Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Junior McGinniss

I've always thought of myself as German. The name Walljasper comes from a region in Western Germany known as Westphalia. The story that has been told to me is that the Walljaspers came to America in the mid 1800's by way of the port of New Orleans, traveled up the Mississippi and finally landed on what is current day Southeast Iowa. A family of five - mother, father, and three brothers, from which the three clusters of Walljasper that currently reside in the various regions of Eastern Iowa hail.

But this weekend I heard a story of a less prevalent, if not just as spirited ethnicity that flows through my blood. The Irish.

My grandfather, Leroy Joseph Walljasper is the source for our families' Irish lineage. His mother, Maiden name McGinniss, was 100% emerald Isle. While visiting my own homeland (Donnellson, IA), Grandpa, sipping his whiskey, told me a story that reveals an interesting aspect of our family tree. This is a story about Junior McGinniss.

Junior, as my grandfather remembers it, was a man of considerable size. He was a farmer, as most of our family has been, so had a leathery toughness that one gets from long hours and extreme conditions. Junior worked hard, but like his work ethic, Junior knew how to have fun as well.

One of his favorite means of entertainment would be to play guitar at a family owned bar in New London, Iowa – The Farmers Tap. He and a pal named Buddy Jones would play almost every weekend at The Tap, which meant, as a boy in the 1940's, Leroy would be allowed to accompany his parents into town for the evening. The Alamo, a movie theater sat across the street from the tavern, so all the kids would dart across the two lane thoroughfare, pay their 25 cents, and be content for a few hours as they escaped the realities of their prepubescent lives. After the films, they'd return to the The Farmers Tap.

The band would still be rocking when they returned, but the owner let them sit along the wall and watch until the night was over. As grandpa recounts, this could be more entertaining than the features they watched at The Alamo.

They'd watch the people dancing, flirting, and drinking. They'd see their parents, affectionately carousing. And sometimes, they'd see a few folks get a little too lit, get into a disagreement, and then they'd watch as the whole thing dissolved into fisticuffs.

When fights broke out, Junior and Buddy stepped in. They served not only as the entertainment, but also as the security muscle. Grandpa remembers six concrete steps that led up to the front door of The Farmers Tap, and when Junior McGinniss and Buddy got a hold of you, you missed everyone of them as you sailed out the front door and landed squarely on your keister.

By midnight, most of the domestic types had indulged their fill. They paid their tabs, collected their coats and children, and made their way home. For Junior and Buddy however, the night was still young. They'd proceeded an additional twenty five miles through back country roads to Burlington, then across the bridge, into Gulfport, Illinois. Gulfport, to this day, is synonymous with one thing in Southeast Iowa. Strip clubs.

That is where my Grandfathers story ends, but I'm sure that there are many more anecdotes about Junior, Buddy, and all the rest of my Irish forebears.

As I listened to his story unfold, I couldn't help but be drawn into his tale. My grandfather, farmer by trade, has a way of telling a story that catches your attention, makes you lean in close to catch every detail, and lands the punchline at just the right moment, every time. It's something about the cadence of his voice, the word play that is a part of the rural vernacular of Southeast Iowa, or the pure joy that comes from Grandpa as he tells these stories, but I could listen to them for hours. Maybe they're not near as interesting to people who don't know Leroy Walljasper, but I find them as enthralling as any I've ever heard.

My friend Brian Wilcoxon, upon hearing this story, was so inspired that he wrote a song about old Junior McGinniss. In my opinion, it perfectly captures the essence of the story.

Junior McGinniss

Now sit ye' right down
And I’ll tell ye' a tale 
Of young Junior McGinniss 
That I knew so well 
Young men came to hear  
From miles around 
The boy’s sweet guitar 
and its curious sound 

He’d play for the lads
And he’d play for the lasses
At every song’s end 
He’d drink down two glasses 
And toast to the dancers 
Who’d cheer him by name 
And say “Junior McGinniss 
So glad that you came!” 

He’d sing about future
He’d sing about past 
And he’d play on til dawn and the 
Sunday’s first mass 
And the priest during prayer
Would give quite a yawn 
From drinking the dear blood  
Of Christ all night long 

Young Junior he really  
Could be quite a cuss 
A pain in the arse 
He could be when he must 
All the rounders who came in
To spoil his fun  
He’d throw down seven steps 
without touching a-one
When the dancin’ wore down
He’d pull out a jug
Of the good ole white gin
That he made in his tub
And we’d sing him a song
And young Junior’d get down
And go dancin’ and dancin
All over the town
Young Junior McGinniss
Is “young Junior” no more
He’s old and he’s grown
And moved on past the shore
But i know that no days
Will no happier be
Than with Junior McGinniss’
Time here with me

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