring one of the better known families in the Inland Northwest. The Crosby family, that is.

It was just a wonderful day, filled with lots of immigration information about Bing Crosby's roots, and how his family played a huge role in the settling of the Pacific Northwest. The whole day started before the program began, however, with a burst of nostalgia. Someone had set up a small screen with youtube clips of Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin that played while we waited for the conference to begin. It was just wonderful! And so funny. Here they were - the cool guys - bursting into song during a movie, or completely relaxed while singing as a trio. That's back when you could be cool and a little corny at the same time. Here are some of the videos we watched - first, one of Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby singing in the "High Society" film:

And then this clip, from the Dean Martin Show - I presume it was his show - singing the Nathan Detroit song (a part Sinatra played in "Guys and Dolls"):

So much fun!

The title of this piece comes from Bing Crosby's nephew, who was also one of our speakers. In his reminiscing about "Uncle Bing," he told a story that his uncle had told him, about how they tried to get Bob Hope to take a vacation - a two-week deep sea fishing expedition - but they had to come back to shore after just a day to drop him off. When the reporters asked Mr. Hope what had happened - did he get seasick? - he answered that he had not realized one thing before going on the trip: "Fish don't clap." So he'd come back home. Ha!

I did get a chance to show all the Crosby presenters the photo in my baseball novel ("Until the End of the Ninth," about the Spokane Indians' minor league team and a bus crash midway through the season that killed nine of the players) of Bing Crosby donating $2,500 at the memorial fundraiser game that they held just days after the bus crash, to raise money for the families of the bus crash victims. He and Bob Hope had just been up here golfing a month or so before the crash. The presenters were excited to see a photo that they had never seen before - and gathered information on how to get a copy of the original through a local family.

One of the tasks yesterday was to spend some time doing your own family research on I decided to focus on my dad's side of the family, where I have some records and photos of a great-great grandfather who served in the Civil War. The volunteer who assisted me (they had a volunteer for every participant, it seemed) was especially thrilled that we kept running into family photos online. Apparently this was quite unusual. I had no idea. I told her that, through my mother's side, we go back to the American Revolution. She was in awe. She made me feel like I had accomplished something, just by sitting there and existing.

What I did notice about my dad's side though, was how they all came over from this fairly small area in Switzerland - the province of Schaffhausen, and then these little towns sprinkled around the province - towns like Schleitheim (current population 1,663) and Löhningen (pop. 1,213) and Guntmadingen (pop. 248). And then somehow they all found their way to Buffalo County in Wisconsin - to towns like Mondovi (current pop. 2,634) and Eleva (pop. 635) - and got married. All to each other, too - all these Swiss marrying other Swiss. It must have been quite the detour for my grandfather to marry my Norwegian grandmother. He was 28, she was 17 - and he was smitten from the start, is what the story always was.

It did baffle me a little yesterday - you move from a little town in a cold place to another little town in another cold place? Huh. It seems to be a lot of work, and distance, just to recreate what you had back home. It did get me here though, so I'm not complaining. And maybe that's partly why I like small towns - it's in the blood.

I was proud to read how civic-minded they were. I already knew that my grandfather was the local hospital administrator, and was on the Buffalo County commission, for years. Yesterday I learned that his maternal grandfather - the one who served in the Civil War (and is rumored to run an oral message between General Meade and President Lincoln on whether Lincoln should stay in D.C. or not) - ended up a Justice of the Peace, helped organize a school district as well as creamery co-ops there in Dairyland, and was quite active in the Lutheran church - as they all were, I'm sure. And I didn't read about any arrests - well, they were Swiss, after all. Anyway, a fun day overall. Worth the trip!

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