It’s a crisp, clear fall Saturday morning, and Small Sister and I are hanging at the park. Her mother’s in a yoga class nearby, and I’m happy to entertain Sis while my daughter gets an hour of stretching and peaceful introspection. Sis currently occupies the mid-point in that sanity-stretching, two-year-old year, when hanging with her can be many wonderful things, but peaceful is not among them.
We soon make our way on the playground to the People’s Choice, the swings (in Sis-Speak, known as sfings) and settle in for some prolonged sfinging. Great upper-body exercise, as I push from behind, striving to accommodate pleas of “higher, higher,” when she stops me in mid-push with an unexpected request. “Evie,” she asks intently, twisting around in her seat to look me in the eye, “Will you sing to me?”
Now, I confess this fundamental truth: Asking me to sing is a bit like asking a Formula One driver if he would care to push the gas pedal just a wee bit harder. I sang everywhere I went as a child, starting not much older than Sis is now, and music has been one of the richest threads running through my life since. In church choirs, in the shower, as lead at birthday parties, any place, any time, I will jump into the tune. I’ve often daydreamed about how music might play a role in the lives of Sis and her brother, and how I might nurture that along.
But when called upon to provide a Spontaneous Soundtrack for Sfinging, I suddenly freeze. Can’t recall a single line of an appropriate children’s song. Are there any? Rockabye baby? Trilling on about a baby who falls from a treetop, while she’s sfinging? Perhaps not.
So the mind wings instead to the musical catalogue of the heart, residing in the imagination like one of those old table-top jukeboxes at Jerry’s, where you could page through the metal-bound lists of selections before plunking in your coins and shoving the red button. What selection to sing for Sis?
The songs of my impressionable young fan years were mostly folkie—James Taylor, Carole King, and forever favorites Simon and Garfunkel, with their lyrics of unforgettable poetry. (“This is my song, for the asking, ask me and I will play, so sweetly, I will make you smile…”) Later, no doubt in an angry phase, there were the screaming edges of classic rock. Come to think of it, with her personality, I can easily picture Sis as a Led Zeppelin fan (“Wanna Whole Lotta Love!”). More recently, in my beloved Music City, there’s been full immersion in the omnipresent American roots music, in all its glorious forms, traditional and new. I Saw the Light? A few bars of Vince Gill’s Whenever I Call Your Name?
We were a musical family, growing up, though strictly as amateurs. My parents kept one of those massive cabinet record players in the front hall, and their frequent cocktail parties featured background soundtracks of great Broadway shows like The King and I, along with the smoky rhythms of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. We studied and played, too. My older sister, the most gifted among us by far, progressed to prodigy-level skill at the piano as a young teen. Even better, she tumbled permanently into family lore one year by falling flat on her face while ascending the stage steps at her piano recital. The best part was she laughed so hard at herself that she could hardly lift her fingers to the keyboard when she finally got there.
When begged by my mother, who to this day sees brilliance in her progeny that remains invisible to the rest of humanity, we sometimes clustered our efforts into duos or trios that must have mystified visiting family and friends. (“Were you there the night their kids played the piano, tuba, and ukulele, YES, all at the same time!?”) Let me digress here and offer a blanket apology to anyone still living who endured one of these mash-ups. We appreciate your kindness in not laughing your way straight back to the bar before the song was over.
Suddenly, I am jerked out of my reverie by Sis insistently repeating her request. “Evie! Will you sing?”
And I am as surprised as anyone by what flows from my throat, out into the fall breeze that tangles her blonde curls and rustles the tree limbs above us.
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost…”