Beating Back the Devil

I had to blink.  It’s been a few years since I was in a saloon that “spoke to me.”  Let me make this clear… I was a visitor.  And I know the difference in being “part of a place” and of being just a visitor.  For a decade or more, the Ash Creek Saloon was my second home.  And to those that frequented that watering hole, we knew who belonged and who was an outsider — a guest.  And that’s the way it is when you have a place of local patronage.

My point here, I knew I was a guest.  Yet even a guest can take appreciation of a place that has an energy and life produced of kindred souls of the “neighborhood”.  I was just planning on a quick stop, a brief review of the private wine tasting I had just conducted, a whisky and a nosh and off to home.  And then from the far end of the bar, four stout souls (had to be regulars) launched a cappella into song…

Farewell and adieu to you, Spanish Ladies
Farewell and adieu to you, ladies of Spain;
For we’ve received orders for to sail for old England
But we hope in a short time to see you again

Hearing the song, I felt encouraged to order another whisky.  If I had heard a local cover band doing “Sweet Home Chicago” I would probably have done the same thing. Upon hearing music, there is a natural draw for something that you’ve heard – that you know – that acts as a welcome anchor.  That encourages you to stay and linger, to stay and savor.  So why not another Wild Turkey Rye?

And these guys were surprisingly good.  Maybe a barbershop quartet? Hard to believe that they’d sound that good after a handful of beers and a hard day at the office!  That is unless their office was a local oyster boat, and singing sea shanties were part of their natural make up.  Or, these guys sounded like fraternity brothers who had to learn the song during their pledge year, and never lost connection to the melody and lyrics.W

We’ll rant and we’ll roar like true British sailors
We’ll rant and we’ll roar all on the salt seas
Until we strike soundings in the channel of old England;
From Ushant to Scilly is thirty-five leagues

I first heard a portion of the song in the film “Master and Commander”.  It’s one of my favorite films. A story is set on the frigate H.M.S. Surprise during the Napoleonic Wars.  I’ve heard a couple of covers of the song over the years, and I love it.  Each time it puts me in mind of canvas sail bulging in the wind, the tar and pitch of the rigging, the smell of salt air & the roll of ship in the waves.  It’s all in my mind, for sure. I’ve never set foot on a square rigged ship.  But such is the power of our imagination.

We hove our ship to with the wind from sou’west, boys
We hove our ship to, deep soundings to take;
‘Twas forty-five fathoms, with a white sandy bottom
So we squared our main yard and up channel did make

Or maybe those guys were Brits “on loan” from a Bristol pub!  Or maybe off a North Sea oil rig?  For my part I was happy that they were there… regardless of their “home port”.  Happy to put my return home on pause, put my paper work aside & sip a second whisky.  The song concluded I joined the raucous applause and hoots from the gathered in the bar.  Someone shouted, “Again!”  And the foursome obliged, and then followed it with another tune that I recognized: “Don’t Forget Your Old Shipmate.”

Safe and sound at home again
Let the waters roar, Jack
Safe and sound at home again
Let the waters roar, Jack

Long we’ve tossed on the rolling main
Now we’re safe ashore, Jack
Don’t forget your old shipmate
Fal dee ral dee ral dee rye eye doe!

Since we sailed from Plymouth Sound
Four years gone, or nigh, Jack
Was there ever chummies, now
Such as you and I, Jack?

After the second verse it seemed like the entire bar, men and women, joined in the chorus. 

Long we’ve tossed on the rolling main
Now we’re safe ashore, Jack
Don’t forget your old shipmate
Fal dee ral dee ral dee rye eye doe!

This was too much!  I looked around… maybe this was one of those flash mob things?  Maybe the entire bar worked on the same oyster boat? Same pledge class?

Yes, I was and outsider.  I was side stage to the goings-on. But very happy to enjoy the diversion from my work.  It was good to hear folks joined in song, leaving the airs of negativity behind, laughing, raising a glass, and beating back the devil that has gripped our land by the throat.

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