It began when my three big sisters headed off to school, leaving me alone on a farm with my pup and my parents. Things were suddenly quieter, less hectic.
I remember getting dressed up in my Sunday best, right down to the frilly socks and black patent leather shoes, and going to visit a local nursing home with my mother.
All my life, my heart has been drawn to the elderly. Even at that very young age, I sensed an appreciation of little kindnesses, helping to allay loneliness. And I always felt each had stories to share like no one else. Put 10 people in a room, and I would be willing to bet that the most interesting one, and the wisest, would be the oldest.
Let me entertain you
My job, at age 4, I knew, was to be quiet. Do not speak until spoken to. But, if given even the tiniest opportunity, I was going to sing, dance, pour my little heart out to the ladies in that nursing home ward, a sea of beds with no touches of happiness. That place needed some magic.
It needed, at the very least, music, something I just might be able to do. Let me entertain you! I had my own little captive audience, and they weren’t likely to throw things. They weren’t likely to applaud and ask for my next singing dates, either, but it felt nice to brighten up the dim and sorrowful place, even for two minutes or so.
I remember returning home from one of these visits with my next performance strongly on my mind. I had already performed Jesus Loves Me and Jesus Loves the Little Children, All the Children of the World. My repertoire was sadly lacking.
Practice makes perfect
At that time, we had a little record player and a small collection of 45s. By playing the few that I could find while no one else was around to bother me, I landed on a current day hit and played it over and over ’til it was tired out. I repeated the lyrics right along with Doris Day, adding my own zest, with no big sisters watching to make fun of me.
I practiced every day. I couldn’t wait for my next opportunity to entertain those sweet little old ladies who seemed to have no visitors at all.
My day finally arrived. I wore my starchiest pink dress, scratchy against my farm-play, beat-up legs, lace-trimmed socks folded down neatly against shiny shoes. I waited quietly while my mother did all the talking. I feared we would leave any moment, my practice all for nothing.
Finally, my big moment was granted when I was asked if I had any new Sunday School songs to share. I licked my lips, took a big breath and proceeded to sing what could certainly go down as the worst possible song to sing in a nursing home. Doris Day had led me astray.
“Que Sera Sera…..whatever will be, will be. The future’s not ours to see. Que sera sera!”
I remember the lyrics to this day, which started, “When I was just a little girl I asked my mother what will I be…will I be pretty, will I be rich? Here’s what she said to me….”
I tried to do my best impersonation of my hero Janet Lennon, but it slowly dawned on me that my mother didn’t look nearly as pleased as she had when I did my riff of Sunday School stuff. If she had only had a cane, she likely would have hooked me and pulled me off-stage left.
I am still waiting for my invitation for a return engagement.