Like most twelve-year-old girls in the seventies, I had my ears glued to Karen Carpenter’s smooth, evocative voice. I spent hours in front of the mirror in the privacy of my bedroom, hairbrush in hand, belting out her songs with the emotion they deserved. I wanted to be just like her. One big problem: I was shy. It seemed likely the mirror would be the only audience I’d ever have.
Mom had a different idea.
My mother, now eighty-something, is a talented lady. Back in the forties, she was a first class dancer who gave up a career in NYC to marry my father. She was a minister’s wife, a job which encompasses the roles of politician, ambassador, hotel manager, entertainer, and on and on. Most daunting of all, she raised five children. After we were all in school, she also worked outside the home. And she’s an artist:
She likes to paint on old bottles
My Lady Mother is still one of the most modest, humble people I know, and has never lost her creative spark. She tap-danced until the age of eighty-five, with a grace and elegance right up there with the great ones.
She can also sing, which brings me back to my awkward years. It turns out Mom volunteered the two of us for a duet at the church’s mother-daughter tea. My big-time balking was no match for her calm, matter-of-fact reassurance, so I agreed to sing the Carpenter’s “Close to You” with her.
I worried about it for weeks, imagining all kinds of heinous scenarios. I would open my mouth and screech. I would trip and fall, dragging Mom down with me. I would lose my skirt. (This last one actually did happen in front of a much larger audience years later, but that’s a story for another day.) No amount of practice tamped down the embers of anxiety in my stomach.
The moment arrived, and I walked with her to the piano, knees wobbling. The whole world watched. I looked down, chock-full of fight or flight, too scared to look at the audience. Her hand clasped mine, gave it a reassuring squeeze. I lifted my eyes to hers, took courage from her smile, and the music began. She began singing, and I followed along, her beautiful soprano voice like a gentle tug on my hand, guiding me out of my fear and into the world of music I loved so much.
Thanks to the gentle guidance of my mother, I discovered I could sing in front of an audience despite my shyness. It was the first of many performances.
Mom still provides a feeling of peace and reassurance. I am beyond grateful for the gift of her nurturing, knowing how precious it is.