Monday, May 7, 2012

My Mothers Voice

A couple of weeks ago my husband found a box in the basement containing old reel to reel tapes.  Holy cow, I hadn't thought about those old tapes in a long time (Some of us over 40 remember what those are right?) Anyway, we had them dumped on to CDs.
A lot of what was on the tapes were recordings my Mom had done off the radio or from her albums by placing the microphone in front of the speakers of our Hi-Fi stereo.  I remember her doing this.  This was pre-everything we know today about home recording.  Pre-cassettes, pre-CDs, pre-cell phones, pre-digital anything.  So I suspected as I inserted the CDs into the player that the quality was going to be less than what I was used to with a lot of hissing and tape noise.  Plus understand that these tapes were over 40 years old.  Well, much to my surprise a lot of the recordings were clean with very little hiss.  Some not so much.  But all in all, according to the gentleman that did the work for us, in wonderful condition.
My Mom loved the saxophone so it was no surprise that a lot of the music was sax music.  I recognized several recordings as that of a friend of hers. The other discs had just a whole bunch of different music.  Some show tunes and some big band.  Plus there were recordings of my bother reciting the nativity and he and my sister singing Christmas carols.  Way cute!!!!
Disc 2 was the one that brought me to tears.  What my Mom had done was tape herself singing along to albums.  I hadn't heard her sing in over 20 years.  And this was the voice I remember growing up.  Warm, deep, full of passion and youth.  She sounded like Rosemary Clooney but with Sinatra-esque phrasing.  She used to sing a lot locally with all the bands in the area and did all the variety shows, back in the day.  When I was old enough we used to go to piano bars together and sing, especially this one that had Sam the piano man.  He was amazing and just a lot of fun.  We'd wait there for my Dad to get off of second shift.  Looking back on that now it was really cool to be able to sing all those old songs with my Mom.
The reason that this means so much to me is that my Mom has Alzheimer's (she was diagnosed about 7 years ago) and she suffered a stroke last November.  Although I know she still remembers all those old tunes as that is the nature of the disease, her experience of that music in her mind only happened yesterday.  She is now in a memory care assisted living community.  She seems happier than I've seen her in years.  She's laughing more and her sense of humor has come back.  They do all kinds of wonderful activities and the "characters" in that place make me smile.  But that's another blog post.
Just hearing her voice on those recordings filled me with so much joy, yet immense sadness. My mind drifted back and I heard her calling us all in for supper from the back porch, talking in Italian on the phone with her sister, singing with us in the kitchen after supper as we did the dishes and cleaned up, and hanging out with her at the piano bar. I also remember the family reunions in Connecticut where most of my uncles were musicians and they would jam in the garage and my Mom would sing with them.  We've talk about those times a lot when I've visited.
Those recordings and my memories are all I have left of the Mom of my youth.  She doesn't remember what she had for breakfast now and that's OK, because when I look into her eyes I see the stories in the years that have passed, the experiences of our lives, and all the fun we had together as a family even if she has a harder time recollecting those days.  I love her as deeply today as I ever did, and the woman I see in that wheel chair is still that same sweet, funny, beautiful woman I remember.  What's even more awesome is that I not only have her voice on tape but in me, and I will always treasure that gift she passed on to me.
Happy Mothers Day Mom.
Your Baby Girl


  1. Very sweet! So glad you have those memories!

  2. What a touching story! Thank you for sharing this here as well as on my blog!

    You mentioned Rosemary Clooney! The bass player for our Renaissance band played for her. Not many younger folks will remember Rosemary Clooney, but she was one of the classic singers!

    As you said: "What's even more awesome is that I not only have her voice on tape but in me, and I will always treasure that gift she passed on to me." -- And that's the beauty of music! It stays with you forever.