I was about 15 years old and singing the song “Put your hand in the hand” from Ocean in the back seat of our family car. That song has a lot of key changes and I was making every one of them perfectly, if I do say so my self. I used to do all of the parts of a song when I would sing along with it (still do actually). My brother, Dick was in the front seat of the car and turned around and said “hey, that’s pretty good”. For him, to divvy out a compliment like this to ME was extraordinary. Compliments were not handed out to me….EVER. My mother looked at him and said “Don’t encourage her!”. I kept singing anyway.
My other brother, Bill played the trombone in the South High School Marching band and Orchestra. For some reason that seemed to be something my Mother could get behind. Trombone music was the music I got used to falling asleep to, because that’s when Bill did all of his practicing and practicing was important if you wanted to make “first chair”. “First Chair” is where you sit when you’re the best. I remember my Mom and Bill talking a lot about him moving up to “First Chair” in the Band/Orchestra and how cool that would be. My mother supported the musical ambitions of my brother, the trombone player, the middle brother in my clan.
Anything I ever did, however, like play the flute in orchestra, join the drama club and act in school plays, sing in the church choir – my parents were just too tired to get involved in going to see. Getting my parents to actually attend something I was doing was like pulling teeth. They just seemed to be kind of at the end of their parental journey, even though I was just beginning my journey, they didn’t have the interest or energy to invest. I thought it was me for years (about 55 actually). While I grew up I was though of as my mothers invisible daughter. My brothers told me regularly they didn’t want a sister, they wanted a dog.
So for some reason, after being shushed in the car and telling my oldest brother not to “encourage me” to sing, I decided to try out for Varsity Choir at my High School. Yeah, I know you don’t have to be a licensed therapist to figure this one out. This choir class was a varsity choir class, so freshman were not typically in this class. You had to try out for it! “Trying out” meant I had to actually sing in front of the music teacher! Ouch! Not something I was comfortable with. See, I was the painfully shy kid in high school. I didn’t speak unless spoken to and I didn’t go out of my way to call attention to myself. Staying under the radar was my skill set. Varsity Choir was reserved for the Juniors and Seniors, I was just a Freshman, and this was a group I didn’t fit into. I, however, wanted in and I was going for it. To this day, I don’t know what gave me the courage, it was very unlike me. Looking back, it seems abundantly clear, whenever I rebelled against my mother I seemed to do whatever she said I shouldn’t do. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. Clearly, I was just mad enough to summon the courage to “try out” for this class.
Once I got in, I began to regret my decision to join the group. Everyone in the class was either a Junior or Senior, and I am a lowly Freshman. Here I am invisible! I wasn’t part of any group within the class and I was just too shy to ever buddy up to anybody within the class, so I was pretty much always sitting alone in my chair. I’d wait for the next song and either enjoy what we were singing or just wait for it to get over. A skill only kids like me were really good at.
One of my all time favorite songs we did in this class was Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”. I LOVED singing this song.
“Tears and fears and feeling proud
to say “I love you” right out loud
dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I’ve looked at life that way”
This verse absolutely fascinated me. It was the part about saying “I love you”… RIGHT OUT LOUD that really got me. What was that like? Saying I Love You must be the most amazing thing in the whole world! Just like the song says…
“Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels
the dizzy dancing way you feel
as every fairy tale comes real
I’ve looked at love that way”
I had never said these three words before and I had never heard these words before. That’s not the kind of thing you said OR heard anybody say in my house. My parents never said such a thing to me, they didn’t even say it to each other for that fact. I just knew I wanted to hear it AND I wanted to say it……but I didn’t have anyone to say it to. Intellectually, I knew you had to feel something first, but what would that feel like?
This song always made me think a lot about love. It was, after all 1971, I was 15 years old and the talk of love was everywhere. I was so curious. It seemed everybody else knew what love was like, everyone except me. There it was on TV, for god’s sake. Even advertising talked about it, I wasn’t sure if I would ever experience love, after all, who was going to love someone like me? My mother told me, I’d have a difficult time finding anybody to love me.
About three quarters of the way through the school year I got a kidney infection that kept me out of school for a good couple of weeks. When I returned to school and the Choir room for the Varsity Class, I promptly and quietly found my chair and waited for class to begin, just as I always did. The choir director, Mr. Flikkert fixed his eyes on mine, noticing I was in class. Without saying a word, he turned on his heels and grabbed some sheet music from his desk on the other side of the room. You see, the first song was kind of a big deal and we all wanted our favorite. It was kind of a warm up of sorts. Everybody in class automatically stopped chatting and we all settled in and waited to see what the first number was going to be while he took his customary place behind the piano. Mr. Flikkert said, he had noticed a returning student back with us after an absence that was much too long due to an illness. I looked around the choir room and wondered who he was talking about. Who did I have this in common with? Then he went so far as to utter my Name, right out loud! I wasn’t accustomed to this kind of attention! He said the class had agreed this would be the first song we would sing upon my return.
“Bows and Flows of angel hair
and ice cream castles in the air
and feather canyons everywhere
I’ve looked at clouds that way”
Oh my God! I can’t believe anyone knew this was my favorite song! I couldn’t even believe anyone knew I was even gone for two weeks! I can’t believe anyone even noticed I’m even back. It was the first time EVER I wasn’t invisible. I was so absolutely red in the face, and I felt hot all over. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was self conscience about every move I made after that. Now I didn’t know if I liked being seen! After we finished singing “Both Sides Now” the entire class said “Welcome Back, Barb!” “We Love You!” That was the first time I had ever heard “I Love you”. I’ll never forget it. It certainly didn’t make me feel dreams and schemes and circus crowds or even Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels, but it was pretty awesome.
Music has always been my coping mechanism, or escape if you will. I’ve kept music close to me in a variety of forms. In my younger years, escaping through music meant going to the basement with a stack of somebody else’s 45‘s. I didn’t have a record player and records of my own until later on. My brothers record player, a small record player enclosed in a suitcase like box and their 45s, were all I knew, and I came to depend on them to offer me my escape route – and they did. I kept them long enough for my kids to laugh at. Songs like “James (Hold the Ladder Steady)” by Sue Thompson could keep me singing in the basement for hours. I still know the words to most of those old songs.
My parents graduated to a full fledged stereo system, you know one of those huge furniture pieces of the 60‘s, that was mostly furniture and a little bit stereo. Unfortunately, there was never any music played on it. I had finally gotten a few albums of my own, but never really got to play them on the big stereo in the living room, the cardboard record player in my room would always have to suffice. The Monkees were a group I loved at a very young age, and now I guess they fall into the guilty pleasure category now. Bobby Sherman was the very first album I ever owned of my own.
Then came portable devices with headphones, ah headphones. I could move away from everyone with headphones. The music could fill my head leaving absolutely no room for the things that hurt or bothered me. It was different than just listening to music on the record player when I could still hear my mom thump on the wall and yell “Turn that crap off”. And now the walkman, it let “me” be portable, although it was clumsy, it was portable. I WAS PORTABLE! I could not only fill my head with these songs, but I could walk away! Oh the power! It took some work getting to a favorite song, but it was worth it. And now, the iPod! All the songs instantly available to fill my head and heart, removing any unwanted emotion. Music was my therapist.
That song “Both Sides Now” has been with me in every form. From the clunky 45 and that cardboard record player to the digital version that goes on every device I own. It’s on my Favorites Playlist, because every time I listen to it I am reminded that I wasn’t the invisible little girl I thought I was all along. Now, strangely enough since the death of my mother whenever I hear my favorite song “Both Sides Now” come up on my iPod I have a much different reaction. The melody starts and I immediately smile, thinking of the choir room so many years ago and how many people I have loved in my life and how they have loved me back. The one person in my life that couldn’t love me is gone and I am grateful for her passing.
I realize now, that through all the years of struggling with being my mother’s invisible daughter, I wish I would have realized that she was the one that couldn’t see me and I was indeed visible. I see now that others see me.
Being on the “other side of my mothers life” has allowed me to see clearly now, that the universe wanted me to turn out okay. So I had enough “interventions” through people to make sure I was just fine. I was so lucky to have had so many “interventions” along my journey from people that recognized an invisible daughter. These people may not know they were “interventions”, but they were. These “interventions” are what helped me create a much different view of myself. Teachers, Neighbors, My Children, My Husband Kelly, Friends that have hung in there with me for the better part of 25 years, and lest I forget a group of “misfits” in Chicago that that forever changed my life; these are the people that somehow knitted together a “family” for me. People that offered me the things I needed in my life to thrive and grow.
“Oh but how old friends are acting strange
they shake their heads, they say I’ve changed
will some things lost but somethings gained
in living every day”
I’m a different person than that shy girl trying out for that Varsity Choir class. People that know me today, would be shocked to know I was at one time this shy girl. I had an obligatory 88th birthday party for my mother and invited my brothers, even through we don’t keep in touch (or speak). When they both continued with the same banter I remembered as I child….I told them both since it was probably the last time we would see each other I would be making a donation to the local Humane Society in their name, and it was time they each got a dog.
My playlist continues to serve as my walking therapist. My walking playlist has been carefully crafted to include only songs with lyrics and beats that make me feel great, tunes that make me want to dance with my dog, yes you read that correctly, or even a song that reminds me of something extraordinary in my life. The songs always make me smile when my playlist randomly selects the next song on my walk and I thank the universe for sending me just the right song to fit what I happen to need that day.
Yes, I do have a rather weird collection of music, but as you can imagine, it works.
“Who can turn the world on with her smile?
Who can take a nothing day, and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?
Well it’s you girl, and you should know it
With each glance and every little movement you show it
Love is all around, no need to waste it
You can have a town, why don’t you take it
You’re gonna make it after all
You’re gonna make it after all” (Mary Tyler Moore show)
I’m gonna make it after all.
P.S. That’s MY Lemon Tree!