Local Dispatch: Singing father left a lasting record of his rhythm, love
Share with others:
I grew up in Butler, where my dad worked at the Armco steel plant for 38 years.
In the 1950s, Armco would buy out the seats at the Penn Theater in downtown Butler and the Armco kids could see a movie, get a popcorn ball and a stocking filled with treats. It was a good time had by all. My dad, Gilbert Taggart, was involved in those shows, and Father's Day brings back the memories of his singing.
He was to perform one night in minstrel blackface at the Butler Armco Community Talent Show at the old red-brick junior high school and we were downstairs waiting for Mom, who was always last to get ready. Dad was wearing slacks and a bowling style shirt, popular in the '50s.
I was 5 and dressed in a pink dress adorned with ruffles, frills and ribbons galore. My hair was brushed to the side, held in place by a pink flowered barrette. I began to fidget, tugging at the hem of my dress, scratching at my neck, itchy. Too many frills and such.
Seeing this, Dad decided he'd better do something to keep me distracted and clean so Mom wouldn't be upset with both of us.
"Hey, Cat. How about you help me practice one more time and we sing a song? What song should we sing?"
We sang Al Jolson's "April Showers" while twirling around the room. I can still see Mom's smiling face as she stood to the side until we finished our song, and Dad and I ended with some extravagant flourish. The house was filled with laughter as we rushed out the door.
Dad familiarized my ears with song lyrics, melodies, rhyme and rhythm. When we were sharing songs his smile was bigger and he would liven up any room he stepped into. When a record played, he swayed or tapped or whistled.
We went to see Walt Disney's "Song of the South" on one of our many movie outings. Its main song, "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah," was a fun song that made a day at the movies with popcorn and Dad extra special. Every time I hear that song, I can see Dad animated, with his arms waving, high steppin' around in a circle, and egging me on to do some struttin' around as we would sing the verse, "Mister Bluebird's on my shoulder ..."
The storytelling ballads were his favorites. He liked the flow of the story when singing them. He didn't stumble on the lyrics, he sang them with a natural ease. A Jimmie Rodgers ballad, "Scarlet Ribbons," was one of his favorites. As a child I felt distress with that song and for the little girl in it. But when Dad sang it, I listened and was content to be sitting on his lap. I could smell his Old Spice after-shave. I descended into the warmth of his arms, feeling their reassuring strength wrapped around me.
Back in the day, men didn't necessarily have too much to do with their children. They were expected to work and provide for their family. Married at 16, five months later a father at 17, this was a responsibility Dad dove right into while still enjoying song and music.
My early childhood was marked by Dad being absent due to working shifts at the steel mill. He wasn't perfect, but he often seemed so to me during the time we shared with song and music, when we might also be whistling and twirling. Those were special moments then, even more in memory now.
In later years, listening to his movie soundtrack records, I learned the "Three P's," as he called them: purpose, precision and pacing. And from the ordinary snippets of music with him throughout the day I learned the natural rhythms of life. While sitting at the bottom of the stairs just outside the bathroom, listening to him sing in the shower for the joy of singing, I learned the poetry of a pause.
I know Dad did the best he could. He died in March 2011, long after he had used his musical passion and knowledge to guide me through my childhood with grace and style. With his singing, he told me in the best way he knew how that he loved me.
First Published June 13, 2012 12:00 am