My mother was tone deaf. She often told us that as kids. Her open confession usually preceded an off key rendition of an Andy Williams favorite or an old Burl Ives standby. Watching her carefully place the Harry Belafonte album on the turntable meant it was cleaning day and she would soon be belting out “one foot, two foot, tally me bananas”. Her words tumbled out a few beats ahead of the record with a sort of reckless abandon that I have never been able to muster.
Each of us had a song, and some of us, two or three which were chosen for reasons unknown to us. Our song was uniquely ours and never sung to a sibling. Danny Boy made perfect sense for my brother’s special lullaby, as did Bonnie Annie Laurie for mine; we are, after all of Scottish heritage. “You are my Sunshine” chosen for my baby brother was absolute genius. He lived up to that song in every sense.
When all other methods of consoling me proved ineffective, my mother would softly coo her own rendition of “Hi Lily, Hi Lily, Hi Lo” or “Scarlet Ribbons”. Many years later those old songs will bring about an emotional deluge on some days. It’s not so much the words, and certainly not the melody since I am not even certain she had that part right. It is the fact that for my mother, singing was something she was compelled to do. It was uncensored, carefree, yet not careless.
I was not blessed with the gift of voice. I am a shy person with a timid voice and a perfectionist. Deep inside of this quiet spirit is an exuberant gospel singer. In my dreams I see myself robed in glorious purple satin singing “How Great Thou Art” as loud and as joyously as the best of them. But my inner music critic does not allow for anything that grandiose. In fact I am quite sure that is an experience even my closest friends and family would prefer not be subjected to.
None the less, there is something to be said for living a life without filters. It is a sad fact that my talents do not include masterful singing of spirituals and ballads. But even sadder reality is that my children and grandchildren will never be able to associate a song sung tenderly to them with the warmth in my heart and the love I have for each of them. What it might cost me in embarrassment or shame has barred me from ever giving them or myself that treasure. My mother’s greatest gift was the ability to lay all that aside and just sing to her hearts content.