I never sing around the house. Oh, sure, when the kids were babies I would warble the odd tune but as soon as they were out of diapers the concert was over. I don’t hum, either, so unless I am yapping (which is admittedly often), I am silent. And I’ve often wondered why. But then I remember my mom, and it all comes clear.
|Joanie knitting (and probably humming)|
Ours was a noisy home, and while we girls fighting accounted for some of the cacophony, the main culprit was Joanie. Her every activity was accompanied by song, and when she wasn’t singing she was humming. The louder the hum, the more annoying she found the chore to be (when she was ironing it sounded like the rumble of thunder). She sang when happy, sad and in between. And her repertoire? Nary a children’s song in the bunch. Instead, we were treated to the music of the 1940’s. “My Funny Valentine,” “All of Me” and my personal favorite, “Two Sleepy People,” which contained lyrics like ‘Here we are/out of cigarettes/holding hands and yawning/look how late it gets.’ For Mom, being out of cigarettes would be unbearably sad, so she would sing that one in a more mournful tone.
As a result of listening to Mom’s own personal Hit Parade, my sisters and I knew most of the Rodgers and Hart catalogue, with some Cole Porter thrown in for good measure. When musical tastes changed, she did not; I couldn’t imagine her ever tackling Elvis or the Beatles. I think the era of her songs was the happiest time in her life in a lot of ways, and singing them brought those good feelings back. She’d worked in New York City for years before she met Dad, and we always heard about her escapades as a secretary at Lenox Hill Hospital and at NBC. Her love life was a busy one indeed, filled with fabulous nights on the town. But then, marriage at 29, and to a man she had only known a few months, followed almost immediately by back-to-back pregnancies, was a stunningly rapid life change for her. That she loved us deeply I have no doubt, but there was no mistaking her wistfulness as she recalled her young single days gone by.
Mom died in our house, peacefully, after a short illness. She knew her end was coming, and was able to say goodbye to all of her beloved grandkids. My sister C and I took turns staying by her bedside all night so she’d never be alone. And when the time for singing was done, there was still a serenade left: Evan had recorded himself playing her favorite tunes, and that was all she wanted to listen to. And so, the soundtrack of my life, accompanied her into Heaven.
|Mom the way I most remember her looking|
Sometimes I regret not singing to my children, but that’s not me. It was, however, my mother. And when I miss her, I can listen to “Till There Was You” and feel her presence, still.