It's Polka Time!

This just in: The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences announced this week that it was eliminating the best polka album category from the Grammy Awards.
You’re probably thinking what I thought when I read that. I looked at the date to make sure it wasn’t an old news clipping from 1969. The polka category is just now being eliminated? That’s amazing. Were there enough polka albums being recorded to have a “best?” If so, where were they selling them? Not at FYE or Sam Goody.

And if that’s true, what other categories are still hanging around that no one knows about?

The article, sent my way via my friend Mike Murphy, says that the cool cats at Grammy Central decided that it wasn’t so much that all the polka fans are so old that by the time the Grammys come on TV they’re almost ready to wake up for the next morning, but rather that the polka category had become a tribute to one guy. Jimmy Sturr, aka The Polka King, had won 18 out of the 24 awards given out.

The article that Mike posted, an LA Times editorial, says that Jimmy Sturr was beloved by “tens of Americans.” Now, was that necessary? Did you really have to deliver that low blow? Those poor polka-ers (or is it “polkers?” I doubt it. That sounds dirty) have it hard enough, what with the pierogi and stuffed cabbage market tanking and the accordion tuners all losing their hearing due to being - oh, I don’t know - ancient, without having some LA funny man taking pot shots at their music.

We were not Polish or Slovak or “Hunkie” as my mother and her entire generation said. We were just Irish-German Americans, yet because of intermarrying - namely my aunt Ethel marrying my Uncle Whitey and my Aunt Annamae marrying my Uncle Al - we grew up polkaing (which is a real word, I looked it up). Those marriages brought into our family names with lots of consonants, particularly x’s z’s, ch’s and k’s, sometimes without vowels in between them.

I don’t remember learning how to polka, but I was polkaing as young as 7, when I was in my cousin Sandy’s wedding and cut a rug with my cousin Jimmy. We danced so wildly that the bottom of my pink chiffon flower girl dress got all ripped and dirty. We were running into other dancers. We were getting overheated. We got yelled at badly enough

that I still remember being in trouble after the wedding festivities had died down, and that was 43 years ago. Those were the times, at least in Youngstown and Pittsburgh, that if you were invited to a wedding, there was at least a 40 percent chance that the reception music would be 100 percent polkas.

So because we lived where we lived and had the family that we had; and because Youngstown is full of ethnicity and being German-Irish is about as boring as it gets (being a drunk workaholic is no fun at weddings), my mom jumped feet first into being whatever ethnic group had the best dancing and the best food.

She learned how to make homemade pierogis from Mrs. Wasylko, who lived a couple streets down. I remember leaving for school one morning and seeing Mrs. Wasylko and my mom starting to put out the ingredients and when I returned home 6 hours later, they were still making the pierogis and our house was filled with the smell of boiled dough, 6 pounds of butter, mashed potatoes, and the sweat of middle aged, slightly overweight women.

My mom was a cool German woman. You have to give her credit for wanting to learn the skill.

She polkaed, too.

Here’s my other polka story: When I was engaged to my husband and it was clear that he was going to be in our family, for better or worse, we went to my cousin Jimmy’s wedding (yes, that’s the same cousin Jimmy who tore the bottom of my flower girl dress while polkaing with me at my other cousin’s wedding and he also comments on this blog every now and then). The wedding was in Erie, Pennsylvania, and there was a polka band at the reception. At this wedding trip, my husband had already been hit face-first with my family in ways you would find hilarious if I could tell it. But I can’t.

So it was with some reluctance that I turned to him at the reception and said, “I think you need to learn how to polka now.”

We went into the reception hall lobby and I took him by the hands and showed him the basic moves and then we started to polka, but he is from an Irish family who did not jump feet first into Polka Town, so the result wasn’t good.

We fell.

On the floor.

Me on top.

In front of the big double doors, which opened and people from the bride’s side of the aisle came in.

Yeah that wasn’t good. And it was his last attempt at polkaing. I polkaed with an old college friend at one of our roommate’s wedding and she was a spinner and she led and it was a blast. But that was the end of it. I haven’t polkaed since. I’m not sure I remember how.

If anyone out there is having a wedding and would like a spaetzle maker as a wedding gift, please invite me and I’ll oblige you. Together we can keep the polka music playing.

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