Mom said, “Your Dad’s late for dinner because he’s at the bar.”  We didn’t have a phone yet, and she said I had to go get him.  So, off I went to ask him to come home for dinner.  The bar was only about a quarter of a mile from our house, but I wasn’t very eager to get there and took my sweet time.

Summer skies in Alaska are bright and fresh, but inside the bar it was dark and smelly.  There were several loud men sitting around the bar and tables; some were playing pool.  They only gave a cursory glance when I walked in; a kid in the bar wasn’t unusual.  The owners lived upstairs with their family, and the entrance was inside the bar. Kids frequently came and went.

The dim lighting created a heavy mood of oppression and I was very nervous.  The stench of stale beer and sweaty men made my skin crawl.  I carefully made my way around until I found my dad.  He bellowed “What the hell are you doing here?” when he spotted me.  My stomach was in a knot by now and I was in a terrible bind.  Instinctively, I knew he’d be mad when I said mom sent me, and I felt protective of her.  But I didn’t want his wrath directed at me either.  I didn’t hesitate long before I cracked and admitted mom sent me to fetch him for dinner.

After a few choice four-letter words he made it clear he’d be leaving only when he was good and ready, and not one minute before.  Now I was in another bind.  Arrive at home alone and risk mom sending me back, or stick around this disgusting place.  I stood there unsure what to do, and Dad must have decided I needed a distraction.  He gave me some coins to play music on the jukebox and I chose “Bony Fingers” by Hoyt Axton.

“The clothes need washing and the fire won’t start

Kids all crying and you’re breaking my heart

Whole damned place is falling apart but

Maybe things will get a little better in the morning

Maybe things will get a little better

Work your fingers to the bone and what do you get?

Bony fingers, bony fingers”

I played it so many times I memorized the entire song, though I didn’t understand the grown-up meaning. I think what must have stood out to me was futility.  I didn’t know the word then, but I certainly knew the feeling.   I remember staring at the jukebox, mesmerized by the mechanics, though not really seeing it either.  It was something to do while I waited for Dad to say we could finally leave.

How about you? What songs bring back memories from your childhood?