About a year ago, someone suggested that I write a song for a Florida song contest. Well, it might be a dirty little secret, but I wasn’t born in Florida. At that time, I wasn’t even living in Florida. I’m afraid I have “Product of Savannah, Georgia” stamped on my forehead in indelible ink, even though I have spent the majority of my life elsewhere. But the Sunshine State figured prominently in my childhood, if only because it seemed like an exotic destination that lay within driving distance. And when I was a kid, a driving trip involving my parents and all of my brothers and sisters, sealed in a car lacking air-conditioning, was always a memorable experience.
In those days, interstate highways were rare and located nowhere near us. What seem like reasonable drives now, were then long, grueling trips on two lane highways that connected one very small town with another. Between the towns were long stretches, lined with electric-power poles and billboards. Some billboards were large and represented national products. Some were relatively small, advertising some side-of-the-road gift shop or tourist trap. I clearly remember heading south on U.S Highway 17 with my littermates and seeing sign after sign for a place that promised live alligators for sale. On that particular day, we not only pulled over to check out the place, but we also drove away with an alligator. It’s hard to say that the gator became a pet, but he shared our lives for a considerable period of time and inspired a song.
When I sat down to write this song, I wanted to tell the truth. And I think I did. The details are suspect, many are gathered from various car trips that we took over a number of years, but the main points hold up and can be verified by others. We did have a gator named Lord Chesterfield¸ and he joined our family in much the way I describe:
Gators for Sale
(Ballad of Lord Chesterfield)
We were headin’ south on US 17
The sky was blue, the trees were green
Muggiest day I think I’d ever seen
The sun shone hot on our sedan roof
Sweat rolled off my daddy as he began to droop
When up ahead like a mirage we saw a sign
“Come see our gorilla,” the billboard screamed
“And snakes by the dozen” like an African scene
“And gators, yes genuine gators for sale!”
We were six-packed in a car built for four
Excitement grew ’till we could take no more
Mama threatened murder if we didn’t hush
But in a moment of weakness my daddy pulled over
At a shabby little shack called The Jungle Marauder
And like a herd of jackals we bolted right out of the car — Chorus
Now it wasn’t quite Disney’s Animal Kingdom
And Busch Gardens had nothin’ to fear
But back in ’63 it was the finest thing we’d seen.
When we all burst in, that man had our number
Showed a tiny little gator from this land down under
“Florida’s finest,” he said with a wicked leer. – Chorus
Mama said, “No” but Daddy Said “So
I wonder how big the little critter’ll grow.”
“Please, Daddy, tell him that we’ll take it!”
Guitar and Harmonica Break (2 stanzas)
Well once we were on the road again
We named him after the Lord Chesterfield Inn
“Chester” for short and he was for a while
But he outgrew his box in a few
So we moved him into our unfinished bomb shelter
To be ready, it seemed, for whatever might commence — Chorus
You see, we thought Chester might feel at ease
In that block-lined hole with the water of green
Displayin’ his chompers pretty as you please
Besides the cold war didn’t seem so hot
In light of this growin’ reptile we’d got
I guessed the Russians would just have to wait — Chorus
Well, it’s many years later and I say with a tear
We released that gator not far from here
In a swamp just perfect for his sun-lazin’ style
And as far as I know he’s probly content
With a Mrs. Chesterfield to commit
To makin’ gators, genuine gators for sale
Chorus 2x ….
We’re talkin’ gators, Lord Chesterfield Gators
For Sale… (Words and Music: Bob Tatum 2010)
I decided that I wouldn’t enter “Gators for Sale” in the Florida song contest. After all, it doesn’t really talk about Florida that much, but it will be included on our original CD that we are hoping to release this summer. – Bob Tatum
My daughter Naomi will be in for a visit this weekend. Right now the weather is perfect in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Of course, that is not too unusual. Sound Traveler will be performing in Port Canaveral this coming Saturday, helping to commemorate the last naval battle of the American Revolution. Check our schedule for coming events.
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15 Comments to “SongTravelin’:2.28.11 – Gators for Sale”
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