Monday, August 16, 2010


Music has always been a huge part of our family life. Road trips to see our grandparents in Tennessee were highlighted with my parents harmonizing (quite well) to songs like Peter, Paul, and Mary's "Lemon Tree" or worse, a 1970s sampling of the dreaded country music (gag). These were horrifying, groan-inducing experiences for a cool girl of twelve and a savvy boy of ten, but now I think back and appreciate the underscore of our family memories. Mom and Dad would giggle with devilish delight at our protestations from the backseat and seemed to gain fuel for a third chorus of "If I Had a Hammer." On rare occasions, we would join in for a song or two. We joined in most often on hymns--hymns from the good ol' church of Christ hymnal "Great Songs of the Church." (And they do mean "the" church as in: "Is there any other church? No. No, there is not.") The "Blue Book," as we used to call it was full of musically challenging and slightly high-brow offerings for the college-educated worshipper. No knee-slapping Baptist revival fare would be found in THIS hymnal lest we be tempted to emote during a service. But I digress...

No matter how much my beliefs may evolve, I will always have tender feelings for those old songs: "When Peace Like a River," "Abide With Me," "Nearer, Still Nearer," "Just As I Am." Mom had a sweet lilting soprano, and I would sing alto because I knew how and someone had to. Dad sang a strong tenor, and my brother fit in somewhere; sometimes tenor, sometimes lead, sometimes he came up with beautiful harmonies of his own. I loved to hear the blend of our voices bouncing off the upholstery and glass of the car windows, and I would entertain fantasies of our family travelling the world as professional singers. My brother and I could easily take the music industry by storm as the southern versions of Richard and Karen Carpenter, or so I thought. My Mom always remarked, "Rachel could sing before she could talk." I knew this to be true having felt music in my soul from a very early age. I can't remember a time when I was unable or unwilling to sing. Mom must have had something to do with that.

We will be celebrating our little girl's first birthday in a few weeks. Since before her birth, I have attempted to embed music--specifically, vocal music--into her little brain, and I swelled with pride last week when she started singing along to the "La-la-la" part of The Carpenter's, "Sing, Sing a Song." (They sing it a lot on Sesame Street too, so I had been using it as part of my night-night song repertoire.) Her Daddy and I immediately started scheming: "Singing before she can even talk! She's even singing on KEY! We obviously have a musical genius on our hands. We had better start saving for music lessons. Piano or guitar? I hope she'll wear modest clothing in her music videos. I hope she won't take dangerous drugs to stay thin while she's on tour." (My fantasy life is rich, my friends. Rich.)

Since meeting my husband, the songs of Billy Joel have been added to the family repertoire. I fell in love with Josh the night he looked into my eyes and sang "She's Only a Woman," (and yes, he WILL kill me for telling you this, so it'll be our little secret, ok?). I had never listened to Billy very much, but now I can call myself a fan. I have a good head for memorizing lyrics, but not good enough to memorize and sing Billy's "Lullaby: Goodnight My Angel" to our baby. I listened to it on iTunes in the hospital while I was in labor along with other "soothing" sounds. I would love to someday thank Billy in person for writing it.

Joel's ballad elevates the singing of a lullaby to immortal status. The song helps us view the simple act of singing to a child as an invisible and timeless thread--an unbreakable bond connecting parent to child to grandchild through life and death and life again. This thought comforts me in moments when I want to violently rail against the circumstances of my life today: My daughter will never hear my Mother sing a song for her. She will not watch from her highchair as Mom hums along to Alan Jackson, her gooey fingers rhythmically patting out rolls to the throb of country bass. My chest aches when I think about it. I need to remember; the "Song" Mom put in my heart is being sung to my daughter every night. Night after night after night, my mother's sweet soprano voice still echoes against the pale pink walls in my little girl's room, because when I sing to her, I hear Mom singing to me too. Her presence resonates deeply in those tender moments before my girl drops her head on my shoulder and releases her body into my arms. And long after I'm gone, the Song will be in Graceanne's heart to comfort her too. She cannot lose it. She will not forget it. She will sing it for the rest of her life. She will sing it to her little ones someday, and I will be with them just as Mom's Song is with us, embedded upon her little heart and singing through mine.
   Someday we'll all be gone,
   But lullabies go on and on
   They'll never die
   That's how you and I will be.

Thanks, Billy.

Here's Billy Joel's "Lullaby: Goodnight, My Angel" in case you've never heard it or haven't heard it in a while. It's worth a listen.


  1. Oh my goodness--the pen of your dad, the soul of your mom. I had no idea. A beautiful way to start my day. Thank you, Rachel. You're a Ford woman--and that's both a good and bad thing. The Fords love to sing. I remember well when your grandmother Mot's mom would lie on the floor and pump an accordion while the family sung those very same hymns. (The classic Fords were closet instrumentalists-- though they would deny it to this day. Many of the newer models rock out in worship unashamedly with full band accompaniment.) Congrats on having a walker--then a climber--then . . . . dream big for her and keep singing!

  2. One of my favorite Joel songs! :) Miss you.

  3. Hi Cara! Thanks so much for taking the time to read the blog. It's very gratifying to have people connect with my writing. Sincere thanks!

  4. Susan, "the pen of my Dad and the soul of my Mom?" I wish! I think I'll just write my little blog and shut up. Love you! Thanks again for taking the time to read.