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Singing in spite of my audience

I sing, even though I can't. My husband says, in his kindest voice, "Sorry, Babe. But you couldn't carry the tiniest tune in the world's largest bucket." This is from the guy who believes fervently that I'm as artistic as Van Gogh when I doodle on our notepad, who thinks I'm the next Julia Child when I manage to microwave a chicken breast slathered with bottled barbecue sauce, and who wants to nominate me for poet laureate whenever I compose a limerick.

As a kid, I belted out the motley collection of ditties my mother taught me, songs I never hear any more, such as: "Can She Bake a Cherry Pie, Billy Boy?" "I'll Give to You a Paper of Pins," "At the Boarding House Where I Live," and "When Father Put the Paper on the Wall."

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I was about 8 when my Sunshine Singers choir leader gently suggested that I croon more softly. "Or you could even just move your lips, dear, and give your voice a rest." It didn't faze me. I knew my voice didn't need resting, thank you very much, and I set out to prove it by cranking up my volume. I went on singing until I hit my self-conscious teen years.

After a hushed decade, I became a mother. My little boys grinned and sang along when I performed for them. But this too quickly came to an end and I was silenced in my ever-evolving quest not to mortify my offspring. Actually, not totally silenced. I continued to carol, away from my sons. At work one day, feeling sentimental toward my friends, I was rendering (rather well, I thought) a rousing version of "Auld Lang Syne" when one of those pals stopped by my office.

"What did you say?" she asked after a few minutes.

I stopped singing. "Say? I didn't say anything."

"Terry! You're mumbling out loud to yourself - you realize that, right?"

My offers to lullaby my husband into slumberland were for naught. "It will be so soothing," I suggested.

"I couldn't survive the nightmares," he replied, hugging me and assuring me that I had other talents. Right. I know: Doodling masterpieces, concocting culinary confections, and limericking. But, deep down, I still had that songbird's urge to chirp. Sure, I could hum to myself, but that brought up the old question: If a woman sings in a forest, but no one's there to hear, does she make a sound? Answer: Maybe so, but it's not very satisfying.

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When I laid a few tunes from "South Pacific" on our dog, she growled and yipped at me, as if to say she didn't care if I washed that man right out of my hair or not, she just didn't want to hear about it.

I didn't even get through the first verse of "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme" before my next intended audience gave me a "Have some pride, willya?" glare and exited. Maybe cats just don't like Simon and Garfunkel, I told myself.

And so I was reduced to years of exuberant sing-alongs with the Top 40 when driving solo, car cantatas that sometimes brought alarmed stares from other motorists. As time passed, the music on my airwaves surged and faded, keeping beat with the times: folk and the British invasion, rock and country, heavy metal and rap, new wave and alternative. I became the lead singer for Peter, Paul, and Terry; The Little River Band; and then U2. And I performed some mighty fine duets with Cat Stevens, Carly Simon, and then Enya.

Other things in my life changed as the years rolled by: We moved to the country, took square-dance lessons, became grandparents, and morphed into gardeners.

One day, bathing my grandson transformed me momentarily into a young mother once again. Without thinking, I burst into song: "Can she bake a cherry pie, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?" And Liam grinned and splashed along to the chorus!

Hey, I'm in business again!

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