I began this day delightfully as I often do, on Wordsmith.org reading about a word– two words, actually, today – elbow grease. I am old now and I forget many things, but I shall never forget those words. They are emblazoned on my long term memory.
In the 1940’s, I, the adolescent daughter of a World War I veteran, became a bugler. With my father’s blessing, I joined his Jewish War Veterans Post’s marching band. The band met once a week for a lesson and drill practice. Each week every band member had to bring a dime for the lesson. It was expensive but I became a remarkably good bugler.
Sometimes I earned money playing “Taps” at memorial ceremonies. Summers I bugled in a girls camp in the Catskills . Marching in parades was exciting and the uniforms were nifty: blue gabardine pants, a white man’s shirt, and a maroon satin cape. I loved the jaunty cap with a peak.
One day at practice, Mr. Stein, the bandmaster, looked at my “horn” (his word) and said sharply, “You need to use elbow grease on that horn. It looks dingy.” He said it very loud so everyone heard and some people laughed. Right after practice I took my small hoard of nickels and dimes earned babysitting (50 cents a night) and I set out. I went to the local stores all along Lee Avenue in Williamsburg Brooklyn but the shopkeepers – many of whom spoke little English – could not help me. No one of them carried or had ever heard of Elbow Grease. They let me look at the stock on their shelves to no avail.
Finally, finally the English speaking owner of the hardware store told me quietly what was being required of me, defined for me, indeed, what elbow grease was.