Posts Tagged With: Childhood songs

 
 

Forgotten Trains

It’s curious how life circles around.

The chemotherapy treatment my mother has been receiving since her midsummer surgery has ravaged this once vibrant woman. Physically she’s as frail as a cricket’s wing. Mentally she’s as scrambled and unpredictable as a toddler. Whether that’s the effects of the chemo, her stroke from years ago, the cancer, dementia, or a combination of them all, no one knows. It little matters.

img_20191007_104111As a young girl my mother used to let me sit beside her on the piano bench as she played music from My Picture book of Songs  with its charming drawings and seasonal themes. We sang of big black choo choo trains, puppies next door, aeroplanes flying, whirly, twirly leaves and dozens of other sweet topics. That song book still exists sans the yellow cover, having miraculously survived a housefire and six other children loving its pages with pencil and crayon. The cellophane tape mom had carefully applied now scars the ragged-edged pages.

I wrote of my love for and experience with this book and its effect on my life, my children’s lives and my grandchildren’s lives several years ago. What I’d never conceived of happening with this book occurred a couple weeks ago as I sat on the front porch with my mother.

The thermometer barely tapped the seventy degree mark, and a light breeze wandered across the porch. That slight wind carried the sound of a train whistle. That was unusual. Sure, there are tracks that run alongside the state highway half a mile away, but I’d never seen a train in all the times I’d visited, let alone heard one. I remarked on that. Then I said, “That reminds me of the train song we used to sing all the time when I was little.”

Mom didn’t remember the train song.

And so, I sang it to her.

“Choo choo choo, what’s coming down the track?

Choo choo choo, it’s something big and black.

See it steaming as it chugs along.

Hear it ringing as it says ding dong.

Choo choo choo there it goes again.

Choo choo choo choo choo choo choo,

It’s a big black train.

Wooooohooo, wooooohooo,

It’s a big black train.”

She hummed along and sang a word or maybe two.

Within those brief words and notes, mother and daughter switched roles.

We enjoyed a few more minutes on the porch swing in silence, taking in the view of the mountains, and an occasional hawk circling. Lulu the Wonder Cat wandered among our legs, thought about jumping onto Mom’s lap, thought better of it.

Inside, Mom surprisingly knew right where to find that old songbook. She sat at her puzzle table while I sat at the piano to play those old songs for her. She hummed along to some of them. I couldn’t sing, as all my effort went toward holding back tears so I could read the notes.

Full circle sure isn’t what I thought it would be.

Categories: Cancer, Family, Memory Lane, mother, Relationships | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

They Couldn’t Carry a Tune in a Bucket

Friday Letter to My Kids –

Dear J, J, L and L,

I hesitate to bring up this particular subject. It makes me squeamish. And I tend to cringe automatically with even the thought of it.

But, if I’m going to stay honest with you in these letters I can’t put off this subject any longer. You probably already knew this but had buried it in the deep recesses of a closet somewhere.

Our family can’t sing to save our lives.

Oh, sure, individually some of us have beautiful voices, but combining them together constitutes a crime against nature.

Surely you remember “Jumbo Elephant” or “The Train Song.”

My favorite and most memorable of the songs we sang together, hands down, goes like this:

“When we’re helping we’re happy and we sing as we go,

For we like to help mother for we all love her so.

Tra la la la la la laa, Tra la la la la laa,

Tra la la la la la laa, Tra la la la la laa.” ~ Wallace F. Bennett

Dad and the four of you would sing those words with the enthusiasm of a cow giving birth to twin calves and in about the same pitch.

Even with the piano accompaniment some of us couldn’t hit the right notes. I’m not sure why that happened. Sad, though, since your Dad in particular loves good music. What we sang was not good and whether it counted as music is still up for debate. Even “Happy Birthday” sounded painful and more like a dirge than a celebratory song. Ah, well.

My selections, although I don't mind Dad's at all.

My selections, although I don’t mind Dad’s at all.

I used to get irritated by those huge families (think Osmonds, Pointer Sisters, Jackson 5, King Family, Everly Brothers, Celtic Spring and countless other local families) that performed publicly, singing or playing multiple musical instruments. I liked to envision their four a.m. wake up calls so the whole famdamily could practice for three hours before school. And then, surely, afternoons required another three or four hours of lessons and practicing. Oh sure, they smiled while they performed, but in real life, at home, I’ll bet it was sheer misery for all involved. Or not. Maybe they loved music so much and were so good at it that no sacrifice seemed too great. It could happen.

That was what I told myself at least. I suppose it made me feel better about our non-musical abilities as a family.

A bit tinny and not exactly in tune, kind of like our family.

A bit tinny and not exactly in tune, kind of like our family.

I think I also feel badly for never providing piano lessons, or singing lessons, or music lessons of any kind. We had a piano! (I blame money and my own laziness and too many moves.) I find it silly that we didn’t make music a bigger priority. Big L, you did learn to play clarinet in Junior High and went on to High School with it but then gave it up for more important and interesting things. And you taught yourself, with a few months help from Dad, how to play piano. You found success in spite of your parents being musical slackers. Good for you! And Big J, you also taught yourself a few songs and even memorized them.

We still have that ancient guitar, missing its strings, leaning on one side of the piano. And on the other side, a violin that needs serious work that no one has a clue how to play. We are a strange music loving, non-musical family.

A sampling of the Classics.

A sampling of the Classics.

You poor kids lacked exposure to most any other kind of music except Classical, movie soundtracks and easy listening (i.e. elevator music) when you were younger. How weird is that? Sure I own a few albums; Paul Simon, John Denver, Kenny Loggins and the like. But Dad’s LP collection spans the millennia from Beethoven and Bach, Holst to Haydn. He went out on a limb with Classical Gas and Moody Blues, but they had their roots in the Classics, so it made sense.

I’m glad you finally discovered the Beatles and Alternative Rock, and every other musical genre out there. I’m happy that you’ve wandered around and partaken of the musical menu and found ways to let many different kinds lift and enhance your life.

And I’m grateful that Big J, with your mega bass speaker taking up the entire trunk of your car, completely understands the importance of turning the volume down when you enter a neighborhood. Mothers everywhere thank you.

I like to think that you all have a sense of humor about music, too. It would be impossible not to after singing along with our family in six different keys at the same time.

Laughingly and lovingly yours,

Mom

"Bluebird of Happymess"

“Bluebird of Happymess”

 ~~~~~

 

“Ducks in the pond quack a happy song,

Mother hens cackle the whole day long,

Birds in their nests and wind in the treetops,

All join in singing a happy song.”

~ Music for Young Americans, Book 2, by Berg, Burns, Hooley, Pace and Wolverton

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Family, Friday Letters, Music, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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