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South Side Waltz -- The Story

My daughter Rose grew up thinking that this song was the true story of how Christi and I met. Not true at all – it’s all fiction, and it isn’t us. But I expect many will persist in that view, and maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

Many years ago, I was a guest at a couple of Polish weddings in South Bend and Milwaukee. The Milwaukee one, in particular, seemed the right setting; but in truth I flavored the tale with details that felt a whole lot like a wedding reception at Karly’s Hall on Washington Island. So I mixed it all together and dropped references from both. In our days operating a fish store in Milwaukee we sold salted herring for pickling, and the fat ones, sometimes with roe, were called schmaltz…let me see now, what rhymes with waltz? Christi’s family had an Aunt Lu, and I had and Uncle Don, and I needed a couple with one-syllable names, so…the song took shape.

The band had Fritz and Beadie, Bob Walsh and Robert Bjarnarson, and the piano was, well, almost in tune. Older women danced the schottische together while young threesomes careened to the Flying Dutchman. Egg salad and “cannibal” sandwiches were brought out later for a “lunch.” Beer and brandy flowed. You didn’t even have to know the bride and groom to join in the fun! This was community in all its wonder.

I threw in a little twist in the last verse and posed as an old man who was remembering this wedding dance, where he met his sweetheart some fifty years before. I never thought I’d be able to sing that part with any real authority back then, so he was a made-up guy. But after 46 years of marriage and counting, I think I’m allowed to pretend it was me all along.

Dan Hansen wrote the beautiful little countermelody in the break, and plays the faux-accordion.


The South Side Waltz

On the night of my big sister’s wedding

On the south side of Milwaukee town

There was Pop and Mom, Aunt Lu and Uncle Don

And the kids ran all around

The band played fine once they drank some wine

And the herring all were schmaltz

I’ll ne’er forget the night we met

When we danced the South Side Waltz


I was off to the side with my buddies

Talking Packers and the factory and snow

When my cousin Denise walked on over to me

Said “There’s a bridesmaid I’d like you to know

The one over there with the strawberry hair

Is just dying to give you a chance”

So I winked one eye as I straightened my tie

And walked over and asked her to dance


She was light on her feet she had beautiful teeth

And I asked where she’d been all my life

And if it’s corny to you still I swear that it’s true

In that instant they turned down the lights

To this day that refrain that accordion strain

Brings a memory clear as a bell

We’re out on that floor dancing once more

And we’re fifty years younger as well



On the night of my big sister’s wedding

On the south side of Milwaukee town

There was Pop and Mom, Aunt Lu and Uncle Don

And the kids ran all around

The band played fine once they drank some wine

And the herring all were schmaltz

I’ll ne’er forget the night we met

When we danced the South Side Waltz



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