This month's very short essay prompt from the Sun Magazine is "singing." I honestly thought I had nothing to write about singing, but I'm trying to really force myself to write something on whatever prompt they have, so here we have my offering. I don't think I'll mail it to them, but you, lovely readers, can see:
On road trips, everyone in my family wanted control of the radio. My mother wanted to play the Bee Gees. My dad wanted to listen to sports. I usually had some new mixtape, a combination of pop and Christian songs taped off the radio. My brother ignored us. He had a Walkman and a Green Day tape. Problem solved.
The only song the four of us ever agreed on was The Mamas and the Papas’ “California Dreaming.” And the only reason we could agree on it is we all liked singing along. The boys sang lead; girls sang harmony. That was protocol, no fussing. (Believe me, I tried to sing lead once. My mother told me to hush.)
It was perfect except for one thing: None of us could sing. Oh, my parents believed otherwise. They both sang in the church choir, and my mother confidently sang praises to the Lord as she swept and mopped the kitchen. But I know better. I have heard our individual tones ringing through the house, and the sound is not good.
My brother accepted his deep-throated croak early on. “I sound horrible,” he whispered to me after an early-childhood attempt at Christmas carols. I learned the hard way, though. For years, my mother told me nothing was more beautiful than the sound of my voice, and I believed her enough to volunteer to sing The Little Mermaid theme song at a seventh grade talent show. It was not pretty.
Still, all our dissonance came together into something totally bearable (and on a family road trip, can you ask for anything better than bearable?) when “California Dreaming” came on. All was right with the world. That is, until we got to the line about the preacher (does he like to crow? does he like the cold?). None of us knew what he was saying, so we mumbled a bit, turning our faces toward our respective windows until the next verse.
Then, full-voiced, we joined back in: “He knows I’m gonna stay. (Knows I’m going to staaaaay).” If anyone could have heard us, they would not doubt we were a family.