I don’t sing around the house, not as much as I used to. When you spend most of your time alone, you may forget you even have a voice.

When I was a kid I sang. When I was eight and nine and ten. In the back yard, I sang, swinging. With Joan next door I performed on our big, slanted doghouse roof, song and dance numbers ( the Gillette Razor Theme from the Friday Night Fights). The picnic table was off limits because, “somebody might want to eat on there some day.” I always wanted the car windows down so that the Mickey Mouse Club Talent Scouts would be able to hear me. I was disappointed that it never happened, and felt a little bit betrayed by them.  I liked Doris Day in the fifties. “Secret Love” was one of my favorites. I shouted from the highest hill.
I wasn’t the only one who sang around the house.  Mama did, too, but only when she was depressed or angry. She would whistle snatches of depressing things and begin singing them–always off-key.  Songs like “…if I had the wings of an angel, over these prison walls I would fly.”  Hymns, too.  She rarely knew whole sets of words, and so would sing what she did know over and over again.  That first low whistle was a sign that she was close to the edge of her temper.  To this day, hearing someone begin to whistle in the house makes me want to find a place to cower.

There is only one time I remember Daddy singing. I’d been with him down to Dickson to see the relatives. Mama and Glenn had stayed in town for some reason. It was late summer and within a week or two I would be going away to college. Going away anywhere for the first time. At some point, about three quarters of the way home, he started up on “Red River Valley”.

From this valley they say you are going.
I will miss your bright eyes and sweet smile.
For they say you are taking the sunshine
That has brightened our pathway awhile.

Come and sit by my side if you love me.
Do not hasten to bid me adieu
But remember the Red River Valley
And the cowboy that loves you so true.

This from my never-affectionate, barely expressive father. Don’t ask me what I said to that. I was seventeen. Our conversation, what there was of it, turned on books and bicycles and fishing, anything but emotion. The memory is of excruciating embarassment, a hot flush; staring straight ahead at the dry grass on either side of Highway 70, and the bend in the road toward the shadows.

We have never been easy people. My brother survived more gracefully than I did. Still, while he does make music for his own self, I have never heard him sing.

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