Word on the Street

Personal essays from a young journalist in the Sunshine State.

Tag: Music

Mother-Daughter Song Stirs Memories of Happier Times with Mom

Me and mom in Disney World in 1988. I was 3 years old at the time.

Not long ago, I rediscovered a tape of me and my mom singing together. We had made up the song together the night before Mother’s Day when I was about 7 or 8, and I recorded it on my Fisher Price tape player. Now at age 25 I treasure the song. It’s the only recording I have of my mom, who passed away from breast cancer when I was 11.

Rather than just letting the tape sit in my dresser drawer, I re-recorded the audio, made an MP3 version of it in iTunes and uploaded it to my blog using Podomatic. The song will no doubt make you laugh, and some of the lyrics won’t make any sense at all. But that’s what makes it so fun to listen to.

You can play the song below and read a related essay I wrote to help put the lyrics in context. I’ve included the song lyrics at the end of this post. As always, I welcome your feedback.

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I hated going to bed as a little girl. Dad worked days and Mom worked nights, so she wasn’t usually there to kiss me goodnight. That changed when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She became too sick to go to work, so we started to spend as much time as we could together in the evenings. Going to bed got even harder.

Though Mom called me her “little girl,” I wanted to be a big girl. I’d curl up on the couch with her and we’d watch all the “grown-up shows” that made me the envy of my 8-year-old friends  — “90210,” “Married with Children,” “In Living Color,” and yes, even “Melrose Place.”

Dad would pay bills or read his car magazines for a while and then get up to make us a snack. Jiffy Pop popcorn. Frozen green grapes. Mocha almond chip ice cream with chocolate sprinkles.

“Mallary, it’s time to go to bed,” Mom would say after we had finished eating.

Here I am pretending to be asleep on the living room couch.

I found multiple excuses to stay by her side.

“But Mom, I’m not tired.”

“But Mom, just 5 more minutes.”

“But Mommy, I don’t want to say goodnight.”

Really, I didn’t want to say goodbye.

Everyone tried to protect me and tell me Mom would be OK. But I still worried that one day I’d wake up and she’d be gone. So I tried to stay awake to savor every moment I could.

The day Mom died, all I wanted to do was go to bed. The hospice workers and family friends were gone by 7:30 p.m., leaving me and Dad in a house that no longer seemed like home. He turned on the TV just in time for the start of “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” Canned laughter ensued. As an 11-year-old, I wondered how people could be happy when it seemed the whole world should be sad.

Skipping snack time, I went to bed feeling empty. I pulled the covers over my head and stared into the darkness, hoping I’d wake up to find that what had happened that night was nothing but a bad dream. In denial, I pretended things were fine and told myself not to cry.

“Erase it from my mind, erase it from my mind,” I whispered, scratching my head and repeating a refrain that I often said when something bad happened. I didn’t know that, years later, everything I had temporarily erased would leave such a lasting mark.

Me and Dad.

“Do you want to talk, Mal?” Dad asked.

“No. I just want to be alone.”

Dad turned off the light. I peered out from under the covers, hoping he’d still be there. He kissed me on the forehead and stayed by my bed in silence.

When you’re 11 and your mom dies, you fear you’ll forget her. So you hold onto everything that is hers and look for ways to keep her memory alive. You write stories about her. You ask family members for details about her life. You dig up old home videos and tapes that help you make better sense of the woman she was — and the woman you may or may not want to become.

Recently, I stumbled across a tape of me singing with my mom. The night before Mother’s Day when I was 7 or 8 years old, I had asked Mom if we could have a singalong — partly because I wanted an excuse to stay up with her, but also because I wanted to play with my new, oh-so-cool Fisher Price tape recorder. It was the kind of toy that could make any little girl think she were good enough for Broadway.

I don’t remember what I told Mom, but it was probably something to the effect of, “So we’re going to make up a song together, OK? And I’m going to sing and then give you the mic and then you’re going to sing and we’ll take turns!” It’s hardly a surprise that I sang about not wanting to go to bed.

“Ohhhh I don’t want to go to bed! But it’s a school night you can see …  I’ll see you on Mother’s Day, today is a very nice day and today I think I’ll be a movie star, wait and see.”

Listening to the song now, 17 years later, makes me think of Mom and smile.

Fisher Price tape recorder. Classic.

So many of the memories I have of her are from when she was sick. I can hear the mean kids at school say, “Look! Mallary’s mom has no hair!” I can hear Mom calling for Dad’s help when she was too weak to get off the couch on her own. I can hear her crying the night she found out that the cancer had spread to her brain.

It’s harder for me to remember what Mom sounded like when she’d dance with a broom and sing her favorite songs while cleaning the house, or when she’d come to the front door and yell, “Mallaryyyyy. Come inside, hunny. Dinner’s ready!”

The tape helps me remember. It lets me replace the deafening silence of her death with the comforting sound of her voice: “Goodnight sweet Mallary, go to bed. I love you very much.”

I still wish Mom were here to tell me to go to bed. Every night I tell myself I need to go to bed early, but I hardly ever heed my own advice. My dad and I talk about our night-owl tendencies from time to time, admitting that we wish we could go back to a time when “staying up late” meant going to bed at 8:30 p.m. Sometimes, we say, we wish Mom were here to tell us goodnight. And yet we’ve learned that sometimes, you have to settle for good enough.

Mom used to read to me to help me fall asleep.

So I listen to the tape to hear Mom’s voice and to remind myself that she would want me to take better care of myself by getting more rest. She’d want me to keep developing my voice, too — as a writer, as a young woman and as someone who unabashedly sings while in her apartment and her car. This past weekend as I was driving over the Howard Frankland bridge to Tampa, I flipped through the radio stations and stopped on “Love Shack” — one of Mom’s favorites. I belted it out and thought of me and her singing our favorite part together.

“Bang, bang, bang on the door, baby. You’re what? Tin roof … rusted!”

The next song I heard was Sarah McLachlan’s “I Will Remember You,” which Mom dedicated to me before she died. I could feel the goosebumps forming. The song, which I hadn’t heard in months, often comes on the radio when I’m thinking about Mom or when I’m having a hard time. She’s always been good at sending me signs. Driving over the water, my hair blowing in the wind, I sang the message she wanted me to take away from the song:

“I will remember you. Will you remember me? Don’t let your life pass you by. Weep not for the memories.”

Sometimes I still weep, and that’s ok. I’ve gotten to the point where I can also laugh — when I think of Mom bobbing her head to “Love Shack” or when I hear her singing our mother-daughter song. These memories remind me that even though my mom’s not here anymore, she’s still very much a part of my life. The older I get, the more I realize I’ll always be mommy’s little girl.

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Here are the lyrics:

Me and Mom all dolled up. Note the pink puffy sleeves and the silver flats.

Me: You can tell I told you that a million times, but I tried to tell you the right reason why, ‘cuz here’s my mother and she’ll sing tonight. And here she is, we’re watching “In Living Color” Tonight. Here she is …

Mom: Well I’m waiting for Dad to get out of the shower so we can have some coffee together. Then we’ll relax and read the paper and we’ll talk about today’s news. So I’ll say goodnight to Mallary, Mallary, she has to go to bed. I love her so dearly, yes I do indeed, Mallary it’s time to go to bed.

Me: Ohhhh I don’t want to go to bed! But it’s a school night you can see, so all my mothers and dads will not compare to me. Cuz I’ll see you on Mother’s Day, today is a very nice day and today I think I’ll be a movie star, wait and see. And here’s my mom and she’ll sing to you this song. I don’t know what it is but I think it’s a good song. Here’s my mom.

Mom: Goodnight sweet baby, I’ll tell you a story before you go to bed. I love you so dearly I hate to see you away from me. But I’ll sing this song to you. Goodnight sweet Mallary go to bed, I love you very much. See you tomorrow. Have a nice dream.

Me: Then I’ll see you tomorrow and then we’ll have breakfast eggs and an English muffin. Tonight I had two snacks and I had good snacks too. We’re recording this song and it is a long song too. But it’s good, you knew, that that’s true, today is a nice day out, you know. You know, I tried to pull my pants up by my shirt so I could get cooled down. You know, by my shirt. And I had a pink shirt on, I tricked my dad by going in on this song. Well, here’s my mom, you can tell that’s true, here she is you don’t know what she’s gonna do. Oh ma, come on!

Mom: I’ll sing her song again, I’ll have to say goodnight to you. Goodnight and sweet dreams, I’ll end this song. Goodnight to you and God above.

Me: This is the last song and I’ll be singing it. And it is almost time to go to bed. That you can see is why I’m ahead. I hadn’t brushed my teeth yet but I will now. So bye, bye, bye for now.

Stories about Motherhood, Childhood, Food & Journalism

I went through the articles I’ve posted on my Delicious page recently and realized that there are a lot of stories that have interested me lately. Not surprisingly, they have to do with journalism, moms, childhood and food — the subjects I like to write and read about the most. Here are some of the stories that have caught my attention throughout the past month or so:

Diary of a ‘Food Racist’: I like this piece from The Atlantic, which looks at how our associations with certain places trigger our desire for, and memory, of certain foods. The author of the piece explains that when she talks with someone from India, she daydreams of naan and saag with cubes of paneer. When she thinks of Google’s recent issues in China, she’d led to crave porky soup dumplings. She looks at whether “racist” is too strong of a word to describe her cravings and blames her mom for making her think of food in this way:

“Maybe racism is the wrong word. It is loaded and ugly and not nice. I certainly don’t have a blanket dislike for any group of people (I dislike most people equally). And I pride myself on my willingness to embrace other cultures and whatever they bring to the—literal—table. But I clearly have a nagging, deep-seated case of something that makes me frame everything in life through food.

“Frankly, blaming my mother is probably the safest bet. She’d agree, no doubt. When I was small, she went out of her way to make sure I wasn’t a picky eater by pounding her motto into my impressionable brain: ‘You don’t have to like it, but you have to try it.’ So I’d try new things and inevitably like them. Which led to an inevitable life of trying and inevitable liking. Maybe I just like too much?”

First Camera, Then Fork: A New York Times story about people’s obsession with taking pictures of their food. I’ve never been one to take photos of the food I’m eating, unless I’ve made something that I’m especially proud of. The part of the story that helped explain why people feel compelled to let the world know what they’re eating resonated with me the most:

“That some people are keeping photographic food diaries and posting them online does not surprise psychotherapists. ‘In the unconscious mind, food equals love because food is our deepest and earliest connection with our caretaker,” said Kathryn Zerbe, a psychiatrist who specializes in eating disorders and food fixations at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland. ‘So it makes sense that people would want to capture, collect, catalog, brag about and show off their food.’ “

(Check out this interactive feature that accompanies the article.)

Why is Women’s Fiction So Miserable?: This Telegraph story suggests that “women writers really can’t win. We’re damned for writing fluffy, upbeat chick-lit about shoes and cake, damned if we write about domestic abuse within a geo-political conflict.” True, there is a lot of grimness in women’s fiction and nonfiction, but it undoubtedly exists in men’s fiction, too. I think a lot of people are attracted to grimness — either because they can relate to it or because it’s so far removed from anything they’ve experienced. That’s one of the beauties of books — they let us cross into foreign territory and then just as quickly escape from it.

Window Farming: A Do-it-Yourself Veggie Venture: This NPR story highlights the growth of urban agriculture and makes me think of one of my favorite childhood books, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.” Major cities aren’t all that conducive to gardening, but they’re a good place for people with green thumbs to flaunt their creativity. I’ve always equated gardening with patience, a virtue that seems that much more important in an urban area. If I lived in a major city like Manhattan, I think I’d need a garden — a patch of slow growth among the streets of a harried life, a reminder to slow down.

Natalie Merchant: Globe-Spanning Poetry: This NPR Music piece showcases Natalie Merchant’s new album, “Leave Your Sleep.” I’m not a huge Merchant fan, but I love the artistry of this album, which she describes as “a thematic piece about motherhood and childhood.” The 28 songs on the album are based off of poems written by poets from all different time periods and nationalities, such as Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Spring and Fall: to a Young Child” — a poem about an adult who’s trying to explain death to a child. Given that Hopkins is one of my favorite poets and that I can relate to the subject matter of this poem, I can’t help but be drawn to the song. I also like the more upbeat track, “Topsyturvey-World.”

An Essay by Anna Quindlen: The Amazon page for Quindlen’s new book, “Every Last One,” features a great essay about how being a newspaper reporter helped her become a better novelist. (Author Jennifer Weiner has shared similar sentiments in the past.) Here’s part of Quindlen’s essay:

“I learned, from decades of writing down their words verbatim in notebooks, how real people talk. I learned that syntax and rhythm were almost as individual as a fingerprint, and that one quotation, precisely transcribed and intentionally untidied, could delineate a character in a way that pages of exposition never could. And I learned to make every word count. All those years of being given 1,200 words, of having the 1,200 pared to 900 at 3 o’clock: it teaches you to make the distinction between what is necessary and what is simply you in love with the sound of your own voice. The most important thing I ever do from an editing perspective is cut. I learned how to do that in newsrooms, where cutting is commonplace, swift, and draconian.

” … Plot is like a perspective drawing, its possible permutations growing narrower and narrower, until it reaches a fixed point in the distance. That point is the ending. Life is like that. Fiction is like life, at least if it is good. And I know life. I learned it as a newspaper reporter, and now I reflect that education as a novelist.”

The description of Quindlen’s book is good enough to make me want to read it: “‘Every Last One’ is a novel about facing every last one of the the things we fear most, about finding ways to navigate a road we never intended to travel, to live a life we never dreamed we’d have to live but must be brave enough to try.”

Cheers to that.

What good articles have you come across recently?

Sigur Ros’ ‘Track 3’ Unexpectedly Makes Me Think of Mom

While listening to my Jose Gonzalez Pandora radio station earlier this week, I stumbled across a song I hadn’t heard before: Sigur Ros’ “Track Three.” It’s an instrumental song, but one that I liked enough to want to look up on YouTube.

It seemed fitting that the first video that popped up wasn’t the official music video or a live version of the band playing the song; it was a video chronicling the bond between a mother and her young daughter. The descriptor said: “This is a Spec Video: Love this track so much, so I made a visual of a mother and daughter in the [pursuit of] emotion: love.”

Sometimes signs come when we least expect them. I didn’t think this song would end up reminding me of my mom, but it did. I cried when I watched the video — I think because there was so much emotion in it, long and drawn out as it is. So often, I try to capture memories of my mom through anecdotes, essays and words. But in this case, emotion was enough. Sometimes, as Hans Christian Andersen once said, “Where words fail, music speaks.”

The video reminded me of a tape I have of my mom and I singing together. The song we sang speaks to our relationship and to my love for entertaining and doing whatever I could to get my mom’s attention. I’m going to try re-recording it and turning it into an audio slideshow. You can look for the slideshow in an upcoming blog post.

New York Times Magazine Profiles Neko Case

I recently started listening to Neko Case, an alt country singer/songwriter from Virginia. Most of the time when I mention her name to people, they say they’ve never heard of her.

That may change now thanks to a New York Times Magazine piece that ran in Sunday’s paper.

I’m glad to see her getting some publicity. In a way, though, I hope she doesn’t become more mainstream; I like that she’s a bit of a hidden gem in the world of country music.

Playlist for 2009: Bon Iver, My Morning Jacket, John Legend and More

Throughout the past month or so, I’ve discovered a lot of new songs and artists, and re-discovered some old ones. Some are from music reviews I read, some are from friends and others are songs that I just stumbled upon. As you’ll see, I have a pretty eclectic taste in music.

I want to hear what you’ve been listening to, so feel free to leave your music suggestions in the comments section of this post.

“Skinny Love” by Bon Iver (I really like this one)

“3 Rounds and a Sound” by Blind Pilot

“Cath” by Death Cab for Cutie

“U Want me 2” by Sarah McLachlan

“Home” and “But Honestly?” by Foo Fighters

“The Re-arranger” by Mates of State

“Librarian” by My Morning Jacket

“Be Be Your Love” (yes, this is correct) and “I Wish You Love” by Rachael Yamagata

“Sullivan Street” by Counting Crows

“The Girls Don’t Care” by Eef Barzelay

“Say (All I Need)” by OneRepublic

“My Heart With You” by the Rescues

“Couch” and “You’re Not Broken” by Sera Cahoone

“Heartless” and “Love Lockdown” by Kanye West

“Neo Violence” by Tough Alliance

“Hide and Seek” by Imogen Heap

“Lonely Night in Georgia” and “Why Should She Wait” by Marc Broussard

“See These Bones” by Nada Surf

“If You’re Out There” and “Everybody Knows” by John Legend

“River” and “In Your Eyes” (both live versions) by Sara Bareilles

What songs have you been listening to lately?

On a Sara Bareilles Kick

There are some songs I can listen to over and over again without getting tired of them. One of these songs is Sara Bareilles‘ cover of Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes.” Mind you, I only found out about the song two weeks ago, but I’ve been listening to it a couple of times a day in between other tunes I like.

I’m hoping Sara sings it when I see her in concert this Wednesday at the House of Blues in Dallas. Having listened to so many of Sara’s songs from her CD, “Little Voice,” I have a feeling I might leave the concert nearly voiceless. I love belting out her songs and trying to imitate her voice. Part of what I like about her, too, is that every time I hear her perform on TV or talk during interviews, she seems so down-to-earth. I’m curious to see what kind of concert she’ll put on this Wednesday. Can’t wait!

Click here to listen to part of Sara’s newest tune, “Winter Song.” It’s a duo she sings with Ingrid Michealson.