The Good Old Days

Little black face with a sickle smile
in red beneath white circles,
eyeballs rolling to the face’s left
and seven little arcs
around the head suggesting frizzy hair;
a bright bow tie and a vest
in yellow as happy
as the scarlet trousers
stylized in a simple paper figure
to peel from next
to the strawberry on the jam jar
label and save up
until there were enough to mail in
and claim the small enameled mascot
to pin on a lapel,
perhaps to grow into
a collection, beginning with the golfer
and encompassing the juggler,
footballer, accordionist,
doctor, and even a wild west
sheriff with a golden star
and six guns at his waist. Breakfast
was a jolly meal
to start the day the way the posters
showed in advertizing
Golden Shred, the marmalade
most favored, with the Golliwog
and duck and dog
and teddy bear around
a picnic blanket in the sun
while in the grocer’s shop
a cutout display bore the words, Golly
it’s Good, and it was. The rag dolls
the founder’s son discovered
on his New World travels
turned into a sales pitch
while we were spreading flavors
on our toast. Those were the Saturdays
the Black and White Minstrel Show
was on television; pale faces
darkened and the singers in exotic
dress, top hats or sombreros, with a selection
to entertain workers
on their rest day: Off to Louisiana;
the Camptown Races; singing
Polly wolly doodle.
It was doo dah, doo dah,
coal black Mammy, those red-and-white
striped pants for the men
while the ladies in sequins
retained their English complexions
in song after song, and it was all
so joyfully innocent
the way they danced without ever
shaking the smiles loose
from their faces. Every number
held its charm: the holiday scene
with the men in curly wigs
singing Everyone’s doing it at the seaside
while the girls paraded
in swim suits. Old Rocking Chair,
Born Free, never a pause
and exotic was
the order of the day to wipe
reality away; even for the black-faced
singers in their suits of joy
belting out I wish
I was in Dixie, Hooray, hooray,
Look away, Look away.

 

 

David Chorlton
Illustration Nick Victor


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