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Black Lamb


Now in its 14th year of publication, this magazine was created to offer the discerning reader a stimulating selection of excellent original writing. Black Lamb Review is a literate rather than a literary publication. Regular columns by writers in a variety of geographic locations and vocations are supplemented by features, reviews, articles on books and authors, and a selection of “departments,” including an acerbic advice column and a lamb recipe.


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The sweetest sound

Sometimes simple is best

January 1st, 2016


When I was a little boy, my grandfather told me that he had been in Spain and wanted to see a bullfight, but lacked the money to get in. As he stood by the gate, a haughty fellow walked up and said to the gatekeeper, “I am the toreador!” He was immediately ushered in.

A few moments later, another grand fellow walked up and announced, “I am the matador!” He was granted access, as the gatekeeper bowed and scraped.

Not long after, the process was repeated, this time by a dude proclaiming, “I am the picador!”

Whereupon, Grandpa walked up to the gate, declared, “I am Isadore!” and walked in.

pennywhistleGrandpa was born Isadore Banberger in Bucharest, some time in the 1880s. Family legend has it that he wandered Europe for a few years before immigrating to New York. He may or may not have financed his adventures by a run of con games and pool hustling. His eyes would twinkle while he refused to confirm or deny it.

My mother once told me that “he learned to cook and screw in six languages.” He could speak English, Yiddish, and Romanian fluently. He was conversant in German, French, and Italian, and he had a little Spanish. During the Depression, he helped keep his five kids fed selling Blue Coal, representing himself credibly in almost any ethnic neighborhood as a fellow countryman.

He was difficult and tyrannical with his kids but doted on his grandchildren. As I was his first grandchild, and living under his roof, he lavished attention on me. My love of music may have come directly from him. He could play many instruments — strictly by ear, and within minutes of picking them up. My favorite was the slide whistle, basically the trombone of the tin whistle family. Notes were formed by moving a slide up and down in a metal tube, and blowing into it. His favorite song was “Rumenye, Rumenye,” composed and sung best by Aaron Lebedeff, a Yiddish musical comedy star.

I would sit on Grandpa’s lap and he would play a chorus on the whistle, then sing it in Yiddish. It’s an hysterical tune celebrating the joys of the flesh, Romanian-style. Wine! Food! Women! Craziness! After a few moments we were both delirious with glee.

I’ve been very fortunate in my life. I’ve heard, performing live, Monk, Coltrane, Basie, Ellington, Dizzy, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, the Velvet Underground, the Ramones. All brilliant. But nothing has surpassed the transcendent experience of Grandpa playing “Rumenye, Rumenye” on a cheap tin whistle.

“Ay digga-digga dom, digga-digga dom, hey!”

This essay first appeared in the January 2003 issue of Black Lamb.

Posted by: The Editors
Category: 13th Anniversary Issue, Goldberg | Link to this Entry


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