Sunday, October 15, 2006

And be better off than you are...

Today I attended a performance by Kathryn Crosby entitled "My Life With Bing." Through stories, images, and song she remembered her husband. It was quite a lovely afternoon, right here on the Hofstra campus. This university really does provide a lot of great events.

Apart from the cultural eventness of it all, it was kind of nostalgic for me. While it's true that Bing Crosby died when I was just a wee little tyke, I grew up knowing his music because my family exposed me to his music. His, and many others'. My family was all about the music. One way in which they did this was by subjecting me to viewings of The Lawrence Welk Show. I loathed watching The Lawrence Welk Show. Still do, in fact, loathe the mere thought of it. I think it was sappy, incredibly dull, and not even very well produced. I used to feel the boredom welling up in my gut until it was like a little ball that would then ricochet around my chest and head until I was screaming inside, "Please, for the love of god, let me do something else! anything else! besides watch this show."

But the music. Ahhhh, the music.

My Grandma Curtis was just about the most phenomenally talented piano player you ever did meet. I recall so fondly the Christmas Eves where she would play anything you requested and then some and we'd all hang out singing. It was even more exciting than Santa's impending arrivial. Sadly, oh so sadly, those Christmas Eve musical improv sessions came to an end while I was young, as her debilitating arthritis left her able to do less and less with her hands.

She and my grandpa sang beautifully. (My grandfather still does. He also plays the organ, as he says, for his "own amazement." But we are all amazed, too.) My mother, who is their daughter, carried on the musical talent and love of music into our home. My sister, a very good singer and piano player herself, has married a talented music man, who is among other things a choir teacher. I feel confident that if I should ever "settle down" one day, I, too, will have a musical mate. I don't think I've ever (seriously) dated anyone who's not musical.

One thing I vividly recall Mom, Grandma, and Grandpa singing to me is "Would You Like to Swing On a Star?"

...carry moonbeams home in a jar,
and be better off than you are,
or would you rather be a mule?
A mule is an animal with long funny ears
who kicks up at everything he hears.
His back is brawny but his brain is weak,
he's just plain stupid with a stubborn streak,
and by the way if you hate to go to school,
you may grow up to be a mule...

And so on. I remember I really liked the fish verse. But what I also remember is my grandfather singing it to me. Teasing me, perhaps, about I'd better go to school or would I rather be a mule? Not that they needed to be worried about me the super-nerd going to school. Hello. Still goin'!

And I remember the joy of discovering that song in one of my mother's songbooks as I taught myself to play the piano in my adolescent years. I'd kicked and flailed and screamed in piano lessons at age 5 or whatever until I was mercifully withdrawn, being absolutely petrified to go alone to a "stranger's" house, and that saddens me now. But I joined band in third grade, learned to read music, became a decent clarinet player -- well, you know, for a kid -- and then a little bit later sat down at the piano and was like, OK, I've got the treble clef down, how hard can this bass clef be? I started at C and worked my way down, and looked for easy songs in my mom's books. (Hymns=good.) And when I'd come across something like "Swing On A Star?" which I'd been singing for years I'd get a little thrill, Oh, I know this one! It made it much easier to learn to play it.

Today, at the Kathryn Crosby show, she invited audience participation on that one. We all began singing. I also started crying. I totally felt my family, my grandparents, there with me. Just weeping, and singing. It was grand.

We sang along to the film of Bing singing "Don't Fence Me In" as well. And then, for the finale, "White Christmas." I also remember when my mother taught me that one. We were at the grandparents' Curtis house again, in Sun City. I remember being very matter-of-fact. This is a totally famous Christmas song, I've never learned it, Mom teach me how it goes. And so she did. Today, as the film played of Bing, Kathryn, and their three children singing it (bedecked in red sweaters and the kids shifty and looking as if they might like to be somewhere else), Kathryn and one of her sons stood on the stage in front of the screen singing and we all sang in the audience too. It was joyous. I cried again. Of course.

There was a question-and-answer period after. A lot of people in the audience were in their "golden years." But I wasn't the only "young" one. One twentysomething woman got up to ask if Kathryn had any advice for someone her age embarking on a career in movies and music. I must say that Kathryn was all over the place in her answers, but it was kind of cool, too, when she was done with her script and just babbled on. There was a whole portion of the show recounting how she and Bing finally ended up getting married, and contemplating true love, and other women, and how and when we find people...contemplating also friendships and connections and life.

You know, I just think all the time that I aspire to be worthy of all the goodness my family has bestowed upon me. I guess a lot of us are rather ungrateful when we are young. Usually, there's time to grow out of it. Usually.

You know, my Grandmother Napikoski, on the other side of the family, is sick right now. Not doing so spectacular. We never saw them as often during our childhood because we were in Arizona and my dad came from New England. Grandma Napikoski still lives in the very house in western Mass. in which my dad and his siblings grew up. Since I moved to Boston a few years ago I have been blessed to spend a lot more time with her. Right now, she is making me a quilt out of all my old t-shirts. Careful readers of this blog will recall that I went on a tear this summer trying to get rid of all my earthly possessions. I was hung up on the t-shirts. I never, ever wear them but they weren't just random clothes I could give to Good Will without a second thought. They were from concerts, volunteer events, plays I did, the college radio station, etc. So my grandmother is making them into a quilt. I get to hang on to the nostalgia and have them turned into something useful. I am so grateful to her!

You see? Just, so much goodness. So why do we waste so much of our time with the wrong, wrong people in this world?

"And all the monkeys aren't in a zoo
Every day you meet quite a few
So you see it's all up to you
You can be better than you are
You could be swingin' on a star."

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