Tag Archives: cousins

Behind the music

Mondays seem to be shaping up as human interest blog days, so feel free to skip this if you came today for wordishness.

I’ve been making my way through the “Tell us more about . . .” requests that arose from the seven things I shared about myself upon receiving the Versatile Blogger award.

After telling my party-crasher story a few weeks ago, I had planned to tackle how I could be the child of two musicians without having any musical talent. I just couldn’t come up with a natural angle. Or an answer.

Nonetheless, if you happened to read about how I figuratively shot myself in the foot to get out of a piano lesson, you’ve had a glimpse into the obstacles I’ve encountered on the path to musicianhood.

I’ve told you before, when I was growing up, family parties involved everyone singing around the piano and children performing plays and magic acts for the adults. In retrospect, I suspect their sending us upstairs to rehearse might have been intended to let the adults complete their sentences uninterrupted.

Everyone was encouraged to sing a song. There was no “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” The kids sang Broadway tunes or popular songs of the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies.

I got out of it every time. Besides being painfully shy, I suspected from a young age that I was a terrible singer. One of the first songs I ever learned to sing was “Moon River,” but it has never been performed in front of a live audience.

I idolized the von Trapp Family, the King Family and the Partridge Family. As a member of the Russell family, I secretly wanted to be the girl standing beside the piano, doing a number the way my cousins did, and the way their children continue to do, carrying on the tradition.

In 1971, at age 12, I decided to verify my suspicion objectively. I locked myself in my room with a cassette recorder. I flipped on the radio and sang along to “Behind Blue Eyes” by The Who. I thought I sounded pretty good—until I played it back. For 40 years I’ve prayed that tape no longer exists. I’ll plead here for any family member who might have it in his or her trunk of memorabilia, to please destroy this humiliating relic.

Yesterday, we had a most wonderful afternoon with my cousin Lesley (remember Lesley?) and her family at my Godparents’ house on Maryland’s eastern shore. We ate steamed crabs and silver queen corn, became reacquainted and laughed over stories told and retold. Then we gathered around the piano.

We heard some old family favorites and the evening ended beautifully with two of Lesley’s daughters sharing their superb singing talents. The 18-year-old stunned us with two perfectly performed songs, from our generation, not hers. Then the 10-year-old sang, a cappella, in perfect pitch, “American Pie,” moving some of us to tears. “American Pie” came out in 1971, the same year as “Behind Blue Eyes.”

As I reflected on the day on our drive inland, I was struck by how the young people are keeping alive the music of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations, and I was stirred by how generously they had shared their talent with us.

I was so comfortable in my role as an audience member.



Filed under Family and Friends, Movies, Television and Radio, Music

Two cousins

When I was little, I used to like the book Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott.

Today I couldn’t tell you a thing about it. I think I liked it because I had eight cousins, five from an aunt and uncle on my mother’s side and three from an aunt and uncle on my father’s side. Eight terrific cousins.

Today’s blog entry is dedicated to Lesley, the eldest cousin on my father’s side. Today is her birthday.

Lesley is a year and a half younger than I. We spent a lot of time together when we were little, especially around the holidays. Her family moved away when we were six and seven, so we saw less of each other after that. We did end up at the same university, where our attendance overlapped for a while.

Monica and Lesley

As I remembered that her birthday was approaching, I recalled so many little things about our childhood. I was the shy one, fearful of doing anything daring or talking to anyone I didn’t know or getting dirty. Lesley was the opposite. Everyone was Lesley’s new best friend. She loved to express herself in song and expressive dance.

Once, while the kids put on a show for the adults at a holiday party, Lesley took the stage (the hearth in our family room) and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I am going to put on a magic show!” She began her first trick and then said to the audience, “Everyone, close your eyes.”

There are several stories of how Lesley’s curiosity and creativity led her to adventure. Up a ladder onto the roof when she was two. Putting Baker’s chocolate in the toaster in the middle of the night. (Haven’t we all wanted to try that?) This photo shows how Lesley’s front teeth suffered during one of her acts of daring. Oh, to have been like Lesley. Arms stretched out, Here I am, world!

My younger cousin used to look up to me. When I was allowed to wear perfume at age 14 (Love’s Fresh Lemon Body Splash, to be exact), she talked her mother into getting her a bottle of Jean Naté.

Truly, it is I who looks up to her. As grown women, Lesley’s the refined one and I’m the one talks to strangers and visits the ER after a hapless home accident.

Lesley is a gifted writer and a poet, and always has a beaming smile and an infectious laugh. She and her husband are rearing and educating five beautiful children, all of whom have their own expressions of wonder and talent.

Here’s to you, Lesley. Happy Birthday! Now go fix yourself some Baker’s chocolate.

P.S. Great outfit!


Filed under Family and Friends, Holidays, Reading