The other day I asked a blogger friend what it would be like if we had a musical score that played in the background as we went through life.
The last few nights I have been thinking about the songs that I grew up with. These aren’t songs on the radio or necessarily popular songs. These are songs that were sung in our home and songs I sung to my children
After we moved to Ohio from Philly, we used to go back to Nana’s house in Hanover, NH, once a year to visit. All of Nana’s brothers and sisters would come over – these would be my great-aunts and uncles. They came from Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, New York, and New Hampshire – all over the east. Uncle Gerald would fly in from Sacramento. All the sisters looked alike and all smoked. Blessed with deep, sultry voices anyway, the smoking, of course, made them even deeper. These women loved to sing. Aunt Beverly, Aunt Dorothy, Aunt Clara, Aunt Thelma, and Nana would sit around the table singing. My mum would join in. Mum was – is – a wonderful singer. As a teenager she was in a group called The Harmonettes – three girls who performed on WKXL in Concord – even sang the call letters: “Listening’s swell on WKXL. For a smile all the while, keep your dial on WKXL, WKXL, WKXL. Concord!” Mom was the baritone.
So here the women are sitting around the table and there was I from the age of 5 on up every year parked on the floor listening to their wonderful voices. To warm up, they would do a song that ran down the musical scale: “Many brave men are asleep in the deep. So beware. Be-e-e-e-ware.” They’d keep going down the scale to see who could hit the lowest note! It was wonderful. As a soprano – I couldn’t even come close to the depths they reached. Then they’d sing the song that The Harmonettes sang on the Arthur Godfrey Show on TV: There not making the skies as blue this year. Wish you were here. As blue as they used to when you were here. Wish you were here. . . .”
For the children about they’d sing: “A peanut sat on a railroad track, his heart was all aflutter. Around the track came a choo-choo train. Choo-Choo peanut butter. It ain’t gonna rain no more, no more, it ain’t gonna rain no more . . .” The men would invariably request Chattanooga Shoe Shine Boy – another Harmonettes hit locally. It was #1 at WKXL in the early 50’s.
When my daughters were little, I sort of made up songs for them. Sarah liked Peas Porridge Hot – but couldn’t say it. So we sang “Beesboes hot, beesboes cold, beesboes in a pot, nine-days old.” Nine-day-old pea soup is kind of gross when you think of it. Sam liked the country song that went: “I’ll be yours until the sun doesn’t shine, till time stands still, until the winds don’t blow, when today is just a memory to me, I know. I’ll still be lovin’, I’ll still be lovin’ you.” I sang that to her whenever I had to drop her off at her dad’s house for her visits with him. I always cried during it.
I even used to sing to Nana’s German Shepherd Helga. A messed up version of Georgie Porgie Puddin and Pie: “Helega, peliga, puddin’ and pie-gela. Kivissed the gervils and madelum crygela. Geven the dogums came outum to playgula, Helega peliga ranugal waygala.”
My dad, who says he found one note he liked and decided to only use that one, used to sing “I can tell by your outfit, you’re a cowboy . . ” I sang that to me girls also – but changed the words to teacher, ballerina, cowgirl, trucker, lawyer (with fingers crossed).
To this day, Sam and I have songs