Songs My Father Taught Me

My father was not gifted with a voice like Mario Lanza but he loved to sing. My brother, however, believed Lanza doesn’t sing. He shouts.

My father was a very gentle person. The violent tempers in our household were the monopoly of my mother, bless her soul. I recall the time she chased my brother all over the garden screaming and wielding a big stick. She did not believe in sparing the cane. She worked her heart so hard she lived till 93. The only time my father lost his temper he banged the car door with all of us inside it and walked away. When he returned my mother shouted even louder. He learned early it was pointless to get angry.

When my father was displeased with us he would shake his head and say, cheh! cheh! cheh! Or when frustrated he would exclaim in a slightly louder voice, Heavens to mergetroid!

My favourite time of the day was after breakfast when my father and I would head for the verandah and he would teach me songs. The ones about the man and his dog who went to mow the meadow, and the ten little Indians who found themselves on the wall were thrilling because they taught me to count backwards from 10. There was a sad one about the married man who wished he was single again because his pockets did jingle then, a lilting one about the Hula maiden on the beach at Waikiki who swayed his heart with her song, bouncy nursery rhymes about Little Miss Muffet eating her curds and whey and Little Jack Horner in the corner who put his thumb into his Christmas pie and pulled out a plumb and said, “What a good boy am I”.

The melodious Star of the Evening shining on the camp which he also taught his boy scouts (my father was a Scoutmaster in addition to being an English teacher at the Penang Free School), was followed by one I didn’t know the meaning of at all. It went like this:

O politai politas politai politai polito
Omi kodimas o sera amba
Omi kodemas sera amba, amba, amba, amba, amba…..

But this is the one I liked most of all:

You love me, I love you
That shall be all life through
As we go onward hand in hand
Making this world a fairyland.

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