Many childhood summers were spent larking about in the gentle rains and salt breezes of Raymond Maine. My grandmother immigrated from Ireland through Ellis Island in the early 1900's met and married my grandfather who was wounded in 1938 during World War I died of what was thought to be Addison's Disease caused by the injury. Widowed young and with two girls ages 7 and 9 in the middle of the Great Depression. She soon married another Irishman I called Pops and for the most part they were a happy couple.
He called her Ducky she called him Pet and they kept a large garden where she would grow dahlias and rhubarb and blueberries. Flowers for the dinner table and rhubarb pies cooled in her kitchen window.
Pops grew cucumbers and told tall tales about them. I heard many people discriminate against them for simply being Irish although I never heard any complaints, I supposed it was a way of life for her sadly. Many assumed she was illiterate based solely upon her accent and there was a time when she was investigated by the US government when McCarthysim was rampant and Dad was trying to get security clearance so he could be stationed in Taiwan at a listening post.
I suppose it might have been all of that, if not all the more reason, on more than one occasion I would come down from the attic where I spent endless hours reading through all of her books. This is where I read Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and I am Joe's Spleen or some such in piles of old Reader's Digest magazines.
She kept on top of her highboy full of fancy seamed silk stockings, a jar of lavender cream perfume which was generously dabbed on the insides of wrists and behind ears. Threading fingers and buttoning hands into soft embroider gloves and donning her flowery summer dresses to top it all off with a large straw hat and a delicate fan she wore to Mass. Oh I was the cat's meow and promenade down the staircase with a Scarlet O'Hare air as a grown up Scout and we would grin, giggle, then finally laugh out loud smirking into the red and white speckled plastic dinette chairs. She with a warning Oh you are such an Ish kabibble! then stuff me full of blueberry muffins. For the life of me I thought it was an Irish word and was always puzzled as to what it meant to be an Ish kabibble because at times I was labeled as puckish and other times she regarded me as the happy go lucky sort. Ish kabibble indeed ...it's a combination of both I gather from the web.
Yiddish slang seems the most likely source yet it might possibly be German for "I don't care" or "Who cares?" Merwyn Bogue (1907-94) who was a coronet player during the Big Band Era of the 1930's in America used it as a stage name. Bogue played in Kay Kyser's orchestra (of Free Ittle Fishes In a Itty Bitty Poo fame) which enjoyed it's hey day as a radio program Kay Kyser's Kollege of Musical Knowledge. Bogue became the side kick and comic relief to Kay Kyser who by the way went on to become a vocalist for Merv Griffin in the 1940's.
Bougue's stage name may have most likely been inspired by a song written by Sam M. Lewis. The melody was set by George W. Meyer in 1913. It is entitled "Isch Gabibble" or "I Should Worry":
I never care or worry
Isch Gabibble - Isch Gabibble
I never tear or hurry
Isch Gabibble - Isch Gabibble
When a friend says he's feelin' blue
When a friend says his room rent's due
Just tell him in a friendly way
Get used to it
Get used to it. When I owe people money
Isch Gabibble - Isch Gabibble
If they befriend or lend me
that's their lookout
They shouldn't yell or shout
I should worry if they steal my wife
And let a pimple grow on my young life
Isch Gabibble - I should worry?
No! Not me!
"Abie the Agent" may have also have inspired her to the nickname Ish kabibble
. From the early era of Sunday "funnies" that was popular around the same time as the song, the cartoon character was penned by Harry Hershfield and went by the name of Abie Kabibble followed in the footsteps of a popular phrase from the 1900s Who cares?
with his comic strip In 1914 . This was about the same time my Grandmother immigrated and two classic strips appeared in which new Americans saw comic renderings of their own strivings for respectability and social mobility. It's easy to see the connection between the two, while Hershfield's "Abie the Agent," was innovative as the first "adult" comic strip due to its sympathetic and realistic rendering of the exploits of Jewish Abie Kabibble. Theuniversal, fictional character Abie took on many forms and uses. One strip carries on a story about Abie's Wild Irish Rose. An extract from an article on Yiddish comics explains the story behind Abie Kabibble:
"Who except historians of our commercial popular
culture remembers "Abie the Agent"? The cigar-smoking,
saucer-eyed, roly-poly comic strip figure with small
bulb-nose and little mustache, spouting an English
accented-by Yiddish spelling, expressions and
inflections was created by Harry Hershfield
(1885-1974) whose career as cartoonist, radio
comedian, writer and raconteur spanned many media.
Hershfield drew the strip as a daily black-and-white
and a Sunday color feature from its inception in 1914
to its demise, with various interruptions, in 1940.
Artistically, it was undistinguished compared to the
elegant draftsmanship of "Bringing Up Father," for
instance. Yet it deserves an important place among
ethnic features in the Comics' Hall of Fame as the
first syndicated Jewish comic character strip. The
strip appealed primarily to urban adults, Gentile and
Jewish, who empathized with Abe Kabibble's joys and
sorrows as salesman, agent, and store-owner, and who
shared his ardor and anxiety for getting and avoiding
hurt to reputation and status in a dog-eat-dog
Today, we also discern that besides building
circulation for metropolitan newspapers by
entertaining many first and second generation
immigrant readers, Abie served as a counter-image to
the then prevalent, ridiculous and demeaning Jewish
stereotypes in American popular culture: in humor and
satire weeklies, newspapers, on the vaudeville stage
and in the movies. In spite of his Yiddish-inflected
speech, he apparently did not ruffle the sensitivities
of the Americanized German Jewish leaders and communal
spokesmen who, in 1913, a year before Abie's debut,
organized the Anti-Defamation League of the Fraternal
Order of B'nai B'rith (at first known as Publicity or
Anti-Caricatural Committees) to monitor and reduce the
flourishing mass-culture anti-Semitism they saw
spreading after 1900, as cultural and religious
hostility to Jews was heightened by economic rivalry
and political tensions.
Hershfield, then working for the Hearst papers, had
already slipped some Yiddish expressions into the zany
language of one of his cartoon characters, a cannibal
chief in his "Desperate Desmond" strip. With Abie,
Hershfield was to share the Anti-Defamation League's
concern with derogatory stereotypes. In 1916, he told
members of a Chicago women's club that he had decided
to make Abe Kabibble "a clean-cut, well-dressed
specimen of Jewish humor" because previous depictions
of Jews "on the stage and in burlesque" had presented
a "type of Jewish humor not all complimentary to the
Jewish people and not all justified." Other Jewish
cartoonists apparently shared Hershfield's perception
in this matter. According to Cartoons Magazine, read
by professional illustrators, Bert Levy, creator of
the "Samuel and Sylenz" series, had that same year
"voluntarily surrendered an annual salary of $12,000
and paid $2200 to be released from his contract,
rather than continue a series which he found offensive
to his fellow Jews."
The second comic strip mentioned in the extract is George McManus's Bringing Up Father
. It was another one of the most popular strips of the day. It began as a grand comedy of manners
revolving around the contrasting reactions to new found wealth of an Irish bricklayer, Jiggs
, winner of a million dollar sweepstakes, and Maggie
, his washerwoman wife. While Maggie devoted herself to social climbing and fruitless attempts to remake her husband into a man of society, Jiggs desired only to escape to Dinty Moore's saloon for the companionship of his old friends, some poker, beer, and his corned beef and cabbage.
What, me worry? Ah well tis grand to know we shared the same sense of humor, Grandmother had great confidence in me, no?
Balch Institute-Ethnic Images in the Comics:
John J. Appel: