Monday, November 7, 2011

Song Wrecker

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Occasionally, stories tell themselves. They sit there like gurgling babies in the background of your life; they wait for you to acknowledge them. These patient stories are alive in your memory, if you give them the time to sing out. Often though, you ignore them so long, they are elderly babies when you finally get around to them. So you can’t blame an old memory—as good as it might have been—if it doesn’t come out for forty years.

And before this story goes any further, I would also like to remove myself from the hook, take myself out of the firing range, and remind key people that I had nothing to do with this *whatsoever*. These are the kinds of things that happened when I was three and all of my older siblings made a lot of noise and I hid from them.

However, it’s hard to hide in the backseat of a station wagon. It’s difficult to tune out four older siblings—and when I say older, I mean a lot older—who have watched The Sound of Music too many times and now want to sing Do Re Mi out of boredom on the road to North Dakota. We never knew why we were going to North Dakota; it was just something we did as a family, and the older kids sang their way there.

I’m not the family reporter so I don’t have all the facts. I was three and hiding inside a sleeping bag for most of my youth. However, I do remember this phrase being yelled inside our station wagon on plenty of roadtrips:

“Song Wrecker!”

This would normally happen when my sister Mary would try to harmonize with somebody else. The other main singer in our family was our oldest sibling, Ann. That was a fine battle until a new song would come on the radio (which our ever-gracious parents always played, urging us on, I don’t know why).

As far as my memory serves, the first song we wrecked was, “How Do You Mend a Broken Heart”. As if we could sing along with the Bee Gee’s. Not that I was singing though: I was just listening. Listening and learning, my head stuffed underneath the front seat.

I know my siblings wrecked a lot of other songs. As I recall, it was mostly Jenny and Mary, the middle children. I would have been happy playing Candyland on the backseat, but no—these girls had to sing.

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There was one time when I had no idea what was happening. I’m sure my parents felt the same way; we’d been on the road forever. Our cooler of tuna fish sandwiches was empty. We were probably looking for a place to stop for dinner that would take seven wild and dirty Indians. My two singing sisters splayed themselves in the way-back of our station wagon—no seat belts, just hanging out on top of our sleeping bags—and they sang: “Hi Yi a chung a chung chung, achung achung achung chung, a chung a chung, a chung a chung a chung.

They didn’t know the words, and they were hungry. Probably for Chinese.

They would sing a lot on road trips, with Jenny and Mary in the way back, and the older ones in the middle seat. I was too little to sing so that’s why they kept me in the glove compartment. My older sibs sang and harmonized a lot. If someone messed up, they would all yell, "SONG WRECKER!!!"

Mom liked us to sing, but I don't remember Dad ever saying anything while in the car. I do remember Dad glaring through the rear view window at Ann and Craig, but not at me. I remember Dad saying to Ann once, "YOU KNOW I CAN SEE YOU THROUGH THIS MIRROR, DON'T YOU?"

Once, when no one was looking, I tuned the radio to where no one was looking, my thin and strangled arm reaching out from the glove box. I remember a Beatles song about Eleanor Rigby; I kept it to myself of course. I think it was called "All the Lonely People". I read the car registration that time.

I almost feel like I was borne of a car.

I have fond memories of our road trips, mostly of the singing we did because we had nothing else to do. It was fun. Lots of laughter at our mistakes, and a term that has stayed with us all our lives. Not only are we song wreckers, but we have become fun-wreckers and party wreckers too. We are holiday wreckers. And don’t get me started on the ruining part.

Funny how those little things keep popping up in a person's life.

My brother remembers, "Where are you going, my little one?" He says, “We sang the hell out of that song on our journeys. Oddly I also remember thinking that my singing with 'the girls' wasn't a very masculine thing to do.........perhaps if I'd have had a football in my hand while I was singing.”

I am not sure why, but no one has ever asked me what songs I sang or wrecked or even tried to sing when I was a child. The weight of a family when you are the youngest member can be squashing. But I’ll tell you now.

Nine million years ago, I was driving home from a roadtrip with yet another loser boyfriend and my radio didn’t work in the Northern Arizona boonies. So I decided to sing, and this is what came out:

When I was just a little girl, I asked my mother, what will I be?
Will I be pretty? Will I be rich?

It was not a song we listened to on the radio. My mom played it for us on the piano. It was the only song I knew by heart.

1 comment:

  1. Please to borrow your expression "song wrecker"? It's perfect!

    I am the younger of only two kids in my family, and I had never thought about how the youngest in a large family would fare - or feel. You give a touching account of that.