The Soundtrack of My Life
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.
Ours was a noisy house, and while we girls fighting accounted for some of the cacophony, the main culprit was our mother 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 everything in between. And her repertoire? Nary a children’s song in the bunch. Instead, we were treated to the music of the 1940’s. “Summertime,” “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 and Gershwin 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.
Joanie’s years as a “career girl” sounded impossibly fun and glamorous to us little girls, almost like a movie (a musical, of course). She worked in New York City for years before she met Dad, and we always heard tales about her escapades as a secretary. She worked in the radiology department at Lenox Hill Hospital (for a Dr. John Miller, who later died of cancer from exposure to X-rays). Next she was a secretary at NBC in the exciting early days of television (think The Today Show when it was hosted by Dave Garroway and his unlikely chimpanzee co-star, J. Fred Muggs).
Mom’s love life was a busy one indeed, filled with fabulous nights on the town in Manhattan, dinner and dancing with many handsome and charming dates. There was an ill-fated romance with a (gasp) Protestant (her family was staunchly Catholic), and I will always believe that he was the love of her life. Very shortly after that relationship ended, Mom suddenly jumped into marriage at age 29, to a man she had only known a few months. Mom and Dad’s wedding, followed almost immediately by back-to-back pregnancies, was a stunningly rapid life change for her. That she loved her three daughters deeply I have no doubt, but there was no mistaking her wistfulness whenever she recalled her young single days gone by.
12 years ago, Mom died in our house, peacefully, at the age of 80, after a short illness. She knew her end was coming, and was able to say goodbye to all five of her beloved grandkids. My sister Carolyn 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: our son Evan had recorded himself playing her favorite tunes on the piano, and that was all she wanted to listen to. And so, the soundtrack of my life, accompanied her into Heaven.
Sometimes I regret not singing to my children, but I know that’s not me. It was, however, my mother. And when I miss Joanie, which is very often, I can listen to “My Funny Valentine” and feel her presence, still.
About the Author ~
Elise Seyfried is the author of three books of humorous spiritual essays. She is also a freelance writer whose works have appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Purple Clover, Racked, Grok Nation, Guideposts Magazine and many other publications. In addition, Elise writes for Clergy Stuff, and has written hundreds of plays and skits for progressive churches. Elise is spiritual formation director at a Philadelphia area Lutheran church, mom to five grown kids and "Nana" to two adorable little boys.