I would have become a singer if it weren’t for Dorothy. I had the looks for it, if a bit blousy, and I certainly had the pipes. Just humming to myself while I shopped at the market had a way of making everything go quiet as people stopped what they were doing to listen. My blonde hair could look faded as Mother was quick to remind me but that could be fixed with a good rinse. What I really wanted in my heart of hearts was to be a torch singer.
I wanted to be Rosemary Clooney, standing on that velvet stage in a tight black satin number, like she was in that Christmas movie. I’d switch the gloves, they didn’t work it was the color or something and made her hands look huge, like a man’s hands. It was the strangest thing. But oh her voice! It was so smooth and warm and invited you in…like she was opening the door and so very happy to see you. Nobody but nobody sang like Rosie. My voice was nothing like hers, but I think I could have that welcoming tone too, if I kept working at it. Oh, I had such dreams.
The very first record I ever owned was her song Hey There and I played it over and over. I eventually wore it out, but by then I knew every nuance. I’d lie on the floor of my bedroom, eyes closed and humming along, picturing myself on a grand stage dressed oh so elegantly. I was only 15 at the time but I was already tired of being just a kid. I wanted to be grown up and get to do everything adults get to do.
My brother’s friend Mike liked to tease me about my obsession with Rosie and that song. He’d stop by to visit my brother and poke his head in the door to my bedroom, not even knocking and scold me about playing it so much.
There’s other songs in the universe, Alice, he’d say.
Ah, go away, I’d say.
He would pretend to be hurt and slink off, shutting the door behind him. I would usually go to the record player and turn it up even louder, until Mother would pound on the ceiling of the kitchen with a broomstick to make me turn it down. Unfortunately the kitchen was right below my bedroom. She’d also pound with the broomstick to tell me it was time to come down for supper, since I couldn’t hear her yelling up the stairs.
Two years later I was 17 and I’d cut my hair shorter so it curled around my face. Long hair was for girls and I wasn’t a girl anymore or at least that’s what I thought. I’d saved up enough money to buy a few more records, much to the relief of my family, who was sick and tired of hearing HEY THERE. Quite frankly, I’m surprised my brother didn’t use it for target practice.
Mike was still coming around and he was still teasing me, but there was a different thing going on. He’d started dressing sharply and really taking care with his appearance. He’d bought his first car and we could hear it blocks away before he got to our house. There were times he actually acted shy around me which I didn’t understand. I was still me, He was still him.
One evening I was sitting on the front porch singing the refrain to the newest song I’d acquired. I couldn’t quite get the pitch right and I kept forgetting the second line, but other than that I think I sounded okay. Nobody was around so I could mess up as much as I liked. I could hear Mike’s car approaching and then he pulled into the driveway. He looked really nice, hair slicked back and freshly ironed trousers. Instead of going inside the house, he sat on the porch with me.
I stopped singing as he walked up the porch steps but he said please don’t stop on account of me. So I kept singing, a bit louder now that he was there. Miracle of miracles I remembered all the lyrics. After I finished he was quiet for a minute or two and then he asked if I would like to go to the movies with him that Friday.
Like a date, or like friends? I asked.
Like a date, silly, he said. You have to know that I am sweet on you and have been for some time.
Well, yes I think I did know, I said.
I thought you might. And I am hoping that you might be sweet on me too.
Well, yes I think I am.
We grinned at each other and he reached over and took my hand in his. And that’s how it all started, or maybe not started but sweetened up, like ripe fruit that’s been in the warm sun. We just took to each other, it was so easy and yes so sweet, although I think I am using that word too much, but it’s the perfect word. Sweet.
We married a year later and then Dorothy came along a year after that and I never did become that torch singer, although I do still sing through out my day. I like to blame it on Dorothy because you can’t be a torch singer with a little kid on your hip, but really, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
(for my mom, who loves Rosie)