Every now and then, I a little ditty pops into my head. It is one of the few sound memories I have of my grandfather, Albert James Belanus, Sr., who died when I was about seven years old. I remember him as a tall, slim Dutchman from Northern New Jersey with a shock of white hair and bushy black eyebrows. He sometimes ate cold rice with milk and sugar. He loved Christmas and he and my grandmother spoiled us rotten buying toys with their Christmas Club money.
Anyhow, he used to sing a little song that I only figured out was a naughty song years and years later, after he was long buried. I realized then why he got a twinkle in his eye when he sang it. I don’t think my sister remembers it, or maybe this was something between Pop-Pop and me. It went something like this, in my memory:
A-sol, a-sol, a-soldier boy was he (repeat)
He had two pis- two pistols on his knee (repeat)
There might have been more, but that is all I recall, except for a sort of chorus that sounded to me like “And step, comarade, and step comarade, and step tra-la-la-la.” Which led me to believe that maybe it was a marching song for actual soldiers, though my grandfather was never a soldier.
It never occurred to me to search for other versions on the internet. (And I call myself a folklorist?) But, here it is, and here, along with discussions about its origins and alternative versions. (I can see now why my grandfather might have edited out some of the additional verses for my little ears.) Seems as if it might have started as a soldier’s song and then made it’s way to the playground. Where my grandfather learned it, we will never know. But, it is so ingrained in my memory that I recall it more than 50 years later.
The power of music, the power of memory, the power of love.