I think I “woke up” to the popular music of my generation when the Beatles first appeared on the Ed Sullivan show. They directed my attention to modern day rock and roll. But before they came on to the scene, I would be singing my mother’s songs. Some of my mother’s favorite singers were Doris Day, Patsy Cline, Peggy Lee, The Andrew Sisters, Perry Como, Dean Martin, Edie Gorme, Rosemary Clooney, Bing Crosby, Jerry Vale and Andy Williams. She never cared for Tony Bennett, I don’t know why, but she loved Connie Francis. She loved the Big Band Era and most especially the Glen Miller Band. I can remember her singing songs like “How Much Is that Doggie In The Window,” “Sunrise, Sunset,” “Crazy,” “Que Sera Sera,” “Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree,” "Fever," and on and on. While other kids were singing Elvis tunes, I was singing “Once I Had A Secret Love.” And I hate to admit it, but even today, I know the words to those old songs much better than any songs from my own generation. The words to the modern songs faded over the years in my memory, but those of my mother’s youth remain with me till today.
The popularity of the Beatles, and other singers of the 60’s, allowed me to add to my love of music. My favorite singers would vary from time to time. My mother would like some of them and hate others. For example, she loved ABBA and would sing along with all their songs. But, she hated Sonny and Cher, particularly Cher. My brother and I were old enough to buy records and albums and we both loved Cher. My mother expressed her distaste with a few choice curse words every time we played her music. She told us to play them when she wasn’t around. The only problem with that request was that my mother was always around. So every now and then we would play an album and sing along, much to her disgust. When I eventually moved on from Cher to Olivia Newton John, my mother’s distress was greatly relieved. And when the movie, Grease, came out, my mother was a huge fan of the movie and songs. My mom also liked Saturday Night Fever and the Bee Gees. She loved Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” and disco music. Come to think of it, maybe the only singer she could not tolerate was Cher.
My mother lived to be 88 years old. She spent the last few months in a nursing home. She had taken a fall at home and was sent there for therapy after her hospital stay. She was supposed to come home after she was able to get around, but she had a couple of strokes a few weeks apart. All those years of smoking and going on and off her blood pressure medication probably played a part in that. She also suffered from Alzheimer’s in the last couple of years of her life. It got worse after my father died. She didn’t like being in the nursing home, but she needed round the clock care. On Sunday afternoons the nursing home would bring in entertainment for the residents and their families. The entertainers would be singers, more often than not, and they sang the old time songs the residents were familiar with. I knew all the songs, but more importantly, so did my mom. The music made her happy and amazingly, she sang along to every song without missing a beat. All the words were still in her mind and she sang them as she always had. I sang along with her as I had done countless times before. The Sunday visits were the best because of the music. My brother and I brought a cd player for her room with her favorite songs downloaded from the computer so she could hear them every day. I think she found a lot of comfort and joy in those songs and I could see her whole demeanor changed whenever she heard her music.
There were so many songs that she loved and so many of my memories are attached to them. Every time I hear one being played, I can’t help but sing along. Sometimes one will just hit me out of the blue and I’ll start singing it. I used to sing to my girls when they were babies. To my younger daughter I would always sing “Everybody Loves Somebody…but I don’t love nobody but you.” To my older daughter I would sing “You Are My Sunshine.” They probably don’t remember that at all. Like my mom, I am always singing a song. One thing that bugs my girls is when one of them says a phrase that triggers a song lyric and our conversation stops cold while I sing a few bars. I always felt life should be like a musical and in between conversations we should take a couple of minutes to break out in a song. Imagine all the stress it would relieve if we did? And, at Christmas time, when the malls and stores are playing carols, I am always singing out loud, as my girls speed up their pace to distance themselves from me out of embarrassment. I guess they don’t realize or appreciate that this little annoying trait of mine is part of their grandmother’s legacy that lives on in me.
So as I approach what would have been my mother’s 97th birthday, I hope she knows that for the last nine years I have proudly and loudly carried on her legacy. I will always have a song in my heart for Mom. Happy Birthday, Mom!