Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - June 20, 2008

Bursting into song

I can't carry a tune to save my soul, but I appreciate good music. So when I attended the Riley County High School vocal and band concert last month, I was really impressed. Youngest daughter Katie was among those in the women's chorus and the mixed chorus.

Katie has been singing since she was old enough to jabber. One night at my parent's farm, husband Art and I were awakened at 3 a.m. by a sweet little voice from the crib crooning, "Baby face, you've got the cutest little baby face . . ." Katie must have been all of 2. Her Grandma Donna had sung that song to her a few weeks before and it obviously had made an impression.

Katie's music genes must have come from that side of the family as both Donna and Art can sing well. And they put their talent to use every day - sometimes many times a day.

"I hear a phrase and right away a song comes to me," Donna said while we were riding from her home in Wisconsin to Kansas a couple of months ago. "It happened even when I was a little girl."

Art is similarly afflicted, and the 12-hour trip provided many opportunities for them to show me their stuff.

Art passed a semi-trailer and Donna was concerned about how close we were, so he burst into, "Trailer for sale or rent, room to let, 50 cents, I'm a man of means, by no means, King of the Road."

When I said I'd had trouble sleeping the night before, Art and Donna immediately sang, "I couldn't get to sleep last night, because we had that silly fight . . ."

A "God Bless America" decal on a car caused Donna to belt out the song of the same name. Her version sounded every bit as good as Kate Smith's famous rendition - pretty good for someone 98.

Upon crossing the Wapsipinicon River, Art sang, "You keep going your way. I'll keep going my way. River, stay 'way from my door."

The river song prompted Donna to relate the story about her mother singing "Down by the Old Mill Stream" to her when she was a baby.

"It was the first song I ever sang from what Mama told me," Donna said. "When I first sang it, I said 'old mill cheam' instead of old mill stream."

When we passed a field, Donna wanted to know if it was clover, so Art began "Put on Your Old Grey Bonnet."

Donna and I joined in.

"Put on your old grey bonnet, with the blue ribbons on it/And I'll hook old Dobbin to the shay/And through the fields of clover, we'll ride up to Dover/On our golden wedding day."

"That was one of Mama's favorite songs," Donna said.

There was silence for all of about three minutes until Donna asked who wrote "I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now?" Then she sang it.

Art, who has been known to make up his own lyrics, chimed in with his own verse.

"I wonder who's kissing her now," he began. "I wonder who's kissing a cow."

Donna and I laughed.

Donna reflected a bit and then said her favorite song of all time was "Stardust," particularly the Nat King Cole version. She began singing:

"And now the purple dusk of twilight time/Steals across the meadows of my heart/High up in the sky the little stars climb/Always reminding me that we're apart.

"You wander down the lane and far away/Leaving me a song that will not die/Love is now the stardust of yesterday/The music of the years gone by."

"That's my number-one song," Donna said. "Hoagy Carmichael wrote the melody. Who wrote the words? Mitchell Parish?"

And so it went throughout our long drive from Wisconsin to Kansas.

Once we got to our place, the music lessons continued. Donna wanted to know the history of "Begin the Beguine" so Art looked it up on the Internet. He discovered that Artie Shaw, Julio Iglesias, Glenn Miller and Perry Como all had versions, and that it was written by Cole Porter and introduced in 1935 in the musical "Jubilee."

I don't remember hearing it before, but, once again, Donna knew most of the lyrics:

"When they begin the beguine/It brings back the sound of music so tender/It brings back a night of tropical splendor/It brings back a memory of evergreen."

Occasionally the singing gets a bit out of hand. Art is a morning person and, at 6:30 a.m., the sight of him dancing and singing in front of the bathroom sink is almost more than I can take.

"I feel pretty, oh so pretty/I feel pretty and witty and bright/And I pity anyone who isn't me tonight.

"See the pretty girl in the mirror there. Who can that attractive girl be?"

Then he'll turn to me and grin.

And I'm unsure whether to laugh or throw water on him.

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