Danny Does Denim

The younger Tedesco brother, Danny, is not known for his success with the ladies. It could have something to do with his perpetually broke-down car (his dates always have to drive), his constant lack of funds (his dates always pay for dinner and entertainment), or his questionable sense of fashion (his only decent suit is made of denim). Fortunately for Danny, his most recent girlfriend is not at all put off by her new beau’s style choices.

Known as the Canadian tuxedo or the Texan tux, Danny’s suit, manufactured by Lee, comes with a lovely matching vest. No doubt Grandma Josephine Tedesco bought the ensemble for him, but whether or not she remembers doing so is another matter.

Keep in mind that a denim jacket (also known as a jean jacket) is a different animal altogether. Denim jackets are a stylish staple in casual wardrobes and enjoy varying degrees of popularity throughout the decades. It’s also commonly worn by those in a more rugged line of work (think cowboys and roughnecks). But when it comes to tailored suits, denim is rarely if ever well received.

The history of the denim suit is short and infamous, and its origins don’t go all that far back. Levi Strauss is credited as the originator of the denim jacket in the 1800s, but the earliest reference to a denim suit that I could find was 1951. A story exists of singer Bing Crosby being denied access to a hotel in Canada because he was dressed from head to toe in denim. Although the was eventually allowed in, Levi’s made him a custom double-breasted denim suit jacket so that he would “never have problems wearing Levi’s jeans, even in fancy establishments.”

The jacket, presented to Crosby at the 1951 Silver State Stampede in Elko, Nevada, contained a leather label on the inside bearing a “Notice to all Hotel Men” stating that denim was acceptable to wear on any occasion. At least Danny is in good company. Bing’s suit now lives in the Northeastern Nevada Museum in Elko.

In 2015, Ralph Lauren took a stab at the denim suit with a hipster and Wall Street version. In my humble opinion, both look like something a demented college student would try to pull off as good fashion sense. I have no doubt CEOs avoided these two suits like the plague they are.

If these denim suits don’t float your boat, you can always opt for one of the two hundred, limited run reproductions of Bing’s jacket that originally went for $1,800.00. I’m sure eBay is stocked with these little goodies.

 

Take the Money and Run

It’s Cotton Tail in the lead by three lengths…

You probably think today’s blog post has something to do with The Steve Miller Band song of the same title. You know the one where the lead singer (possibly Steve) throws grammar and rhyme to the wind? Actually, today’s blog post is about the phrase give them a run for their money. I used the phrase in my novel, The Tedescos, when describing the success of a peripheral character’s sisters.

Per the Collins dictionary, if you say that someone could give someone else a run for their money, you mean you think they are almost as good as the other person. Per the Macmillan dictionary, it means to compete very well against someone so that it is hard for them to defeat you. And about the phrase, the Urban dictionary offers the definition to challenge someone.

Other websites dealing with phrase origin claim that the saying came from horse racing where one wants a run for his money. This means he wants a horse upon which a bet has been placed to participate in the race. If the horse withdraws from the race after bets are placed, the bettor does not get a run for his money.

Also going along with the horse racing theme, to give someone a run for their money is to give a good race (even if you don’t win) in return for their backing. The definition suggests a challenge, and it is in keeping with the definition presented in the Urban dictionary.

The Oxford English Dictionary agrees that the phrase originated with horse racing and suggests that it could be used in a figurative or extended sense to mean any sort of challenge whether or not money is spent. The OED supplied the earliest usage of the phrase that I could find.

“1874 Slang Dict. 274 To have a run for one’s money is also to have a good determined struggle for anything.”

It has also been suggested that the phrase originated with the British style of hunting where one chases animals with hounds but doesn’t shoot them with guns. (Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t the fox die at the end of these hunts? I’ve watched enough BBC shows to know Brits use guns to kill animals. But I digress.)

Supposedly, if an area of the country wasn’t well stocked with animals to kill, a hunting party had to purchase a fox or stag to set free so they could chase it. The purchase of an animal to hunt added to the already high costs of hunting (good horse, proper riding clothes, and correct footwear) but was considered to be worth it if you had a good run for your money. It all sounds so civil. I wonder if they recycled the fox or stag.

I used the phrase when describing the rate at which my peripheral character’s sisters supplied grandchildren. The sisters gave rabbits (well known to be prolific producers of progeny) a run for their money, and yet the challenge wasn’t really for rabbits.

If you are at all familiar with a grandparent’s desire for grandchildren, you know that more than a simple challenge was presented. The gauntlet was thrown down at the feet of their childless sister. I expanded the definition to show an elevated level of aggression. Wouldn’t it be lovely if this additional aspect was added to the definition of the phrase with the line from my novel cited as the first usage?

Who’s Your Momma?

Shirley Tedesco has her hands full with eight children ranging in age from five to sixteen, but she loves being a mother. She’s also very practical about the whole endeavor and readily distributes hugs or spanks as needed to keep her brood of eight angels/hoodlums in line. In the chapter of my novel, The Tedescos, titled “Soul Food,” Shirley is feeling like less of a mother than she normally does. Her husband, Joe, knows she’s experiencing a bout of the blues, and his heart breaks for her. Joe springs into action with a Mother’s Day celebration sure to lift Shirley’s spirits and quite possibly earn him some points.

While writing, I knew that Mother’s Day had been established long before the year during which my novel took place, but the research provided some interesting history with which I’d like to honor mothers everywhere.

One of the earliest example of celebrating mothers came about with the Christian festival known as “Mothering Sunday.” This holiday fell on the fourth Sunday during Lent, and it was once a major tradition in England and parts of Europe. Faithful church attenders would return to their “mother church” (the main church nearest their home) for a special service.

Over time, Mothering Sunday became a more secular holiday. Children began presenting their mother’s with small tokens of appreciation or flowers. This custom started to fade in popularity, but it eventually merged with the American version of honoring mothers, Mother’s Day, in the 1930s and 1940s.

In America, the origins of Mother’s Day date back to the 19th century. Prior to the Civil War, Ann Reeves Jarvis, a resident of West Virginia, helped start the “Mother’s Day Work Clubs” in an effort to teach proper childcare to local women. Later, the clubs served as a unifying force in areas of the country still divided by the Civil War. In 1868, Jarvis promoted reconciliation between mothers of Union and Confederate soldiers by organizing “Mothers’ Friendship Day.”

Julia Ward Howe, an abolitionist and suffragette, also provided an important aspect to what would become the modern Mother’s Day. In 1870, Howe wrote the “Mother’s Day Proclamation.” Her call to action asked mothers to unite in promoting world peace. In 1873, she campaigned for a “Mother’s Peace Day” to be celebrated every June 2.

Anna Jarvis, daughter of Ann Reeves Jarvis, was instrumental in promoting the official Mother’s Day holiday in the 1900s. After her mother’s death in 1905, Anna Jarvis regarded Mother’s Day as a way of honoring the sacrifices mothers made for their children.

John Wanamaker, a Philadelphia department store owner, provided financial backing for Anna Jarvis allowing her to organize the first official Mother’s Day celebration in 1908 at a Methodist church in Grafton, West Virginia. Thousands of people also attended a Mother’s Day event at one of Wanamaker’s retail stores in Philadelphia.

Anna Jarvis, who never married or had children, started a massive letter writing campaign to newspapers and influential politicians in an effort to have Mother’s Day added to the national calendar. By 1912, many states, towns, and churches had adopted Mother’s Day as an annual holiday, and Anna Jarvis established the Mother’s Day International Association to assist with promoting her cause. Her perseverance paid off in 1914 when President Woodrow Wilson signed a measure to officially establish the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.

There is no set way to honor and celebrate mothers and motherhood. My experience has been that small, private celebrations or those grounded in faith touch a mother’s heart the most. It isn’t about what you can give to and/or do for your mother; it’s about maintaining the relationship throughout the year, and then taking one special day a year to say an extra “I love you.”

La Cucina Povera

In the chapter of my novel, The Tedescos, titled “Soul Food,” the family attends church on Mother’s Day with their good friends, The Robertses. After the service, the Tedesco Clan is invited to attend a meal in the church fellowship hall. The men and boys prepared the meal they will serve to the mothers to honor them. Much of the food the Tedescos encounter is familiar, but one dish in particular initiates a conversation between Joe Jr. and Tabitha and Tonya Roberts and results in the explanation of ‘la cucina povera.’

The Italian phrase literally means the poor kitchen, and it is a style of cooking familiar among the lower classes (think peasants) of a particular society. Often, peasants had to cook with whatever they had on hand whether it came from the kitchen or the farm. The ‘poor kitchen’ can be found in every society. The great thing about this concept is that some really delicious recipes emerged from the simple, high-quality ingredients that were available.

Attempting to cook in the style of ‘la cucina povera’ may earn you a laugh especially from an older person who lived through the war in Italy. They may refuse to acknowledge ‘the poor kitchen’ style and argue that it was simply the preparation of the food they had on hand. Americans, with all their varied food choices and easy access to said food, have a tendency to romanticize a style of cooking that was a part of basic survival. Still, I can think of several recipes in which my family indulges that found their way into my writing because of my love to feed people whether real or imagined. Many cookbooks featuring this style of food have been published, and I highly recommend you try one or two meals from them if you’ve never encountered peasant cooking.

Beans and cornbread, cabbage and noodles, and soup made from some combination of vegetables are the types of peasant food I grew up with. I never knew that what we ate was considered to be from ‘the poor kitchen’ because the adults who prepared it for me cooked with love and made everything taste wonderful. Delicious, simple food is usually the tastiest, and in the end, that’s really what it’s all about. What does your family enjoy from ‘la cucina povera?’

Monkey Business

Ava Maria Tedesco is a tender-hearted girl of thirteen. While she knows that stuffed animals aren’t real, she can’t quite help but extend to them the same compassion she showers on animals, people in need of prayer, sometimes her siblings, and always her parents, Grandma Josephine, and Sister Mary Agnes. One of Ava’s favorite stuffed animals is Mr. Monkey. Unfortunately for Ava, her older sister, Katherine, knows this. Katherine only meant to kidnap Mr. Monkey for a short time to torment her younger sister, but when she hides the rubber-face stuffed toy in their mother’s dryer, all does not end well.

I based Ava Maria’s favorite stuffed toy on one I had as a child. In fact, Freddie is still packed away in my basement with all my other childhood stuffed toys even as I type. I don’t know where I obtained Freddie or how that came to be his name. I just remember being fascinated by his rubbery face, hands (one of which holds a banana), and little white shoes. Even before I can remember, one of Freddie’s shoes somehow became slightly detached from his hairy legs and had to be safety pinned in place.

When I researched the doll for my novel, The Tedescos, I came across pictures of the one I had as well as one with the word Zip on the front of his yellow shirt. The Zip doll was the representation of the actual chimpanzee, Zippy, who was a television star in the 1950s. Zippy had been discovered by Bob “Buffalo Bob” Smith of Howdy Doody fame, and the chimp appeared on the show. Zippy also appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, Captain Kangaroo, Gary Moore Show, and Jackie Gleason Show.

The Ruston Company made the Zip stuffed doll in response to Zippy’s popularity on Howdy Doody. Howdy Doody ran from 1947 until 1960, and while I have yet to find documentation supporting this fact, either The Rushton Company continued to produce the popular stuffed doll long into the 1970s (my childhood) or children took extremely good care of their toys. Another possibility allowing the doll to make it into the 1970s is what I call ‘the knock-off’ factor in which Zip lookalikes, such as the one I have, were produced well beyond the demise of the Howdy Doody show. Columbia appears on the tag of some of these dolls identifying them as made by another toy manufacturer.

My version of the rubber-faced monkey doll is apparently known as Mr. Bim, and he may or may not be holding a banana, have red suspenders or black pompom buttons, and have yellow or white fur representing a shirt. In 1984, Dakin produced an updated version of the Zip doll.

In addition to the stuffed monkey dolls I’ve described above, there are a whole host of monkeys in other colors of fur, with or without hats, some with different facial configurations, and more. So while my Freddie and Ava Maria’s Mr. Monkey might not be original Zip dolls, they are no less loved.

Bad Medicine

One of the weirdest things I had to research for my novel, The Tedescos, was the song “Witch Doctor.” I checked first of all to make sure it had been released before my story took place. The song, performed by Ross Bagdasarian Sr., was released in 1958 by Liberty Records. Bagdasarian is better known by his stage name David Seville.

The song peaked at number one on the Billboard Top 100 and was considered a surprise hit on the chart. “Witch Doctor” became David Seville’s first number-one single and held this position for three weeks. The single sold over one million copies in the United States and finished at the number-four spot on Billboard for 1958.

The ridiculous song tells the story of a man in love with a woman who does not feel the same way about him. In an effort to secure her affections, the man visits a witch doctor for advice. The witch doctor replies with the now-famous refrain, “Oo ee oo aa aa ting tang walla walla bing bang.” This phrase is repeated throughout the song with the alternating endings of “bing bang” and “bang bang.”

And let me tell you, there is heated debate to this minor detail. Some people will sing every line of the witch doctor’s comments as “bing bang” while other sticklers for detail will insist upon singing it the correct way as “bing bang” the first time followed by “bang bang.” I actually watched the video of David Seville singing the song, my eyes narrowed in concentration to read his lips, just so I could settle the dispute.

The witch doctor’s voice is Bagdasarian’s own voice sped up to double speed. This technique was later used when Bagdasarian, as David Seville, created Alvin and the Chipmunks.

Grandma Josephine Tedesco borrows the witch doctor’s famous line when her youngest son, Danny, involves her in a crazy, money-making scheme. Because Grandma Josephine isn’t always aware of what she’s doing, she’s given a pass. However, Danny does not fare so well when his older brother, Joe, finds out he employed their mother in shady business.

Since I don’t want to be the only one with this annoying lyric stuck in my head, I have provided a link to Ross Bagdasarian/David Seville singing “Witch Doctor” on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Meet the Tedescos

As I prepare to query my novel, The Tedescos, I thought I’d better introduce the family to you so you’ll know who I’m talking about in upcoming blog posts for Research Road and Edible Fiction.

Joe Tedesco is the big-hearted, sometimes clueless, but always lovable patriarch of the Tedesco Clan whose primary job is to bring home the bacon and do his best to not muck things up too badly for his lovely wife, Shirley.

Shirley Tedesco is the savvy, stay-at-home matriarch of the Tedesco Clan responsible for keeping her husband, their brood of eight rowdy children, and her crazy mother-in-law in line. Hers is a difficult task.

Sixteen year-old Joe Jr. is the good-natured, oldest sibling with a love for sports, girls, and food, but not necessarily in that order.

Katherine, the second oldest sibling at fourteen, is a mastermind of manipulation who knows how to play her father for whatever catches her eye.

Thirteen year-old Ava Maria is the saintly, third oldest sibling whose limitless compassion extends to stuffed animals, overworked nuns, and anyone in need of prayer.

Holly and Noelle, ten years-old, are the pink and blue wearing Christmas twins possessing twice the sweetness or twice the mischievousness depending on what the situation requires.

Billy (age seven), Grace (age six), and Pauline (age five) are the youngest three siblings who work as a unit whether it’s planning or executing the next round of trouble they’re going to get into.

Grandma Josephine, Joe’s widowed mother, lives in the twilight realm between long-term memory and reality as she navigates her way through the golden years.

Danny Tedesco, Joe’s younger brother, is the unmarried, shiftless member of the family who is long on money-making schemes and short on work ethic.

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