for lydia christine

I wish I had talked to my mother about singing. I mean really talked — what it felt like to get lost in a song; how old she was when she realized the power of her voice; what drew her to gospel and country music; why she needed to express herself that way; what part of herself she lost when she gave it up.

I wish we had talked about the physicality of singing. The way it changes the mind/body conversation. Movement without filter; the fear and exhilaration of going wherever the music takes you. Our fellow Baptists weren’t entirely wrong when they cautioned about “the devil’s music.” It splays you out emotionally in ways you could never have imagined. And the better you get, the harder everything else becomes.

We never talked about any of that. Any attempt at mother-daughter bonding was inevitably thwarted by a never-ending and awkward dance of avoiding family land mines, which always seemed to be moving around. Eventually someone would put their opinions in the wrong place and…kaboom!

But music was neutral ground. All that history and mutual resentment disappeared the moment we sat down together at a piano. I became the adoring daughter again, sitting in the front pew on Christmas Eve, transfixed as she sang “O Holy Night” to the congregation, her voice soaring. A plain looking little five-year-old in a pixie haircut, standing up and yelling to everyone, “That’s my Mama!”

She suddenly started singing again in her late 60s. I wish I had asked her what it felt like to rediscover and reclaim that gift after so many years. What was different; what was the same; how she found her way back. What singing gave her that nothing and no one else ever could. I’d really like to know. Ten years after her death, I still can’t believe I never asked.

Jassa Skott  ~  12/11/16

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