There are times and lessons in your life that will always stay with you.
|“Let ‘er Rip”
It was the spring of ’53, and we were preparing for our end of school program. I believe all schools did this back then, and it was a big deal. We prepared for it diligently.
The 3rd grade was to sing several songs, and I remember one I was especially taken with, “How Much is That Doggie in the Window”. Patti Page made this song very popular in ’53.
We were all lined up ready to rehearse on the stage for the first time. I was front row center and could not wait to share my talents and my zeal for this song with the others. Mrs. Kennedy cued us, the music started, and I began to belt out, “How much is that doggie in the window, the one with the . . .”
“Stop, stop, just a moment.” She approached me in her kindly manner. (I deeply loved this teacher.) She said she thought it might sound better if I moved back to the middle row. I gladly obliged, knowing she knew more about music than I. We were all in our new positions and began again. “How much is that doggie in the window, the one with the wagglely tail . . .”
I belted out even louder to make up for being one row back, when again dear Mrs. Kennedy said, “Just a minute, please.” She approached me and whispered in my ear. “Jimmy, your voice is so powerful I don’t think the other parents will be able to hear their children. Would you mind moving to the back row?”
“Sure,” I thought, “with my powerful voice, I can carry this group through this song.” And again we began. Now I really had to let ‘er rip because I was all the way in the back. “How much is that doggie in the window? The one with the wagglely tail. How much is that doggie in the window? I do hope that doggie’s for sale . . .”
“Just a moment,” came from Mrs. Kennedy. As she approached me and laid her hand on my shoulder I was beaming. Then she whispered in my ear as she led me aside, “Jimmy the other children’s voices just don’t seem to be able to blend with yours. Would you mind just standing in the back row and moving your mouth like you’re singing, but don’t let any sound come out?”
Even at nine years old, I had not just fallen off a turnip truck. That was my awakening. I could not sing. Mrs. Kennedy tried to be as nice as possible, but she must have known had she not intervened, the kids would begin to make fun of me. (And they would have; kids are cruel.) I’m sure in her mind she could envision my family in total embarrassment at the program. Thus ended my public singing for these fifty-seven years.
Eight years later, in the spring of my junior year, I met a special girl. Again back in those days and perhaps even now, when a boy and a girl felt that special magic, that tingling feeling all over, and the butterflies in the stomach, when that kind of relationship occurred, almost always as they danced at sox hops or played the juke box at the corner drug store or listened to the car radio on a country road until the battery ran down. They would pick a song, and it would be “our song”. Like no one else could hear it or enjoy it. It was their song! It did not matter if you broke up at the end of the summer or love blossomed and you were together for a life time, wherever you were years later when you heard that song, the miles and the years did not matter. Your thoughts would return to that special girl, time and place, and those special feelings would return for just a moment as they played “our song”.
Our song happened to be “The Twelfth of Never” by Johnny Mathis, and I was lucky that my feelings survived not only the summer of ’59 but for fifty more summers.
As I’ve grown older some things seem less important to me. Christmas does not excite me as it once did. It’s mostly for children. As I have advanced in age, birthdays have almost become a time for mourning. I’ve never been good at anniversaries or valentines. What are roses and candy? Only wilt and flab in a few days. But unique gifts are rare and long remembered. A few years ago as Valentine’s Day approached, I happened to hear “The Twelfth of Never” on the radio, and the old thoughts returned that had so long gone dormant. So I came up with what I thought was a very unique gift for my wife. I looked up the words to “The Twelfth of Never”. I practiced it a few times. No sense wasting a lot of time. Mrs. Kennedy was right. I got out the tape recorder and without accompaniment of any kind I just began to sing. “You ask how much I need you . . . must I explain . . .” And finished with “Un-til the twelfth of nev-er and that’s a long, long time. Eat your heart out Johnny Mathis. Love you, Jim.”
I just laid the tape and the player on her bed and said nothing. That night when she went to bed, I could hear the tape through her closed door. When it finished she did not come out, so I gently peeked in to see my wife of many years wiping the tears from her face. I know the singing was bad, but it was not the bad singing that brought out these tears. It was the thoughtfulness or the look into the past that prompted them.
Mrs. Kennedy was right, and what she did was motivated, I’m sure, by her kindness to me, my family, and the other children. Having said that, I believe there is still a time to just let ‘er rip. So here goes. You people are so lucky this is the written word and not an audio version.
“How much is that doggie in the window?
The one with the waggely tail.
How much is that doggie in the window?
I do hope that doggie’s for sale.
I must take a trip to California . . .”
“Oh, Jimmy, Jimmy. Just a moment . . .”