These sessions on the veranda had a rambling form, like the Jack Paar Show, but occasionally an educative strain in Mayor Curley's personality would enter a dominant phase and he would conduct a question-and-answer bee to see how much of what he was telling us was sinking in. At other times, although I don't think it was consciously set up, he would use the interrogative as a means of introducing a new figure of importance.
"All right, then," he said one such evening as he tilted himself to the rest position in a rocker, "who would you say was the world's greatest all-round athlete?"
We told him that was easy. Jim Thorpe. He had talked about him on several evenings.
"No, I am not thinking of Thorpe," the mayor said. "I am thinking of a man who more currently has claim to being America's greatest all-round athlete."
A couple of limping nominations followed of men who played two sports. Seeing we were off the track, the mayor waved a hand through the cigar smoke in the gesture of "Cease." "Harold Osborn. Haven't I ever mentioned Harold Osborn?" he asked. We told him we had never heard the name before and that we never ran across it on the sports page.
"No, you wouldn't at that," he said meditatively. "No, you hear about Harold Osborn only every fourth year when the Olympics come round. Who is Harold Osborn? He has held our national decathlon championship more times than any other man. And what is the decathlon? Well, it comes from the Greeks. It is a cluster of 10 events...." And so on and into a 10-minute disquisition on the decathlon.
One evening while our usual after-dinner group was sitting around, learning, perhaps, that Harry Greb fashioned his ring name by spelling his real name, Berg, backward, or that in one World Series game McGraw instructed his pitcher to throw the next one in the dirt to Babe Ruth, the mayor suddenly stopped the conversation by asking who was the girl on the beach turning the cartwheels. We told him it was only Margaret McCarthy; she was a girl about our age. "Only Margaret McCarthy," the mayor repeated with telling emphasis. "Well, I'll let you boys in on something. You can go where you like, to the stage shows at B. F. Keith's or to gymnastic exhibitions in Great Britain or on the European continent, and I very much doubt if you will see trained acrobats performing more graceful cartwheels than only Margaret McCarthy." He need say no more. We looked again at Margaret on the beach and we could see now that she turned beautiful cartwheels.
My, the mayor could be persuasive when he turned it on! The Curleys had a player piano and some wonderful rolls to go with it, among them, Oh, Katerina, Love Nest, Valencia, and Cherie, Cherie, Je T'Aime (which we decoded as being French for "Cherie, Cherie, you're tame"). One roll I never went for, though, was a mournful ballad whose title I forget but which ended, roughly, with these lines:
The days can't all be sunny
For skies are not always blue.
When the day is done
I'm glad to be alone
At peace with the world
And the evening with you.
I should correct that earlier statement: I never went for that number until one evening when, just as the roll was finishing, the mayor called out to his son who was tending the piano, "Leo, stick that on again. That's a most beautiful tune. I could listen to it endlessly." I don't know quite how the change came about, because I was certain the mayor was wrong about that song, but within a matter of days I found I was beginning to appreciate that it possessed a certain melancholy sweetness that had somehow previously eluded me.