Wednesday, March 31, 2010

NOEL

The magical guitar work of Michael Dowdle lays the foundation of music on both my Christmas albums, Sleepy Little Town and One Small Boy. He also plays on Pontiac Rocket. I absolutely adore working with Mike, not only because I think he interprets my songs exquisitely and accurately, but he is such a great guy whether or not there is a guitar in his hands. Ask me whether I would prefer to spend a day at a luxury spa or in Mark Stephenson’s studio with Mark and Mike, and …well, you get my drift.

Mike is very thorough about his work. He is nearly perfectionist in his self expectations, which could be a problem if he were not so capable and so fast. His expediency allows us to enjoy other aspects of a day in the studio; like discussing matters from the latest American Idol episodes to near death experiences.

The day we recorded the guitar tracks for Noel I was teaching Mike my arrangement. I generally play the song for him and he sits with a legal pad on his lap and charts the song. We’ll play it together, then he’ll go record it with the clarity and balance only a seasoned studio musician can get on a first take. When I record my own guitar it takes so many swipes to get it accurate that it costs me more in just studio time…and then the product is inferior after all that. I’m fine to play live on stage, because you will not have to hear the mistakes over and over again, but in the studio I almost always prefer using Michael.

So we were working on my altered version of The First Noel and Michael mentions that he recorded this song on one of his Christmas albums (http://www.michaeldowdle.com/) and we got to talking about the meaning of the word Noel.

“Did you know,” Mike says, “That there is no absolute definition of the word Noel?”

He had researched it and found that it was a French term, (from the French part of France…you’ll get that statement if you were at our first album release concert in SLC last November) and it is used in relation to Christmas, but it is unclear who came up with the term or why. The closest they can get to the etymology is the Latin natalis, meaning a birthday.

The meaning and the history of the word are surely debatable, and the discussion got me to thinking about it. My strange sleep patterns cause me to awaken and fixate, and one night the topic of my night-time brain activity was Noel. I visualized the spelling of the word in its various manifestations: Noel – noël (with the two little dots above the o) – Nowell. And then, in a half sleeping/half awake state I had a little flickering epiphany: Know Well. And there my brain remained for the next few days; pondering the extra meaning the lyrics took on for me when I considered the term Noel clarified to Know Well. It was as if I could hear the angels whisper when they floated down beside him on that Holy night, “Here he is. He does not look different than any of you, does he? He is wholly needy and requires your care. But watch. Watch him. He will one day teach you. And what he teaches, you will need. But remember…watch…because more than knowing his teachings you will need to know Him, because one day you will need Him, like this baby needs his mother.” The angels tell us this not only in my imaginings, but in the holy books, and in the holy heart. Beginning with his innocent entry, all the way to the dreadful, glorious, innocent exit; he came to teach through his own life. He was God! He is God! The living son of a living god. He could have chosen to teach us from afar; to send mentors only, like our prophets and saints. But he allowed himself instead to condescend and walk with us, to interact with us, to share our laughter and our tears, our fears and questions, our passions and temptations. What he gave us in that willingness is a perfect pattern. We can only follow it if we know it. We can only follow Him if we know Him. May we know Him well.

NOEL
Traditional/Connors
Feb 2009

I.
The first Noel the angel did say
Unto certain shepherds in fields as they lay
In fields where they lay keeping their sheep
On a winter night that was so deep

Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel

II.
They looked up high and saw a star
Shining in the east beyond them far
And to the earth it gave great light
This is how it went through the day and the night

Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel

III.
May we know well this child who came
He who knows us all by heart and by name
And love His word and trust His grace
So that when we see Him face to face

We’ll know Him well, Know well, Noel. Noel
Born is the King of Israel

Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King
Born is the King
Born is the King of Israel

One summer day, when our children were young and we had gone to Pittsburgh for summer vacation, we were sitting in a booth at the Baskin Robbins Ice Cream shop in Bethel Park. I was sitting on the outside edge, licking away at my cone. The glass door opened and a couple customers walked in, headed to the counter to order. One of my kids said something funny and I started laughing. From the corner of my eye I saw the woman at the counter, who had just walked in, turn toward me and exclaim; “Cori Hansen?” I looked at her, squinted my eyes for just a moment to query my lethargic brain, and then called out “Erica Saylor!”

One of my dearest friends from Jr High and High School, we had not seen each other for decades. I looked markedly different. So did she. I had gained all the weight she had lost and more, and there was no way she would have recognized me when she saw me at first glance. But she knew me by my laughter. It was such a joy to reconnect. We have remained in contact since, with much love crossing the miles between us.

We get to knowing someone so intimately when we share moments together. This is the kind of knowing not available in book learning alone. It requires personal interaction.

I know - in the internal place where meaningful knowing is warmed and safely kept – that I will one day see my Lord and Savior face to face. I pray I will recognize Him. And I pray He will also know me, by my laughter as much as my tears.






Tuesday, March 30, 2010

AULD LANG SYNE

Rabbie Burns, they called him, the Scottish poet who is credited with writing the words to Auld Lang Syne. He was the Poet Laureate of Scotland until he died in 1796 at the age of 37. Few people know, however, that Robert Burns sent a copy of the original song to the Scots Musical Museum with the remark, “The following song, an old song, of the olden times, and which has never been in print, nor even in manuscript until I took it down from an old man". Some of the lyrics were indeed "collected" rather than composed by the poet; the ballad "Old Long Syne" printed in 1711 by James Watson shows considerable similarity in the first verse and the chorus to Burns' later poem, and is almost certainly derived from the same "old song". It is believed that the words and music first appeared together in published form in the Scots Musical Museum in 1796.

The words Auld Lang Syne mean “old times gone by”. The original tune supposed to have been applied to the poem is known in folk music as Roud #6294. It’s a different tune than we modern day Americans are used to hearing. And I love it. It feels ancient and mournfully melodic. I decided to add the song to my last album, but felt the lyric to be a bit bawdy for my style, so I took the liberty to rewrite all but the first verse and chorus. Since the song is Public Domain I am able to do that. I did try, however, to remain true to the sentiment: Should we forget, as we move into the coming year, the relationships of the past? The chorus answers the question posed in the first verse: “No, let us raise a cup and remember yet, with kindness, the people and the happenings of the year we leave behind.”

Verse two in Burns’ poem talks about swapping pints of ale, perfectly suited for the pubs of Scotland. Since his version is believed to be an alteration of the old original folk tune to begin with, I adjusted the song to fit the non-imbibers (is that a word?)

I recalled the beautiful heather covered hillsides in the humid heat of August as we drove through the hedgerows of Wales during a season of performances in 2001. And I recalled as well the wet chill wherein only evergreens thrived when we went to retrieve John from his mission at Christmas time in1999. Considering the changing of the seasons, and our faith in power to bind our future with our past, I wrote these words:

So when the heather’s on the bloom
And through the winter pine
We’ll bind the hope of seasons yet
With Auld Lang Syne

The song lyric continues, ending in my belief that we are blessed to be able to gather up our old mistakes and leave them behind. It’s a call to all of us to forgive; ourselves as much as anyone else, and move forward with a sense of hope. “Good Will To Men be sung again” is an allusion to the Christmas Carol: Far, Far Away on Judea’s Plain which ends in the words “Peace on Earth Good Will to Men.” It reminds us not only to forgive, but to strive for peace with all people.

I don’t generally ever entertain the idea of fooling with someone else’s song, so this is something rare. But in pondering how I would make the song work for me, I was able to think about my own attachment to the past, and to the future. It was a healthy exercise, and I hope the new lyric does not take away from the beauty of the song.

AULD LANG SYNE
Burns/ additional lyric by Cori Connors/ Seven Roses Music, ASCAP

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And Auld lang Syne

CHORUS:

For Auld Lang Syne, my Joe
For Auld Lang Syne
We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet
For Auld Lang Syne

S’ when the heather’s on the bloom
And through the winter pine
We’ll bind the hope of seasons yet
With Auld Lang Syne

CHORUS

And would you raise a hand my friend
I’ll pray you will take mine
And we’ll rally round the year that’s past
And Auld Lang Syne

CHORUS

We’ll gather up our old mistakes
And leave them all behind
Good Will To Men be sung again
For Auld Lang Syne

CHORUS

In London, at midnight on New Year’s Eve, Scottish residents gather outside St. Paul’s Church form a huge circle around the cathedral. Regardless of class or social status, they link arms and sing Auld Lang Syne when the great church bell strikes twelve.

Auld Lang Syne was originally sung at the end of any gathering, such as a dinner party or a dance, as guests bid each other farewell. Those who sang the song formed a circle, each person crossing their arms at the chest and holding hands with the person next to them. At the end of the song, everyone ran to the middle of the circle still holding the hands of his or her neighbor before reforming the circle, at which time they all turned under the arms facing outwards and still holding hands.




YUP, I HAD ONE OF THOSE

When we moved to Utah from Southwestern Pennsylvania, I decided to make a go at selling antiques. My brother, John, was an antiques dealer in Boise, and he made regular trips back east to gather the goods. So when we knew we would be moving west I called and asked him what furniture people in the west preferred.

“Well,” he thought for a minute, “people with refined taste and money tend to go for walnut and mahogany, older pieces, with integrity. But they are pricey, and I’d hate for you to tie up your capital (ummmm, what capital?) in a few pieces. More people in the west like oak, for some reason, even though some purists call it the poor man’s wood. It sells for less, and more people can afford it. Truth is, Cori, you should buy what you like in case no one else wants it and you’re stuck with it”

My brother is wise.

So I bought half a moving van full of furniture and started selling in shows here in Utah. Every 6 months the Walter Larsen Antiques Show came to the Salt Palace, and I rented a space. Antiquers are a breed. Some mysterious hormone emits from all of them, and they have an instant identification with each other. I always enjoyed manning my booth, chatting with patrons, and getting to know the other sellers in the neighboring booths. Inevitably there were a few vendors who sold antique and vintage toys. One would expect them to be a playful and jolly lot, but more often they were a tad cranky and sometimes downright sour. I suppose they became that way because they heard this phrase over and over from people visiting their booths:

“Hey, I had one of those! Oh my heck, you want HOW MUCH for that?”

You have to admit, for one who has any childhood memories at all, a stroll through one of those stalls is a blast from the past.

I sold antiques for a number of years, until music took over my emotional and entrepreneurial space. Then, whenever I sold a high boy or a hall tree, I used the money to buy a piece of recording equipment, or a new guitar, or a trip to Nashville. I retained for years, however, that Garage Sale homing device that took the place of the antiques auction homing device. I have finally overcome the temptation to spend Saturday mornings at Garage Sales. David is very happy about this. The next step is to learn to let go of all those Garage Sale finds that remain stored in our basement. Poor Dave! (Happy Birthday, Dear, by the way! Maybe my gift to you should be to give something away rather than buy stuff! Hmmmm.)

When we used to travel for Dave’s work, at least once a year for continuing legal education of National Bar conventions, I spent my time at the local antiques stores. We don’t travel much any more, but when we do I still make those visits. The nostalgia is like sweet perfume, intoxicatingly beautiful and reminiscent to me, and it helps set the days of the trip apart from my typical daily life. We especially love New England, for its history and its antiquities. New England, and Williamsburg, and of course PA. I do miss those places.
YUP, I HAD ONE OF THOSE is personal in so many ways. Not only is it a semi-tribute to the me that was once an antiques dealer, it is a portable treasure trunk to my past. Readily accessible and easy to store. I did indeed have a Raggedy Ann, with which I slept until the day I was married (true confessions). The scent of Play Doh sends me to kindergarten in a flash. I still get excited to race a pair of matchbox cars across my hickory floors; and I can almost taste the paste on my tongue as we filled S&H Green Stamp books after our trips to the grocery store. Trips to that teeny S&H catalogue store were like Christmas in themselves.
And when my friends tried to convince me there was not really a Santa Clause, I begged the heavens to show me they were wrong. Heaven answered, for that year at least, and I was vindicated, because Mom and Dad could not have afforded that Chatty Cathy; not when they had so many kids; not when there was so much else we needed.

Something about Christmastime allows us to sift back through our adulthood, back through the teenage years and into the heart of childhood. Vintage toys facilitate the trip. Go ahead, visit one. Go ahead, lay down 35 bucks for that truck you had when you were a kid. If nothing else, it keeps those vintage dealers in business. Otherwise, who would keep the tangible history of our American childhoods?

My grandkids Timothy and Anna Bella are staying with us for a while, with their mommy and daddy. I thrill at the daily the hugs around my legs. My lump of an old woman heart leaps with delight when I watch Timo run down the driveway in his Mickey Mouse ears, pure hearted and full of innocence. I rue the day some bully tells him he’s childish for wearing them.

“Stay back, you fiends!” I scowl at the future peeking around the corner, lurking there in the hall outside the Kindergarten room. “Back you go, you beastly awareness! Let him be a boy. Let him hold hands with his cousin Sophie as they run out to recess! Back! Back!”

I try, unsuccessfully, to keep the future at bay. But alas, they walk into it themselves. Every one of my children did.

And so did I.

But somewhere, deep down in the space where giggles are stored, that child remains in all of us. It returns, if we let it, and we are lucky, when we see a toy that once sat brand-spanking new beside our Christmas tree.

Not everything about my childhood was sweet and pure. But so much of it was joy! No, you can’t put a price on a childhood of joy. A childhood where at least one morning a year, when the magic of a fresh snowfall put a postcard-like glitter over the landscape, there was a gift you could not get yourself. It is in some small way a token representation of the greatest gift offered to all mankind. The one we cannot purchase ourselves. The gift with the tag that says priceless.

A childhood of joy… an invisible toybox full of treasured memory…Yup, I surely had one of those!






Yup, I Had One of Those

1.) A stroll down the sidewalk, a Saturday morning
In a quaint little town at the edge of the woods
The shops were all charming, but one caught her fancy
Josephine’s Antiques & Fine Vintage Goods

Build I.) There, in the front of the window
Just like she was brand new
Hey, look at that Chatty Cathy
She said, Once I had one of those, too

CHORUS: Once I had one of those
Yup, I had one of those
When nobody else would, she’d talk to me
Just like the one that I saw on TV
That was the year Santa made me believe
Yup, I had one of those, Yup, I had one of those
2.) She could not believe it, when she started looking
How much of her childhood was worth quite a lot
Skipper and Barbie, her old ukulele
The Hi Fi her S&H Green Stamps had bought

Build II) Slinky, and Gumby and Hot Wheels
Even an old Mickey Mouse
She said, Golly, I wish I had kept mine
They could have paid for my house

CHORUS: Once I had one of those
Yup, I had one of those
Now they want as much for a Raggedy Ann
As my brother paid for his Volkswagen Van
So I’m gonna keep every treasure I can
Yup, I had one of those…

Yup, I had one of those
All of the laughter that came with the toys
The ones Santa brought to the good girls and boys
You can’t put a price on a childhood of joys
Yup, I had one of those…..Yup, I had one of those

Monday, March 29, 2010

HANNALEH

Shabbat had already begun. The Friday sun had settled into the hills outside Jerusalem, and though she wanted to run outside the city walls and up the hillside to get a better look, she knew the limitations of the mitzvah: she did not have enough steps available to her to get to the top of the hill and back. She would have to wait until tomorrow, when the Sabbath was over. So twelve-year-old Hannah repeated her prayers in her mind, drew her shawl around her shoulders, and waited.

The next night, when the sun had finally set upon the Sabbath, she ran up away from the smoke of evening fires that filled the air above Jerusalem. Up to the clear sky that swept like precious ink across the heavens. Stretching her neck and spinning around, she scanned the spanse of stars, the ones her father had taught her to know. There it was, sure and brilliant; a new star.

"Can it be?" she whispered the words aloud, her heart pounding and her breath quickened. Running down the hillside, she rehearsed what she would say.

"Rabbi! Abba! It is here. Look, in the west, up above the olive press. Look, the new star!"

Hannah was a good girl, dutiful and obedient, and never before had she given anyone cause to reprimand her. But when she tried to tell the people in her corner of the city that the sign had appeared, the one the Talmud said would signify the coming of the Messiah, they patted her head and called her a sweet little girl, prone to whimsical dreams.

"But you must go look, see what I have seen. Is it not said that a new star would appear in the sky?"

"Hannaleh," her mother stirred the coals of the fire as she spoke, "you are a good daughter, and it is right and good that you are familiar with the prophecies. But do you not think our rabbi would have heard if prophecy was fulfilled? Indeed, the priests in the temple would call us to prayer if this were so. Be still little one, the time will come soon enough. Now run and fetch some kindling.”

Still, late at night, Hannaleh rose quietly from her mat and turned her head toward the sky. Even brighter still, she knew this was the sign, and she searched the stars for direction.

The next morning Hannah raced through the town to the temple. Perhaps there was a sign from Simeon. Perhaps someone had declared something and her parents and rabbi had not yet heard. When she arrived at the temple gates she found Anna, wife of Simeon, singing outside the temple wall. Her music echoed off the stones, her arms lifted toward heaven, and though her voice was cracked with age, she believed that she had seen the King. But few believed her. They expected a man, in kingly robes and armies of able soldiers. How else would He be able to free the Jews from the rule of the Romans? Simeon, miraculously healed from his mute curse, sang with his wife. But their story was incredulous...a baby for a king? "They are burdened with the dreams of age," the townsfolk said, and they left them alone. But something stirred in Hannah when she heard their music.

Returning home with the news, her parents began to worry about her mental state. They consulted with the rabbi. They begged her to let go of this foolishness. People were starting to talk. "Must you shame us, little one? We've waited faithfully for generations, and we will continue to wait. Come, be a good girl."

And because she loved her family, and because she loved her religion, Hannaleh turned her eyes from the star and back to her feet.

Still...

Hannaleh watched.

She waited...

and she prayed.

Hannah searched in silence while she held to the laws of her parents.

Thirty years went by. One day, she heard about a righteous man who was said to be a miracle worker.. He had made a blind man see, and he had turned water to wine. Something compelled Hannaleh to take the path though the city, out to the hill. She took the hand of her little girl and walked to the hillside in Bethany where a great multitude had gathered to hear him. She listened as He taught, her little girl nestled in her lap the fresh scent of early spring grass filling her nostrils. And as she listened an old familiar feeling came over her. Old and sacred and cherished. Her heart throbbed in her chest and she pulled her child against her: she listened as he spoke.

This was the King, the keeper of the star, the Savior of Mankind. Finally, she had seen him come. With her very own eyes...she had seen Him come!

+++++++++++++++++

I have completely contrived this story, about a young girl with great faith, intelligence, and foresight. Few people believed her, because of her age and gender. But she knew. She knew something the learned ones had missed. Just like a fourteen year old boy, moldable and pure hearted, knew something learned religious men on his day did not know in 1820. It has never been incongruous for God to choose young righteous people to whom He would manifest His word.

I think of some of the Young Women I serve. Their faith is beautiful, and strong, and their wisdom is superb. I imagine, if they had been girls in the day of Christ’s coming, they would have what was needed to believe. The fact that Hannaleh decides to follow the request of her parents to keep the faith does not in any way make me think less of her. Her heart was prepared for the day when, in her adulthood, she finally met the man they called Jesus face to face. And when she met him, she knew him.

I love Hannaleh, even if she is only make believe. I like to think she represents the best in me…in all of us.

++++++++++++

It is nearly 3 am and I am falling asleep at the computer here. It’s been a very long, yet beautiful Palm Sunday. I have no idea if the above story is even readable. But I will post it because I committed to post each day. Tomorrow I will revisit and edit. Forgive me if it appears to be a little sloppy…or a lot sloppy. The spirit is willing but the flesh is oh so tired!

Cori






Hannaleh

Hannaleh’s steps are short and measured
Until the setting sun
Hannaleh reads and prays and watches
For the Messiah to come

CHORUS: Oh Hannelah, you look for the Holy One
When the prophets have waited for all of these ages
Do you think you would see him come

She's just a little girl
Yeah, she's a woman-child
What can she possibly know of the Spirit?
She says she’s seen a star
And it’s a holy sign
Says she will follow the voice of the messenger when she can hear it

Hannaleh races to the temple
Simeon starts to sing
Anna says, “Hannaleh I’ve seen the
One who will be the King.”

REPEAT CHORUS

She tries to tell her friends
But they will not believe
And the rabbi has talked to her parents
They worry for her soul
They think she’s been deceived
Would not the priest and the rabbi agree on a sacred appearance?

Hannaleh’s love for God is mighty
She loves her family, too
So Hannelah bows her head and does what
Every good daughter would do

Even so…REPEAT CHORUS

Bridge: Thirty years go by
She’s on a mountainside
To see this man who’s been healing the children
And that old feeling comes
He feeds five thousand
And she rejoices, rejoices, rejoices and falls down before him

REPEAT CHORUS

Oh Hannelah looks for the Holy One
When the prophets have waited for all of these ages
She has seen, she has seen
She has finally seen
With her very own eyes she has seen Him come.

Hannaleh, by the way, is an endearing way of saying Hannah.
“-leh” was added to the end of Hebrew names by those who loved them.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

MARY HOLDS HIM

Christmas time is a bit crazy around here. Not that it isn’t everywhere in the civilized Christian world. A good kind of crazy, mind you, but crazy nonetheless. We have the normal seasonal trappings for a good sized family; school programs and packages to mail to far away family; shopping and decorating and cookie baking: all sweetness in good proportion. But for me the Christmas season is also the busiest of professional seasons. I end up performing almost every night, except the Sabbath of course.

Like most endeavors, the unseen requirements for these things add up. If I’m hired for a 45 minute show, it takes hours to actually do it. First I have to get dressed and look like I can stand to let people see me. Then I gather and load the equipment in the car; drive to the location; unload and set up the equipment; wait for the group to finish their dinner and maybe dessert; we do all this before we get to sing. Then after the performance there is the meet and greet, which I actually love; then the breaking down of equipment (by the way, please don’t offer to wrap a musician’s cords. We have a thing about the way things roll, and how they go in so they come out the same way next time. But you sure can offer to help lug the heavy stuff…at least for me!) It’s usually very late by the time I get home. When the kids were little they were always in bed, unless they were teenagers and had a paper due. Sadly, my children have grown up having their mom gone at night at Christmas time. But they bonded with their dad and their Gram and Libby and that was a blessing for them. The other day one of my kids mentioned their love/hate relationship with Ramen noodles. Stemmed from such a time as that. Ah, me.

When I first started performing a lot at Christmas I had Merlyn to share all of it. Being a young stay-at-home mother made the job a tasty escape for me; fulfilling and invigorating. Merlyn was such a good friend, a sister-heart, and her harmonies were like good European butter…it made every note taste yummier. I can’t even remember how many years we performed together. Goodness, at least a dozen years. She knows me as well as just about anyone who is not family.

When Merlyn decided to quit singing it was very difficult for me. I quit myself that year, and grieved the loss of the music and the time spent together. I wondered if I would ever perform again. But voices I love and respect encouraged me to try it alone, so though it was not easy for me, I began. Dave of-the-good-heart made it a point to try to come with me when he could, though as City Councilman and eventually Mayor his evening time was limited. It took some serious self talk to get through the first year of performing alone. Now I’m fine with it. If I’m lucky I get Mark Robinette to join me on bass and harmonies. He is such a joyful soul and lifts my spirits whenever we work together. Besides bass, he has the gift of harmony…AND he is a professional sound man. And if I’m really, really lucky I’ll get the whole band, when Dave and Carla Eskelsen (the Eskeltones) join us. Only when the stars align and it’s time for our big Christmas concerts do I imagine the recipe of my daughter Kate being on stage with us, and perhaps the magical fingers of Michael Huff on the keyboards. When I die and get to see the little film of my life that people talk about, I know my heart will race when I see that group of people around me. I hope that movie has a soundtrack.

My Christmas album, Sleepy Little Town, did alright for me as an independent singer-songwriter. I’ve re-ordered quantities of it quite a few times, and people still buy it for Christmas gifts. It’s been long enough that people are re-ordering it because their old one wore out or scratched or one of their kids took it to college. Full blown adults order it because they listened to it when they decorated their Christmas trees as kids and now they have kids and Christmas trees of their own. How can I be so lucky? I recognize the rarity of a little self-produced project being successful enough to even pay for itself.

Fully produced album projects can get pretty costly. Dave and I have always said:

“Some people have boats, some have cabins…we have albums.”

I used to sell my CDs at Deseret Book and other outlets, but they did not sell well there, and the profits for the artist/producer were so low when they did that I decided to pull them out and just sell them from my website and the front porch. There’s a tall wooden Santa that sits in our entry hall every Christmas with a stack of CD’s in his hands. I also sell from the milk box with the peeling red paint on our front porch. Music is always available there, day or night. It makes my heart happy to be able to have that kind of good-faith commerce these days.

One day, years ago, someone asked me if I had a friends and family discount on the CD’s. I paused for a minute, then answered:

“Hmmm, I guess I do. For the general public the album is $15. But my friends and family pay $20 because they know how much is cost me.”

Of course friends and family don’t pay more, except for maybe Dave and my mom. But you catch my drift. It’s a costly venture, besides the time and energy, and it’s a substantial risk. I am grateful beyond adequate words that enough people deem it worthy of them parting with their money.

I won’t begin a new album project until the last one has pretty much paid for itself. I think that would be irresponsible of me. It also makes me step up the quality of the project so it might actually sell. It’s usually years between projects.

Three years ago I decided I wanted to attempt another Christmas project. I had a few new songs I wanted to preserve, and I wanted the experience of recording with Mark Stephenson again. He had been ill for the Pontiac Rocket project, and I missed the experience of recording with him at the sound board. And so the album One Small Boy began to take root.

January and February become moodling times for me. I call it moodling, because it’s a combination of being in the songwriter “mood” and “doodling” with my guitar and musical muses. I become rather serious about it if I know there is a project in the offing. I’ll get up in the morning and first off head to the family room with my guitar and my writing implements. The muse is usually more present in the morning. After the phone rings, or the chores of the day reel their heads up, the muse drifts away like the spirit of Christmas past.

January 2008 had me recalling the events of Christmas 2007. My mind went to Christmas Eve…and with it, my heart.

We had decided that year to spend Christmas Eve at home rather than attending the service at the First Presbyterian Church as we had for the past decade. We have loved gathering with fellow human travelers at that beautiful old church; listening to the Christmas message given by Father Tom; recounting as Pamela Atkinson read from the gospel of St Luke; hearing a beautiful soprano offer O Holy Night; and singing with all our hearts and voices the carols that we love. It was a great Christmas Eve tradition for a family of teenagers and older. But now we had little ones, who could not stay up so late as midnight, so we decided to do our Christmas Eve service here at Gummy and Gumpa’s house.

Gumpa read from the scripture as the grandkids played the sacred roles. Sophie's brand new Madame Alexander Cinderella doll was given the blessed part of baby Jesus.
Timo was Joseph

Sophie was Mary

Anna Bella was a little angel

And Parker was a rather reluctant shepherd boy.

Daddies and uncles became Wise Men

And Mommies and aunties were shepherd’s, too

Auntie Kate, in her recurring role since she was small, was the angel of the Lord, holding little Anna on her hip.

Gummy played guitar, and Libby took pictures while Gram oversaw all of it.

The small antique footstool that rests in front of our old rocker was upended and became the manger. It was simple, and pure, and spontaneous.



And so a most blessed and sacred moment unfolded as, for the first time, our littlest ones re-enacted  Chapter One of the greatest story ever told.

On a cold January morning the images presented themselves as seeds to a song, and this is the song:

MARY HOLDS HIM

Mary Holds Him
See the love light falling from her eyes around His head
Little fingers
Little hands have pulled the blanket tight and laid Him in his bed

Though she’s only four years old
She hears the story told
She knows her part
So here on this Christmas Eve
She plays like she believes
With all her heart

Tiny angel
Curly hair and a pair of paper wings. And the shepherds come.
Cousin Joseph
Kneeling sweetly, reverently he sings to his Holy Son

Though he’s only five years old
He hears the story told
He knows his part
So here on this Christmas Eve
He sings what he believes
With all his heart

Instrumental bridge

Make us wise then
And the gifts of silver and of gold underneath the tree
These are tokens
There's a greater gift within our souls. It is this we bring.

So we’ll sing in harmony
This song of family
We know our parts
Oh, here on this Christmas Eve
We read and we believe with all our hearts…..
While Mary Holds Him
See the love light falling from her eyes around His head.




Love-light is my term for the glow we see around Jesus' head in all the beautiful artwork through the ages.  I think of it as the love of his mother and his divine father which fell onto his tiny head the first time his mother laid eyes on him.  It never left him.

I don’t know how many more years we will be blessed with this sweet recipe: my mother able to be with us, and my sister; my good husband and all our children and our grandchildren; believers, every one. I know it is a sweet spot, and I preserve it however I can.

A song is as good a way as any.

Friday, March 26, 2010

LOVE ABIDES

She worked at Ruby’s Drive-Thru Cleaners, and also at the hotel in Whitehall on Route 51 that I can picture in my mind but can’t remember the name of. She was a housekeeper there, though to my 8-year-old thinking that sounded odd because that place didn’t look at all like a house and why would they give it to her to keep? All I really understood was that when she came home at night I was asleep in the bed, pushed up into the corner of the room on Old Clairton Road, and when she came in at night I could hear the coins clink on the top of the dresser when she emptied her apron of the tips she had received. That was the signal to scootch over to the wall. I slept deeper and calmer when Sue was home.

What almost-grown-up girl wants her little twerp of a sister in her private space? I wouldn’t know, because Sue was always kind and gentle and loving toward me. I don’t remember her bossing me around. I just remember thinking how tired she must be. When did she ever get to pretend, I thought? It’s true, my two oldest sisters had a different childhood than I. They grew up in the household before our mother was liberated. When they were not working they were tending us little ones while Mom worked. My father was not their father, and he did not treat them well. He really didn’t treat anyone well then. But that’s another story for another song. This is a love song.

Sue had a happy spirit. She had a laugh that jiggled in the back of her throat and I could never resist joining her. She was that much older than me that she appeared magical. I think that glow around her began the day she taught me how to blow bubble gum bubbles. It is one of the few memories I have of our house in Shelley, ID, and I must have been maybe 4 years old at the time. I remember sitting on the brown couch, both of us chewing a wad of pink gum.

“Now smash it with your tongue against the roof of your mouth. Yup, like that. Now put that flat piece on the very tip of your tongue…Good…now close your teeth…Good…and slowly push the tongue through the teeth…the gum will stretch…Yes, good job Cori! OK now, hold your mouth very still and take your tongue out so the gum stays there…make a circle out of your lips…Good! Now BLOW!”

By Golly, there was a bubble right there in front of my nose! I think it must have been such a shock to me that I remember it rather vividly. I think it was a tender mercy because it taught me early-on that if I followed the directions of someone I trusted I was likely to succeed. I trusted Sue. I still do.

Sue’s magical life took her to BYU way out in Utah. She danced with the dance team. She knew all the fun games to play, since her major was something like Recreation. One day, after we were all grown, Sue was visiting us here in Utah. My kids were probably between the ages of 6 and 12 and we still lived in the old house on Kensington. We decided on a whim to have a dance lesson, so we pushed the furniture aside on the wooden floor of the family room and turned up the stereo. She took John’s hands and moved her feet, talking as she moved, encouraging him to move his the same way. John was a natural dancer. We all took each other’s hands and followed her lead. I think the laughter of all of us is still reverberating between the walls of that house, though someone else has lived there for 16 years now.

Sue worked with computers when computers took up large buildings to store what you can put in a cell phone these days. I still call her when I have a computer question. She moved out to CA and lived with Sherry for a while, then they both got their own places. Their magic made California mystical in my eyes.

When Sue was way grown up, meaning she was older than the typical would-be-bride in her early 20’s, she fell in love with her friend Steve. I think maybe they were even in their late 30’s or 40’s. I remember it was a joyful shock to me, partly because I lived so far away I didn’t see it coming. So when she called and said she was getting married I was pretty excited for her. And I worried that whomever this Steve was he’d better be nice to her. We did not have the best track record in our family of men being nice to their wives. This of course is a gross generalization. But I do remember distinctly praying that kindness would prevail in their marriage. Sue was hard enough on herself, she didn’t need someone adding to it.

We travelled to the Bay Area for the wedding, set in a beautiful old church. It was a lovely, clear day, and both Sue and Steve looked wonderful. Nervous, excited, radiant…they were such a beautiful pair and I was so happy for her. Sue had asked me to sing for the wedding, and though I have sung at many-a wedding and know many-a love song, I felt compelled to create one.

This is that song:

Love Abides

Here in the morning light Love Abides
And we are warmed in its embrace
I hold your hand in mine and search your eyes
And make this promise face to face
Here in the company of angels
My soul is whispering your name
I hear you offer me your heart, Love
And I am offering the same

CHORUS: So blow ye ocean winds
My love is at my side
Mother Earth may quake
But cannot shake where Love abides
In spite of all the world
The spirit will survive
And through it all, I know
That Love Abides

Like rivers flow down from the mountains
And find their way out to the sea
We come together at this moment
When I am you and you are me
Through the years that lie before us
There will be changes in the tides
But love is patient, Dear
Love is kind
And through the changes Love Abides

REPEAT CHORUS


Actually, I believe I originally wrote: “Here in the firelight” because the old chapel where they were married had a fireplace that could flicker light against their faces as they made their promises.

When I recorded this song though, it was for my daughter Sarah’s wedding. There was no fireplace in the place where she was married, though there was love-glow. I made a small 5 song CD for Sarah’s wedding. Just a simple guitar-vocal of love songs that meant something to Sarah. We gave the disc to guests that came to the wedding, though the replicator was late getting them to us and we had to mail them to everyone. I entitled the EP Love Abides, and the painting on the front of it is a watercolor of the Salt Lake Temple that Sarah painted as a wedding gift for her husband, Dave.

It’s been many years since I wrote this song, and many since I recorded it. Sue and Steve are still husband and wife. So are Sarah and Dave. These days that in itself is unusual. I am more conscious, especially since Dave has been a judge, how fragile relationships can be. How fragile people can be, and how fragile love. And yet love is also strong as steel. While it may not always be sweetly romantic and all heart-throbby, it is still dependably bonding if we let it be. When I wrote the song there had been an earthquake somewhere, a pretty devastating one, and likely a wave-thrust reaction like the recent tsunami’s. I remember being shaken by it, being worried about our situation as human beings in an unsure world. But I remembered, also, the firm grip of the man I love when I knelt across from him at our own wedding. I was sure of his strong hand; sure of what he meant; and sure I loved him. Those feeling ebb and flow for all married people. But Love abides all of it, if we let it, if we expect it to. And if we keep the grip, and ride the wave, eventually we come back to where we were on the day we made those promises.



Thursday, March 25, 2010

STAND A LITTLE TALLER

For years, I’m talking decades now, I have slung my gig bag over my shoulder and trudged up into the mountains to spend a little time with the young women of our church at Girls Camp. I have loved teenage girls as a whole, since…well, I guess since I was a teenager. I love watching them evolve from knobby kneed sixth graders to beautiful mature graduates who are on the threshold of womanhood. They are all so unique and lovely in their own ways. The thing I love about working with them in the capacity of a church leader is that we are permitted, legally and lovingly, to communicate about their relationship with their Lord. Therefore, I am allowed to enter their hearts for moments, even minutes, and sometimes hours. They give me a gift when they let me in.
When Libby was Stake Camp Director, overseeing hundreds of girls, we worked together with gusto to make a fun, uplifting and educational week for the girls. Cindy Gardner and Mary Silver and Karen Madson, among other amazing women, joined us as we planned and executed. Dave and our brother George made things even sweeter up there on the mountain. We lashed together logs and built towers, we attached empty milk jugs to lashed rafts and had races on the lake. We threw minerals in the campfire that made the flame different colors, each representing a different Young Women’s value. We cooked, and hiked, and passed off requirements. We played games and told stories and testified. Each night I pulled the guitar out of the gig bag and sang with the girls around the camp fire.
One year the theme for Girls Camp was Stand a Little Taller. It was based on the words of our prophet, Gordon B Hinckley. He encouraged all of us, especially the youth, to do a little more, to work a little harder, to be a little better.

This is the song I wrote for camp that year:

STAND A LITTLE TALLER

When I was just a kid I was going to do big, big things
You know I had big, big dreams in my head
But I’ve grown a little older and I’ve lived a bit of life
And it’s full of lots of little things instead

Little drops can fill a bucket
Little seeds are going to grow
And step by little step will get you where you want to go
There’s a man who walked among us who knows what we can be
And he wants a little more from you and me

CHORUS: You’ve got to stand a little taller
Do a little better
Show a little more of what you’re worth
And with a little bit of courage
And a little human kindness
Bring a little bit of heaven to the earth

It’s a simple thing to do, maybe give one more smile
Maybe walk one more mile with a friend
The arithmetic is crazy, ‘cause the more you give away
The more you wind up having in the end

So if it seems a little darker
You can be a little light
There’s a generation rising that can see beyond the night
And if we’re going to have the power to stand for what is true
It’ll take a little more from me and you
REPEAT CHORUS
2nd REPEAT:
We’ve got to stand a little taller….

By the last night of camp the girls had learned the song and were singing it with all their hearts. When we got to the chorus, the Junior Counselors, the oldest girls at camp, stood at the words “You’ve got to stand a little taller.” The younger girls, seeing them, stood as well, and they all stretched out their arms and locked them into each other as they swayed to the tune. The music rang through the trees while I stood there, picking my guitar and weeping, my lips trying to mouth the words because my throat was too choked up. How I love those girls!
Later that summer the Stake asked us if we would sing the song for a Standards Night. Someone at that meeting knew President Hinckley personally, and before we knew it we received an invitation to go to the church headquarters in Salt Lake City and sing the song for President Hinckley himself. So on a warm autumn afternoon the Junior Counselors and a few of us grown up leaders, dressed in our Sunday best, walked into the beautiful reception area outside President Hinckley’s chambers. When our prophet entered the room all the girls rose, and he sweetly greeted us. We stood in a circle around him and sang, many girls wiping tears as we sang, all of them smiling. President Hinckley was so loving, and so gracious, and he joked and smiled and talked with us for a little while. Then he greeted every girl personally and asked us to do another song.
It was a golden moment in our memory banks.
What I wanted the girls to get from the song, and hopefully this aligns with what our beloved prophet wanted us to get, was that little by little we rise. Not in giant leaps, though that can happen occasionally. But usually our improvement comes one little word; one little thought; one little step at a time. It’s a dark time in this old world. Lots of worry, lots of tragedy, lots and lots of temptation coming from all directions. The generation rising, both young men and young women, are blessed through their faith to see beyond the night. And through their worthiness they gain the strength to withstand all that pulls against them.
I am reminded, though I am no longer a “young woman”, that I must expect just a little more of myself. I must do, and be, a little more of some things and a little less of others.
President Hinckley passed away two years ago. He was 97 years old. His wisdom remains with us through his words and his legacy of good action.

My friend Craig Clifford and his partner, Jeff Goldman, produced a tribute album called “Man of Honor: Remembering Gordon B Hinckley.” This song was included on that project. We decided to have my friends Nancy Hanson and Sam Payne sing it, and they did a great job. My son John did the guitar work, and the gifted Clive Romney played accordion and mandolin, and recorded and mixed it. We all donated our services royalties to the Perpetual Education Fund President Hinckley established.

I’ll include both my original demo of the song and the finished product in the music box below. And I’ll reiterate the challenge from the man who walked among us who knew what we could be:

Do a little bit of good today.
Work a little harder than is comfortable.
Speak a little sweeter to the people you encounter.
Be a little more still.
Whisper one more little prayer.
Then standing a little taller, feeling the confidence of our Lord within us, will simply be the result of adding up all those little things.



Wednesday, March 24, 2010

PONTIAC ROCKET

We were the lucky ones. We did not have to cook our meals over open fires. He did not walk a mile every day to gather our water or our firewood. We could read, and we had homes with wooden floors and sometimes carpeting. In the entire vast world, through all the ages, we were the lucky ones to get to be born in our time and our place. I knew this early on, and it has been a great blessing in my life to appreciate what many take for granted.
We did not always have a car when I was a kid. But we had bikes, and Ann Marie’s had a basket on the front, so if the three of us little girls (we were known as the three little girls in our family…I know, that’s a bit ironic now, don’t you think?)…anyway, if the three of us rode together to Foodland, about a mile away, we could handle getting a gallon of milk and some bread and maybe a little meat and veggies home, no problem. Lib and I could hold a grocery bag in one arm and steer with the other. A.M. got the heavy stuff in her basket. It’s a rock solid good thing for kids to feel ownership in helping out. And it’s a good thing for us to go without a car once in a while, because it makes us appreciate even old clunkers, as long as they work.
For a few years we did own a blue station wagon. We all fit in that one and we didn’t have to ask for rides to church. Church was kind of far away. Everywhere else we could walk or bike. We didn’t always have the money for gas though, so Mom taught us this very cool game of laying our heads on the seat back as she accelerated uphill. Then she’d put the car in neutral on the downhill. At the very bottom, you could sort of feel when the energy shifted; we would thrust our upper bodies forward to try to get us a little mileage under the wheels before we had to use the gas again. We pumped our weight forward until the car almost stopped, then she’d put the transmission in drive and let the pistons do the work. Sometimes, if we were extra lucky, the trick got us to the top of the hill and we could coast down the next one too. Great memories!
I have many wonderful memories of riding in that car. In the summer, after school was out, Mom scrubbed and organized and caught up on laundry. She laid out our matching summer outfits, a stack on each of our beds. We usually got new underwear and a new shorts outfit for the “summer trip.” The summer trip was always to the same place, IDAHO! Even the name was magical to us. I loved the anticipation of the trip in the car almost as much as the vacation itself. This was in the day before “laws”. There were no seat belts. No speed limits. There was not cassette, or 8 track, or CD, or iPod player, just the radio. But we really never listened to the radio on our trips cuz Mom went crazy with the noise of all us kids, and besides the wind blowing through the windows was loud. The car had little triangular wing windows in the front. If you angled them just right you could get a kind of whistle that was mesmerizing. I wonder if Mom angled them to put us to sleep.
The bigger kids sat in the front and middle, with the apathetic non-expression of teenagers. But we little ones got the back to ourselves. We had two thin green mattresses that were laid in the back cargo area. The luggage that would normally go there was compressed into a big block and tied down to the metal luggage rack on top of the car. We had our silky blankets and pillows back there. Before every trip Mom took us to Daniel’s Hardware or South Hills Village and let us pick-out one modest toy for the trip. We were not allowed to open it until we were on the road. We played with our little dollies or whatever, all the way to Idaho. My sisters were the best pretenders. We would hold up our dolls for the car behind us. We’d pump our arms at the elbow to make truckers honk. We’d play “I’m going across the country and I’m going to take…” for hours and hours. The alphabet game, the license plate game, I Spy with My Little Eye…. We sang and we sang and we sang, until we got tired and laid down on our pillows. If I got to looking out the back window too much I’d end up car sick, then I had to go sit in the front, next to Mom.
“When are we going to get there?” My tummy hurt, and it was much more dull in the front seat.
“Just close your eyes and go to sleep Cori, and when you wake up your tummy will feel better.”
And so I would lay my head on my mother’s soft arm, drifting off to the soundtrack of wheels on concrete. I still doze off when I’m riding in the car. Ask Dave.
We drove through the night, for many reasons. First, we couldn’t afford a motel. Second, it was cooler at night. Third, the kids were asleep and less demanding. The only bad thing was keeping the driver awake. Mom would stop sometimes and lean her head against the window, trying to sleep. But she would get to thinking of home, and how if she kept on driving she would be to Omaha by morning. Maybe I learned that kind of thinking from her. I suppose I did. For sure I did!
I don’t ever remember stopping for meals. It was more like we stopped for gas and someone ran into a grocery store and picked up a loaf of soft white bread, a brick of cheese, and a couple fresh bell peppers. To this day I get a far away reminiscent glaze over my eyes when I eat a green pepper sandwich. And if we were lucky, when we stopped at the Little America in Cheyenne, we could get one of those 5 cent ice cream cones, or a half a bottle of pop. Full bottles were forbidden on car trips: too many rest stops. The first half of the trip we’d have Isaly’s chip chopped ham sandwiches on crisp hard rolls, with a chunk of lettuce and some salt and pepper. Our sister’s Sherry and Sue were the keepers of the grocery bag. Sherry remains the queen of sandwich making. She had a knack for proper proportions.
Finally, usually at night, we’d end up at one of the aunt’s houses. Tired and hungry, they would open their doors to us. I’d wrap my arms around her hips and she would kiss the top of my head and tell me to go get in my pj’s while she cooked up something warm like toast and a cup of soup. We bedded down on our pillows, under our familiar silky blankets, and drift off to sleep listening to the hum of our mother and her sister reconnecting.
I am blessed; so blessed. So blessed to have grown up in a time when we did not have the option of a DVD player amusing us in our travels. We had to imagine together, to cooperate, to harmonize…that’s how we passed the miles. I was blessed to have a seat in the Big Blue Pontiac Rocket, and doubly blessed to have the heart of the pilot of that rocket beat so close to mine.




Poontiac Rocket

I. We laid our clothes at the foot of our beds
She kissed us goodnight on the top of our heads
When the sunlight came she’d empty the house and she’d lock it

II. She tied a solid brick to the luggage rack
No one packed like my mom could pack
Then she loaded us into that big blue Pontiac Rocket

CHORUS: Flying down the road at the speed of light
She aimed that rocket to the heart of the western night
In the days before the cops could even clock it
Yeah she shot straight through
Yeah her aim was true
Flying in our great big blue Pontiac Rocket

III. We had a grocery bag with cheese and bread
A tank of gas, full of lead
And every dollar she owned was tucked away in her pocket

IV. She was an Idaho gal in a steel mill town
No bad marriage gonna take her down
Still her home was a magnet calling to the Pontiac Rocket

CHORUS
Bridge: Now I got car sick, and I was little
So I sat up in the front seat middle
The wind was a whistle, her arm was a pillow for my head
The nights were cool so she kept on driving
Hit Omaha when the sun was rising
She couldn’t sleep, she kept on flying instead

V. She had this weird way of thinking, I have learned it too
She’d be there tomorrow if she drove straight through
If home was the target, no doubt she’d even try to walk it
Thirty-eight hours to the Blackfoot farm
She flew like a sparrow to her sister’s arms
And the dust finally settled on the fender of the Pontiac Rocket

CHORUS: 2X
Today I had a Heart & Soul gig in SLC.  I perform a couple times a month for people in retirement homes, nursing homes, and rehab centers.  It's my favorite gig.  When I was done today, and had greeted all the residents who were there, I took my guitar over to my gig bag and started putting things away.  An ancient gentleman shuffled over and watched.  He asked, in a shaky but dignified voice:
"Did your mother encourage you to sing and to play?"
"Yes, she sure did." I responded.
"Are you going to see your mother?"
"Why, as a matter of fact I am.  She's right out there in the car with my sister."  Mom and Lib usually drive me to these gigs, they are a good reason for an outing.
"Well, " we continued, "Will you please tell her thank you for us."

Doesn't get much sweeter, does it?

THE OLD SINGER SEWING MACHINE

During the Second World War, when my mother was a young bride, she lived and worked for a while in Los Angeles. Along side other war wives, she manned the factories that were being used to keep the country going…and the war going. Imagine losing most of our male workforce today. The men were off fighting in foreign lands, and not only did they need the women to keep the wheels rolling in the most basic ways, but they also needed able hands to build the weapons of war. So the women stepped up. Rosie the Riveter was born on billboards and posts throughout the US, to encourage women to help.

During this time many of the typical comforts of American life were unavailable. There is a set of French doors hanging in our house between the study and the entry hall. The doors were hand made by David’s Grandpa Roy around 1940, for their summer cottage in Michigan. We shipped them out here to put into this house after Grandpa died. They sold the cottage and the new owners remodeled, so we asked for the doors. Grandpa was a builder; very skilled with his hands. Since he could not order glass or doors during that time, he took old glass from other places, cut it down, and created his own doors, each of them having 15 separate pieces of glass placed between wooden dividers. I love these doors because they remind me how Grandpa would not be stopped just because he couldn’t order a set of doors from the factory.

During this time the Singer Manufacturing Company suspended sewing machine production to take on government contracts for weapons manufacturing. Singer factories in the US supplied Americans with bomb sights, rifles and pistols. You could not purchase a new Singer sewing machine during the war. I understand gun collectors will now pay up to $80,000 for a Singer pistol.

When the war ended and factories went back to making their peaceable things, the woman who would be my mother returned to Idaho. Her father, George Washington Parrish, died the day after Christmas that year, 1946. With the small inheritance she received, Mom decided to purchase the first commercially made electric model sewing machine Singer offered. They had learned during the war, apparently, how to make the popular treadle machine electric, and my mom was the first in line (figuratively speaking) to get hers.

The soundtrack of my childhood has a throbbing beat running through it. Like the chug-a-chug-a-chug of a steam engine, the sound of that old Singer sewing machine aligns with my heartbeat.

Mom was a fabulous seamstress. I think she learned from Aunt Ruby, who was known county wide for her handiwork. My children have cherished baby quilts made by my Aunt Ruby. In those days one didn’t just go down to the store and buy a pattern. They made their own. Mom designed wonderful, snazzy dresses for herself, and darling outfits for her seven kids. We used to play dress up in her creations, old dresses that used to fit her in her dancing days. And on Sunday mornings I remember waking up to find three coordinating dresses lined up on the couch; one for Ann Marie, one for Libby and one for me. She had a sense for style, not gaudy or tacky. Our dresses did not match, but the fabrics and the patterns agreed sweetly with each other; like we were not the same people, but we had the same bloodline. Mom was amazing on that machine.

I was not amazing with that machine. When I had to take Home Ec in middle school, Mom made me unpick everything so many times the fabric wore away. Mom was a bit perfectionist in some domestic matters. I did not inherit that trait. By the end of the semester, when Mom realized that indeed, the nut had fallen far from the tree, she made a suggestion.

“Cori,” she said, “why don’t you just play your guitar and buy your clothes.”

So that’s what I did. And I do.

THE OLD SINGER SEWING MACHINE is the story of the fate of that machine. Here are the true details though, since I opted to use poetic license in the song.

As all her kids grew and left home, Mom continued to sell Real Estate in Pittsburgh. She was a fabulous Realtor, one of the top ten agents in Pittsburgh. Many of her former clients are now dear and cherished friends. Eventually it came down to Dave and I being the only ones left in Pittsburgh. Mom moved in with us. That’s where the invisible bond of steel was forged between mom and my kids. Johnny used to sneak up on her as she read the paper in her white upholstered rocker. He’d stand in front of her, mind you he was 2 or 3 years old, and suddenly slap the paper down and poke her belly button, giggling the words “ding dong” as he did it. They lie in bed and read stories together. Mom’s gentle hands rubbed baby Sarah’s back to calm her. She warmed her little baby feet in the palms of her hands. She was as gift to us, and the kids were a treasure to her as she tried to re-define herself. For so many years she was the single mother of some pretty crazy and dynamic kids, and when those kids left it was tough on her.

When Dave and I decided to move to Salt Lake City mom said, “Darned if I’m staying here!” so she came with us. At that point her children were scattered from Baltimore to San Francisco and many points in between. No one lived in PA.

So we loaded up the moving van with our items and what was left of hers. Among those was the old Singer Sewing Machine. The poor machine had not been used for years, since Mom first started trying to put meals on the table after Dad left us high and dry. It was only used when one of us had to take that blasted Home Ec. class.

The machine stood on four legs and looked sort of like a table when the workings were cradled down under the top. So that’s shat we used it for. An end table, only it was a little tall for an end table. It floated through various rooms in the house, eventually ending up as a TV stand.

Not long after we moved to Utah, Mom got her own place a few minutes away from us. A great condo on the golf course. One day we decided to have a Garage Sale, Mom and I. Mom put the machine up for sale. We made a promise to each other that whatever did not sell was going to go to DI. We had to make this promise because our tendency was to sit there all afternoon and look at the items and think, “Hmmm, we really could use that someday.” Then we would have defeated the purpose of the sale…to clean out our junk.

We sat all that Saturday, selling this and that, and we probably made something like $32. But, again, that was not the objective. We were CLEANING OUT! So when the sale was over Dave backed up the old red truck in mom’s driveway and started loading for the DI run. When he was almost done he stood by the old Singer machine. He looked at Mom;

“You sure you want me to take this?”

“Yup. Someone else out there needs it more than I do.”

Then Dave turned to me and asked:

“Are YOU sure you want me to take this?”

I shrugged my shoulders, my head cocked to the side.

“I guess so.”

So Dave loaded into the bed of our little old truck the back-beat of my childhood.

I knew as I watched him drive up the hill and out of sight, that I had probably made a mistake. Nevertheless, I let him go.

That next Mother’s Day I gave my mother this song. It was my attempt to keep the machine, with all its memories, with us. This song won’t bind two pieces of fabric together, but it somehow binds the people in our family. We all remember the machine. Mostly we remember our mom sitting at it, her little ones playing at her knees as she sewed. The song retains the memory, but it is much easier to store.



THE OLD SINGER SEWING MACHINE

Well the fellas from Salvation Army
Drove up to my Mamma’s today
And she opened the door to her basement
Then they hauled half my childhood away

Well I let go the lamp with the glitter
And the chair that was Naugahyde green
But I paused for a moment when they carried away
The Old Singer Sewing Machine

Mmmmm, my mamma’s electric machine
Like magic the fabric would change in her hands
To the prettiest dresses you’ve seen
On the Old Singer Sewing Machine

There were times she would sew through the evening
And well into Saturday Night
On Sunday were three little dresses
With collars of navy and white

Other times it would stand like a castle
And I was its four-year-old queen
And my subjects were Teddy and Raggedy Ann
Beneath the old sewing machine

Mmmmmm, my mamma’s electric machine
Sometimes it would roar like a long distant train
That never did run out of steam
The Old Singer Sewing Machine

Bridge: Now I’ll never buy in a store
The love she had sewn in the dresses we wore

So I like to imagine some other
Who’s struggling out there in the world
Goes into a Salvation Army
With one, two or three little girls
Now she walks past the lamp with the glitter
And the chair that is Naugahyde green
Then she pauses, she smiles, and she carries away
The Old Singer Sewing Machine

Mmmmmm, my mamma’s electric machine
Like magic the fabric would change in her hands
To the prettiest dresses you’ve seen
On the Old Singer Sewing Machine

That Old Singer Sewing Machine.

When Sarah was four years old she took tap dancing lessons in Linda Richard’s basement with a group of neighborhood girls. I found out, after she had been taking lessons for months, that I was expected to make a costume for her recital.

“Are you kidding me?” (I was not happy) I don’t sew! I never would have signed her up for this if I had known I had to sew a costume!”

What made it worse was that the costume was a Fuzzy Wuzzy Bear costume, full body with a hat and ears and all. Made out of purple furry fabric. We could hardly afford the fabric, let alone the expense of hiring someone to sew it.

My friend Debbie Isaacson was a fabulous seamstress. I sat next to her at the recital. Deb’s daughter Camber looked darling in her purple bear costume. Sarah danced next to Camber, and she looked mighty fine in her purple bear costume as well. Debbie leaned over to me as they danced:

“Who’d you get to sew Sarah’s costume?”

“I did it myself.” I answered, trying not to be too smug.

I waited just long enough… enough of a pause for the humor to bubble up in my belly. Then I leaned over to her and added:

“I glued it.”

Indeed.
I had discovered when we moved to Utah, this amazing new tool everyone was using: A hot glue gun. It works just fine on furry purple fabric. And truth be known, all four of my kids played in that costume for years to come. So the seams were a little stiff. It didn’t bother them. And, thankfully, it didn’t bother me.

There is a hidden track on the Pontiac Rocket album. It’s from a cassette tape recording Annie made when she was 4 years old. Annie was always really great at pretending on her own, so it was a joy to me to find this little tape tucked into her Fisher Price tape recorder. She was pretending to be on stage, having a play, and I was greatly honored to hear that the song she performed in her play was none other than The Old Singer Sewing Machine. I’ll put both versions of the song on the music machine below: