Sunday, March 16, 2008

Demistifying another Pollyism

Saturday We had to make a trip to the Post office and before we could head out the door their was a mention of someone looking like the Wreck of the "Hespahs." I immediately said "huh?" Never heard of such a thing and so I inquired as to the origin and she remarked it was just something her Mom said if someone looked disheveled or unkempt. This sent me to Google this phrase with out much success until I applied the past rules of engagement. When spelling words spoken by New Englanders you must add syllables that are never spoken and remove others. The word "park" is "paaaaahk" Soft A and always an AH sound. Gloucester is spoken "Glahstah" & Worcester is "Wohstah". Think Rooster with a softer o sound and a W or GL in the front. Mrs. Twisted's Mom was an lady with a style of her own. To listen to her family she was a bit eccentric at times. I just had the one meeting with her when we made a trip back to see her parents before she moved out here to live on the West Coast. I quickly learned that she had certain things that she did that were understood to her family as normal and without debate. These became "Pollyisms" Her name was Polly if you needed a hint. The ultimate driving assistant and perfect one to let you know if you were not driving well or so I have been told. The lore of her ways is retold at each family gathering with love and a sprinkling of exaggeration just for the sake of a good story and to help us non family members understand the history of the family and how to them it was normal behavior. You know the little handle on the passenger side of the car? We call it the "PollyGrip" because she would hold it with a death grip whenever the driver was not driving to her satisfaction(all the time).

Back to the phrase.... After applying the rules learned from previous deciphering, the Wreck of the Hespahs became , "The Wreck of the Hesperus." Still, I have never heard of such a thing. But Google had. :) It was a Poem by Longfellow about a stubborn prideful Captain who went against the word of an experienced sailor on his ship and set sail into a storm that would take the life of all aboard his ship. As the storm hit he tied his Daughter to the mast so she wouldn't be washed overboard. They all perished as the ship went down. The only body found was the Daughter still tied to the mast as it washed up on shore with seaweed in her hair. Disheveled would be an understatement I think but now I understand the reference.

Some other interesting points I found

The Wreck of the Hesperus is also referenced in the comic song "Lydia the Tattooed Lady," written by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg and performed by Groucho Marx in the Marx Brothers movie At the Circus (1939). It became one of Groucho's signature tunes.

Oh Lydia, oh Lydia, say, have you met Lydia?
Lydia The Tattooed Lady.
She has eyes that folks adore so,
And a torso, even more so.
Lydia, oh Lydia, that encyclopedia,
Oh Lydia The Queen of Tattoo.
On her back is The Battle of Waterloo.
Beside it The Wreck of the Hesperus too.
And proudly above waves the red, white, and blue.
You can learn a lot from Lydia!"

I remembered the song from the movie because I would watch the Marx Brothers movies anytime they were on TV. To come full circle with this little tale. The ship that sank ran into the reef of "Normans Woe" off the coast of Gloucester Mass. Just a few minutes from where Polly grew up. For more info read here
Happy Monday Everyone.


  1. What a great post. The "PollyGrip" - I like it! I remember the Marx Brothers singing that song and I could never make out the part about the Hesperus. Now I know!

  2. I remember the Lydia song because I believe it was also a Muppets song - it was one of those things that got hummed around the house when I was a kid. :) Our insurance agent's secretary was always Lydia, so any time we had to call her it was "oh yeah, I need to call Lydia oh Lydia."

  3. well, the woman sure drove me crazy sometimes, but I miss her and her Pollyisms so much now that she's gone. Thanks for reminding me how lucky I was to have such a wacky, special mom. "Go comb your hair, you look like the Wreck of the Hezpahs!" :)

  4. Anonymous9:57 PM

    I may have transplanted from Baastan to New York, but I will always "Paaaaahk the caaah in Havaad Yaaad"

    Go Sox!!!

  5. Does it say something about the state of US education, or even education in your home state, that you, an American, didn't know of this poem - by a famous American poet? ;)

    Or am I just too old to even think about such things?

    BTW - love yr blog. Lurk regularly.

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