Monday, July 03, 2006

My mom is really Yosemite Sam

It's true. I know this because photos never lie.

Once upon a time, I came across a photo of my mom that confused me. She was wearing a crazy red moustache and cowboy hat and baggy Westernwear; it’s safe to let on she was more dressed down than alla the Panamanian muumuus I’d ever seen her wear. I shouldn’t have been too confused, however, as I had a father prone to wearing one of those big black moustaches. Clipped on right between the nostrils. There was even a cane and bowler’s hat involved. Something about him being the bad guy who tied someone to the railroad tracks in some production or another. It made sense at the time.

So, when my mom was competing for the Miss Ricks title at her college – for all of the prestige that comes from wearing a tiara, sash, gown and elbow-length gloves – she was required to unleash her greatest talent for all the crowd to see. I’ve never been clued into what the other contestants did, though I’m guessing singing opera, strumming at a harp – even tap dancing – were included. My mom, however, took it upon herself to lip sync. And she chose to lip sync as a midget cowboy with a short temper. I wonder if it was her first choice and, if so, how she came about that particular number? Those questions will be asked one day.

She somehow struck a chord with the crowd, however, and won the whole shebang. I think it helps that she was smack-dab in the middle of Idaho. Potatoes, farmers, cowboys – they all seem to blend together. Her legacy was secure. Even had a framed photo on the wall for a few decades as proof.

That’s the story behind the legend. A little bird told me that a 45 record of the song did exist, but it had since been ruined over the years. The very same bird told me she tried calling Warner Bros. to get a copy of her beloved “Yosemite Sam”, as it served as a soundtrack to her memory. No dice. So, as far as she was concerned, it just didn’t exist.

I am the man who can’t say no. When someone believes a song is no longer available, I see it as a personal challenge. I usually end up finding what it is I look for. So, every once in a while, I’d remember how Looney Tunes made my mom famous and I’d start digging around for the song. I’m not sure how many years I did this, but I eventually hit paydirt.

My friend Blair collects the musical oddities, the stuff most don’t bother with. When I told him what I was looking for, he scrambled off to his vault and was able to come up with the very record near to my mother’s heart. Even included tracks by Mel Blanc himself and Speedy Gonzales and the Tweety Bird. He transferred it to CD and sent it off to me, post-haste. Well, more like 3-4 months later. I wasn’t in much of a hurry and neither was he. And, as far as my mom was concerned, it wasn’t going to reveal itself anytime soon.

I was able to get hold of it just days before her last birthday. On the evening of the presentation – after the annual barrage of dinner food, obligatory cake and presents – I placed my mother in the center of the living room and informed the crowd she was now going to perform for us. She gave me a cautious look and said, “I’m not gonna perform.” And, truth be told, I wasn’t entirely sure she would, either. Once the song came on, however, she let out the loudest, most unexpected scream ever. The nephews were a little frightened. I could tell by how big their eyes got.

Then, as if we’d planned this whole thing in advance, she hunched herself over and started to do this stomp-waddle thing, turning herself around in circles. This was how the show started. And she was, by the way, wearing a muumuu. The song began and she fell right in time with it, lip syncing away. Keep in mind she hadn’t heard “Yosemite Sam” in over 35 years. It’s not necessarily a staple on the oldies station. Perhaps this really was her talent? Perhaps she was onto something when she trumped the rest of the beauty contestants as a nearly-twentied something?

She carried on like that through the entire song – beginning, middle, end – hardly missing a word. Lesser lip syncers may have given a taste of what they could do, then slunk away to their respective embarrassed corners. As for my mom, I think she probably saw a spotlight somewhere. There were no smiles. Instead, she threw back her head and mock bellowed. She aimed and shot an air gun. She was Yosemite Sam. And she was singing a warning to the other cowboys. Or, perhaps, an unseen rabbit. A wascaly one.

The song ended and Yosemite left as quickly as he’d come. But not before I caught a look on my mom’s face. It was on par with the surprised look of a child. I’m certain she was baffled as to where I’d located the song, but that thought didn’t much matter to her for the three or four minutes she was mouthing its words. What it had allowed her, I think, was a much-needed release. Some have the bar to drown their woes. Others lip sync in front of loved ones. Guess which one’s cheaper?

When she fell into my arms for an after-performance hug, it meant more than it had in a while. It wasn’t the patented 5’ 4” kidney squeeze; it wore warmer. And, sure, she’d go on to get all trussed up and do it all over again in front of her side of the extended family – even blowing my mind beforehand by saying she needed to practice – but the thrill and spontaneity of it were gone. I’ll take the muumuu performance any day. Or once even. It was all that was needed.

Yosemite Sam


Sherpa said...

This is beautiful. Thanks

aisy said...

that's awesome. you can't shake the little miss ricks out of your mom.

Cindy said...

I loved that story! I am also in love with your mom. She's awesome. Your mom with her beauty queen legs and my mom with her cocktail waitress legs probably would like each other.