My mom passed away last year, and this is my first mother’s day without her. It’s not that I am missing her more, because of mother’s day, because I miss her every day. But I’m very conscious of her absence around this holiday.
In this past year, I’ve noticed that nothing that can bring mom to mind quicker than the right song. My mother loved music. She loved music in a way I can’t quite understand. Sure, I enjoy a good pop song, but for my mom, music spoke right to her heart. Her relationship with music was deep and personal, and it’s one of her legacies to me.
This is a story of mom through some of her favorite songs.
The Old Italians
Isn’t that a great last name? In Italian, it translates to white head.
My mother grew up in a large, Italian, Catholic family. At one point, she and her 7 siblings squeezed into a small apartment over a bar in the Italian part of town on a street named Capobianco. Yes, she lived on a street with the same name as her last name!
At night, the bar would turn up the music, and the old Italian crooners would serenade the neighborhood.
The Early Days
My mom was born in 1954, and the days of the old standards were numbered. Motown changes everything, and my mother sat in her bedroom and listened to this song over and over. It’s the first song she remembers obsessing over.
You know how the right song can set the mood? Suddenly, it not only changes how you’re feeling, but makes it more intense? In 1967, my mother remembers walking through the woods of Long Island. In 1967, there were still woods on Long Island. She was wearing a pair of brown corduroys, the light was streaming through the leaves, and she felt good to be alive.
This was the song she was hearing in her head. And for the rest of her life, this song helped her recapture that sense of everything being right in the world.
Just A Little Later
Did you know there was a time not that long ago when people hitchhiked? Seriously! It’s hard to imagine now.
Back in the day, my mom and her young sister hitched a ride to Brooklyn to see a band my mom loved. I don’t remember the name of the band, but it would have been something cool, hip, and under appreciated. Something like Leon Redbone or Ricky Lee Jones….
Women With Pipes
My mom loved women with strong voices. You know, the ones who can just belt it out? Barbara Streisand is the Queen of Women With Pipes, and the Guilty album was one of mom’s favorites. She never grew tired of it.
It turns out that she wasn’t the only one in the house who loved that album. When I was a freshman in college, I called home. My dad answered. We talked for a few minutes, and I asked to speak to mom. But he told me mom wasn’t home. And I was confused.
“Yes, she is.”
“No, she isn’t.”
“But I hear Barbara in the background. Dad, are you listening to Barbara?”
She loved the voice, but she also loved it when it came with a little bit of attitude. When this album came out, my mom would turn up her collar, strut around the house, and pretend she was one bad mama.
Women With Heart
But nothing could get my mom going like a Woman With Pipes And Heart. She swooned to Patsy Cline. I once listed to this song 28 times in a row while my mom attempted to make the perfect mix tape with our new fangled stereo that had two tape decks.
Watch out for the water works. Two notes into a Dusty Springfield song and her eyes would well up, she’d look up, and say, “Oh, Dusty.”
Watch out for the volume. She just had to listen to her favorite songs as loud as possible. The neighbors all thought her teenage daughters blasted the music, but it wasn’t us. She couldn’t help herself. She’d turn it up and exaggeratedly impersonate Whitney’s vibrato.
What can I even say about this song? Pipes. Heart. Tears. Volume. This song had it all.
If there was live music, my mom was there. She was at the Foot Lagoon for their summer concert series. If Wendy Woo was playing within driving distance, she was there. She was there for Jewel’s first concert in Boulder before anyone knew who Jewel was.
Then she’d come home, say, “Have you heard…” and play us her latest obsession.
In My Life
For years, our local oldies station would devote a few hours on Sunday to “Beatles Brunch”. She looked forward to those few hours when it was just her and the Fab Five.
When it comes to music and my mom…
There are places I remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain…
Miss You, Mom
I’ll be seeing you
In all the old familiar places
That this heart of mine embraces
All day through
Do You Have a Favorite Song
If you have a song that reminds you of a loved one, I’d love to hear it below!