I stumbled upon a children's book by Neil Gaiman. Chu's Day. If you know Neil Gaiman-- and me-- you know why I grabbed it immediately, perused it and took it home. Reading through it a bit more carefully, I found an illustration of a circus with Chu the panda in attendance. Prancing about the ring were a donkey with a dog on its back, a cat on the dog's back and a rooster on the cat's back. "The musicians of Bremen," I blurted. "Someone put the musicians of Bremen in this picture for me to recognize!" (Illustrator Adam Rex, to be precise.)
"Who are the musicians of Bremen?" asked way-educated Hillsdale grad son. A trifle deflated, I related the tale of the outcast farm animals who teamed up and frightened away the gang of thieves who had been terrorizing the good citizens of Bremen and became heroes. "Oh, I think I remember that," said son, allowing me to creep back from the precipice of total failure as parental transmitter of culture.
I always feel that way when I mention some classic story or bit of folklore, and the offspring say, "What?" I tried, I really did. I gave them books about Paul Bunyan and Greek myths. I read them Stone Soup and The Little Engine That Could and Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel. Did I forget Johnny Appleseed? Myles Standish? John Henry? I remember Captain Kangaroo reading wonderful books on his TV program and the crew laughing (Live TV, don't you know) at some ridiculousness of Bunny Rabbit. I wish the Captain were still around. What I wouldn't give to hear the grandchildren humming "The Syncopated Clock."