Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Lots of Beautiful Music, Alcoholism Stories, An Odd Rehearsal Tape, Orchids on the Radio and Testing, Testing

Today's lead feature is something of a sort that multiple readers have asked me to please share whenever I come across it. And that is: Beautiful Music Programming. I admit to being wholly and deeply mystified by this, but I'm certainly not trying to be here solely to share what I like, and, if anything, the requests for this sort of programming have been the second or third most common thing I've been asked for more of!

So when I recently found two entire tape sides full of this stuff - nearly 130 minutes of programming from a Los Angeles station some time in the early 1970's - I  knew how I was going to lead off my next post. And that's what I'm doing! 

Download: KEZM, Los Angeles, Beautiful Music Programming, Early 1970's, Side One


Download: KEZM, Los Angeles, Beautiful Music Programming, Early 1970's, Side Two



Taking a hard turn into something completely different, here's another tape I unearthed in the last month which contains an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting from November of 1957. This meeting featured the testimony of two recovering alcoholics, both of whom present their histories. Near the end of the tape, the meeting ends and the recorder was turned off. At that point, we hear a short segment of a previous meeting, which was being erased by the November meeting. 

Download: An Alcoholics Anonymous Meeting, 11-23-57



Okay, speaking of things which mystify me.... Here's a tape I obtained decades ago. I'm going to try not to overexplain this, but what I will say is that it contains singing by a few women - sometimes singing solo, often in duos and at times in trios. This appears to be a rehearsal tape, and several of the songs are from a musical production called "Israel Oh Israel". A professional presentation of that show can be found for sale here. But not all of the songs here are from this store. 

I actually sold this tape some time ago, but saved the MP3 to share here, eventually. Personally, I find the singing here, when the singers go into their upper ranges, to be aggressively hideous - shrill and ugly in tone - and moderately hideous the rest of the time (my mother would likely have begged me to turn it off) - but I do think it is... interesting, interested enough to share. So here it is. 

Download: A Female Trio Rehearses



Here's an undated piece of AM radio talk which I find sort of befuddling, and humorous in that capacity. It just seems to me that doing a radio segment on flowers - a category of objects (in this case, Orchids) which would seem to only be able to be enjoyed by the senses of smell, sight and touch - is unintentionally ridiculous. 

This comes from radio station WDLC, AM 1490, which was (and is) in Port Jervis, New York. The show is "The Pike County Hour". Port Jervis is not actually in Pike County (which is in Pennsylvania), but it borders that county. 

Download: Pike County Hour, WDLC, 1490 - Show About Orchids



And now, our "Very Short Reel" for this post. I've named this "Testing the Microphone" and I suspect that's self-explanatory. 

Download: Testing the Microphone


Thursday, May 18, 2023

Vintage R & B Radio, Some Religiosity, Savings Bonds, A Letter to Carole, A REALLY Short Reel, and The Oldest Tape I've Ever Owned

  Hello out there!!!

Let's get right to it. I have here something pretty special, I think, although I wish it was longer....


Remember Gary, Indiana? It was once a fairly flourishing working class town, just outside of Chicago, based around the steel industry. More recently, it has been named "the most miserable city in the US". But back when it was more or less thriving, Gary had a popular R & B Radio Station, WWCA, and WWCA had a popular DJ, Jesse Coopwood (although Wikipedia deems him to have been a jazz DJ).

Regardless, I have been lucky enough to come across, in my collection, two short recordings of Jesse Coopwood doing his thing. One is clearly from Fall of 1951, based on his comments about songs by Sylvia Robinson and by The Dominoes, among others, being recent or new. The other one does not have a date which is immediately apparent to me, but maybe someone else can figure it out. 

Anyway, these are precious and rare, and very much worth sharing. Enjoy!

Download: Jesse Coopwood on WWCA, Gary, Indiana, Fall, 1951


Download: Jesse Coopwood on WWCA, Gary, Indiana



Now, from roughly the same time period, in this case, from November 30, 1952, and the place is the tiny town of Clever, Missouri. Here is a recording, mostly likely made in/at a church, of a man who is saying some fairly ridiculous and quickly disproven things about the wonders of the Christian Church and specifically its supposed role in causing virtually everything that is good and forward moving in the world.  

I am a lifelong, active Christian, as you might have gathered from the piece about my mom a month ago, but I don't recognize that faith in what I hear from this guy. The number of "facts" that he spews here which are offensive and prejudicial in nature is staggering.

Download: A Man Extols the Wonders and Benefits of Christianity - Clever, Missouri, 11-30-52


The flip side of this tape contains a home recording - it's not terribly scintillating, I suppose, but it is a bit peculiar and may hold some entertainment value. It's a family, having a fairly loose discussion, while going about their day, regarding Savings Bonds, and particularly one which was bought on behalf of what sounds like a young adult son, some years back. This seems to come from roughly the same timeframe as the religious speech above. 

Download: A Savings Bond Discussion, Circa 1952



Perhaps you need a palate cleanser after that church speech up there. If so, here is a nice audio letter from a father to his daughter Carole. And I think that's all that needs to be said!

Download: Audio Letter from a Dad to His Daughter Carole



And now, a real piece of history. On its surface, this may be among the least exiting sounds I've ever shared with all of you. But on the other hand.... I think this is now the oldest piece of playable tape in my collection. 

I recently was fortunate enough to obtain six reels of Soundmirror Recording Tape, produced by the Brush Development Company. This was, I believe, the first commercially available reel to reel tape in this country, appearing not long after the introduction of the format in the US, which I also believe was from the same company. That was in 1946. All of these are paper reels, by the way.

I have not listened to all of the tapes yet, so there may well be something even older on one or more of them. But this is a recording from May of 1948, 75 years ago this month, and perhaps 18 months after the first reel to reel machines came onto the market in this country. So I felt like I ought to share its contents, even if they are more than a bit bland. 

What the tape contains is an organist at a church in Florida playing a series of hymns and other music. The tape is just over 30 minutes long and the sound starts to fade in and out during the last five minutes. But this is the sort of thing that just excites me no end - not the contents so much as its very existence in my collection. 

Download: Mrs. Gibbs Plays the Organ at the Rader Memorial Methodist Church, Little River, Florida, 5-6-48


And what does a Soundmirror tape box look like? Here is the box, front and back: 


Now, let's move even a little further into the past, to nearly 80 years ago, and our Acetate of the Month. This is a little eight inch acetate, and while the voices are quite lighthearted, I'm sure it was made and was received with considerably more emotion than is given away by those voices. That's because this is almost certainly a mother sending her birthday wishes to her son who is in the armed forces, during a time of war. 

Download:  Birthday Greetings to Ensign Richard Nash from Mother, 10-6-43, Side One


Download:  Birthday Greetings to Ensign Richard Nash from Mother, 10-6-43, Side Two



And now it's time for our Very Short Reel of the post. In fact, I have two, because the first is a ridiculously very, VERY short reel. 

Here, for your dining and dancing pleasure is everything that was recorded on a standard, Seven inch, 1800 foot reel of tape that I scanned a few weeks ago: 

Download: Hello, George


Since that was so ridiculously short, here's a more typical length "very short reel", this one being the remnants of what was probably once a longer recording. This was at the end of a tape on which was recorded some less than interesting records from the previous owner's collection. 

Download: Testing the Machine and Asking Bobby to Come Here


Sunday, April 30, 2023

Country Radio in 1965, Fake Radio in 1977, Ruthie is Cute, Mary is Not, Some Telephone Mayhem, and a Fifth Anniversary


First, I want to offer a sincere and very deep thank you for anyone who read my last post, the one about my mother's life story. It is much appreciated. I particularly want to thank those who offered comments, either in the comment section of the post, or directly to my e-mail address (something which a few of my more frequent correspondents have). Each of them is treasured and, again, very much appreciated. 

Second, I want to thank an anonymous poster who responded to a March post (before the "mom" one), with a major correction, and one that I probably could have researched if I wasn't just going by notes that I made when I was 15. It seems that my labeling of the years when I recorded the "WIND Top 1000" is wrong. And I should have realized that anyway. The commenter has pointed on that the news reports during the broadcasts labeled "1971", including one about a mine explosion, are from the third week of July, 1972. What I should have noticed is that both broadcasts features the inclusion of "American Pie", which could not have been on the list in 1971, as it didn't finish its chart run (and qualify for such a list) until 1972. So either those recordings are from two different broadcasts of the list, both in 1972, or the shorter segment is from 1973. I'm guessing the former, since there are no 1973 hits in that broadcast. But anyway, one thing for certain is that the longer segment should be labeled as being from the third week of July, 1972 and not from 1971. Oops. Thank you for the correction!

Finally, I've been asked in the past to let folks know when I have reels for sale on eBay, and right now, that is the case. I have 20 reels listed. None of these feature anything I've shared in this blog - for the most part they contain material that I was not all that interested in. The listing is here. That auction ends on 5/11/23. And if you click on "see other items", you will find that I have listed more than two dozen acetates from my collection, as well. 


I'll start today's offerings with the one (or in this case, two) that I am certain will be the most popular of all of those in this post. These two sound files contain the entirety of a reel of tape which captured some now-vintage country music radio, specifically, a show hosted by DJ Kenny Biggs, on WEEP, Pittsburgh. Based on the songs played, particularly those identified as currently on the chart or newly released, this is from some time in the fall of 1965. 

The first segment is just over an hour of his show, unedited and complete with DJ patter, station ID's, ads, etc. The flip side of the tape starts with several minutes which contain edits between the songs, but eventually, the edits stop, and a good percentage of the second side also features a lengthy unedited segment of a Kenny Biggs aircheck. 

Download: The Kenny Biggs Show, WEEP, Pittsburgh, Fall, 1965, Part One


Download: The Kenny Biggs Show, WEEP, Pittsburgh, Fall, 1965, Part Two



And now for something just barely related to the above two tracks. Here are a few kids presenting their version of a radio station just over a decade later. A sports report near the end of this segment demonstrates that this tape is from 1977, but I believe all of the "hits" featured are from 1975, for some reason. They don't really have the DJ / music mixed at the same volume level at all, but still, it's cute, particularly that sports report and an ad for an acne product.  

The tape starts with a station intro, before cutting away to a few moments of cello practice, which is interrupted by noise from the kids. The actual "radio station" stuff starts about 50 seconds in. 

Download: Some Kids and Their Fake Radio Station, WPDL, 1977



Here's another home recording, one which is even shorter than the above, (7 1/2 minutes) and which I find quite endearing. This is a child named Ruthie and her family, and they're just going doing the things one did when one's family had a tape recorder - testing the microphone, interviewing a child about her birthday and singing songs. For me, the best part is at the end, when the children present take turns singing one line apiece of a very well known commercial for Nestles' Chocolate, complete (the last two times) with one of the children becoming frustrated with another child who keeps coming in too early - "don't break in my line!" 

Download: Ruthie and Her Family - Testing the Microphone, Ruthie's Birthday, Prayers, Jingle Bells and Nestles Commercial



Okay, so nearly three years ago, I posted a woman named Mary M. Davis being ridiculous. Here's most of what I wrote at the time: 

This is a bit of virulently right wing propaganda - John Birch Society style - railing against the United Nations. I only have tape four of the series, and if I had more, I'd annoy you with those, too. A quick search shows that Mary Davison wrote multiple books on this and related subjects, and was called a "whistleblower about the United Nations" at least once.

As it turns out, I do have another tape from the series, so if you enjoy this sort of thing, you're in luck. Here it is: 

Download: Mary M Davison - The United Nations, Tape Three


On the flip side of the tape, there was a bit of bonus anti-UN blathering from Hugh A. Locke, Jr., who manages to take a truly inspiring story (assuming it's true) and turn it into a John Birch Society-esque talking point.  

Download: Hugh A Locke, Jr - 1967 Speech At New England Rally, Part Three



Ages ago, I bought several boxes of tapes all from the same location, many of which proved to contain Bell Telephone training tapes from Ohio. I've shared several of them, over the years. Here is one which is highly annoying - not as annoying as Mary M Davison, but annoying. 

There is a lot of noise on this tape, particularly a whole lot of repetitive beeping, interspersed with one sided conversations which appear to have been made to a person (or people) who were on a ship (or ships). But you can only hear one side of the conversations. There is also a whole lot of repetitive beeping. Oh, and the opening 20 seconds or so are particularly hard to listen to, and are followed by about 15 seconds of near-silence. What I've described above really starts about 35 seconds in. 

This tape is labeled "Traffic Training Tape" on the front of the box:

On the side it says, "Telephone Transmission Impairments and Sounds" (which it definitely is not - I have that tape, which was also in the collection), and on the tape itself, there is a sticker which says ""Training Tape Telephone Sounds":

After reading each of those titles for this tape, and listening to this reel, I'm still not sure what this is, or who was supposed to learn what from these 14 minutes of recordings. 

Maybe this is only going to appeal to three people (or fewer), but I do occasionally like to give a bit of the flavor of just how wide ranging the tapes in my collection can be. 

Download: Telephone Sounds - Traffic Training Tape



And finally, a very very short "Very Short Reel". Here are 39 seconds which I found at the end of an otherwise reel of bland music recorded off of records. I suspect this is what was left from a longer recording, the rest of which was erased. From just a short 71 1/2 years ago, here is a tiny fragment of a few people just having a light hearted conversation about what was apparently the fifth day of marriage for two of the people heard here. 

Download: Unknown - Our Fifth Day Wedding Anniversary, November 24, 1951


Sunday, April 16, 2023

A Post For My Mother

Sixteen months ago, I wrote a post for this site titled “A Post for My Father”, honoring what would have been his 100th birthday, back on December 7th, 2021. Today it’s time for “A Post for My Mother, as today, April 16th, 2023, would have been her 100th birthday. I hope the many of you who found the post about my father to be interesting and hopefully touching will enjoy today’s post as well. And keeping with the subject of this blog, just as with my father’s post, most of the recordings shared here will be from reel to reel tape, although some will be from cassettes, and three are from acetates.

And as I look over what I’ve written, I realize this was a harder piece to write in some ways than the piece about my father. For one thing, I’ve written about my mother multiple times before, on this site, on my song-poem site, and at WFMU; I tried to not repeat myself. For another, given the sheer amount of recording she did between her late teen years and her early 80’s, much of which I have yet to digitize, making representative choices and not overwhelming the reader/listener was also on my mind. And yet another point: mom was not shy in the least in talking about herself and her history and experiences, so I had a lot to wade through and choose from. She had a healthy ego, and I suppose some of what she said could probably have been experienced as bragging, or would be, if the stories of her musical exploits weren’t true. But they were true.

In the end, I find that I’ve written thousands and thousands of words, have added more than a dozen pictures, and shared two dozen sound clips (which vary from a few seconds to just over six minutes). About half of the sound clips are of performances of classical or otherwise more or less “serious” music. I think it’s a wonderful story, and I felt very much compelled to write it. I appreciate and will be honored by anyone who chooses to read this all the way through, but completely understand that some of you may skip through it, or skip it entirely, and come back for the next general subject post near the end of the month. But be assured, it’s a good story.

I also want to say that this is my story of mom. My siblings, relatives and her friends, some of whom may very well read this, might remember things differently. In some cases they might even say “I don’t remember it that way” or “I don’t think that’s accurate.” I recognize that, but in those cases, these are my memories and perceptions.

So… here goes:

My mother was born Mary Frances Godwin in 1923. Her parents had married in the early 1900’s, lived variously in New York City and in the Washington, D.C. area, and had already graced the world with four sons, born (I believe) in 1906, 1908, 1910 and 1916. Sadly, their second son, who had shown remarkable ability (for a young child) as a poet, would die from a brain tumor at age nine. My mother’s father left the family for his mistress for a time around the turn of the decade of the 1920’s, but he reconciled with his wife long enough for them to have a fifth child, my mother, before he left for good sometime around 1935. During those years together, my grandparents moved the family to the Chicago area, where he had a job as the spokesman for – of all things – the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the organization which was the driving force, initially at least, behind the Prohibition movement.

Here is my mother, with her mother and brothers, not long after she was born: 

Before and after my grandparents’ divorce, the family moved, repeatedly, from one rented house to another, first in the Chicago neighborhood known as Rogers Park, then in the suburb just north of Rogers Park, Evanston (where the WCTU was based). My grandparents had nicknames which were apparently used by everyone in the family. My mom’s mother was Matey and her father was Dadden.

(I will mention here that, on both sides of my mother’s family there were men who were extremely well known in the media worlds of their time, although both are both virtually forgotten today. Her maternal grandfather was Edward Easton, who was the founder and first president of Columbia Records, the forerunner of today’s Columbia Records, CBS, etc., etc. Her youngest child (who is writing this post) was given the middle name Edward in his honor. And my mother’s father? Well, he was Earl Godwin, who was a nationally known news correspondent (and, during the FDR years, a White House correspondent).

Well, anyway, Earl Godwin moved back to Washington and settled down with his former mistress, now his second wife, Queen, and was heard by his family more on the radio than in person. Oddly, however, his mother, who was known as “Mom” to everyone in the family (another nickname, and a confusing one when stories were told), continued to live with her daughter-in-law and her children (including my mother) for the remainder of her life. I only learned this last year. Until then, I had assumed that the “Mom” from my own mother’s stories was my mother’s maternal grandmother.

One key event occurred in 1932. The family moved to a big house in northern Evanston and began attending the Episcopal Church which was two blocks away, St. Matthew’s. Despite moving multiple times, further and further from Evanston, my mother continued to attend St. Matthew’s for the rest of her life, as my daughter and I still do today (she is the fifth generation of the family to attend this church). More on this later. Another key event from that house, at least as far as my mom was concerned, was that this was where she trained herself to stop sucking her thumb. She was apparently teased about it at school and in her own words, stayed up all night one night deliberately not sucking her thumb (but being unable to sleep, too), until she broke herself of the habit. She would tell this story virtually any time we drove past that big house, which was frequently as it was on the way to and from church.

Somewhere during this period (and by that I mean within her grade school and high school years, I’m really not sure of the dates) mom had two serious health scares. At some point, she contracted tuberculosis and was hospitalized. She and the other young people she was with changed each syllable of the name of their illness – “Two-Burr-You-Low-Sis” – to a related word, and started saying that they had “One-Thistle-Me-High-Brother.” A potentially even more debilitating illness struck, as well: Polio. And while most people my age or older have known someone whose body was affected permanently, and in some cases severely, by a bought with Polio, mom’s only long-term effect was that, of all things, her uvula was paralyzed, stuck in place, at about a 30 degree angle. She was very fortunate that this was the extent of its mark on her.

And now, here are two pictures I adore. Each of them would be a favorite, even if I didn’t know who the child was. I do not know her age in either picture, but I’d venture to say she’s around 12 to 14 in each. In the first, we see a remarkably cute Mary Frances, having her picture taken at Lord’s Department Store (the same store from which came the Santa visit acetate which I shared last December). She is looking in a mirror which had a camera in it, so that you could see exactly what you were going to look like when the photo was produced. 

And here is a more serious Mary Frances, perhaps younger than in the picture above. This is a picture which suggests to me what Katharine Hepburn might have looked like at the same age. In this case, she is walking out the door on the way to Girl Scout summer camp.

Early on, my mother showed exceptional talent in two areas: drawing and music. I believe if the music bug had not been so overwhelmingly strong in her, she might have gone on to be an illustrator or comic artist (her uncle Frank Godwin was successful in both of these fields, and was an inspiration to her). Here are a few of her drawings, the first, as indicated, from age 13, the other three from somewhat later.


As for music, she showed particular talent on the piano. To hear her tell it, she was considerably more advanced than most of her piano-playing peers. That is, until a fateful day (and I’m not sure how old she was) when she was part of her piano teacher’s recital program, and lost her place in a very challenging piece of music. Afterwards, horribly embarrassed, she begged her mother to be allowed to stop taking piano lessons, and her mother acquiesced. Mom often spoke about how she regretted that she wasn’t encouraged to continue taking piano lessons, and how good she could have been.

I don’t actually know much about her teen years, but I do know that her oldest niece infuriated her on at least one occasion, upon learning that Earl Godwin had remarried and that her Aunt Mary Fran (just nine years older) was very embarrassed about this. Little Penny Godwin walked up to her young aunt and said “You’re Daddy’s MARRIED,” leading to quite the fight. If I heard that story once, I heard it 40 times. Almost as many times as the thumb-sucking story.

Anyway, at some point, at least by her mid-teens, it became clear that Mary Frances had real talent as a singer, and after graduating from high school, she went off to study music at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. Along the way, she made some life-long friends, lived through the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the early years of World War II, and began her studies on the road to becoming a coloratura soprano. A local newspaper did a feature on her, about a co-ed at the school who could hear her father on the radio every evening. But she ached for home, and well before graduating, returned to Evanston and spent a few more semesters at Northwestern. Again, however, she left without finishing her degree.

The only way for a young, amateur singer to hear herself in those days was to make an acetate record. If one's family was fairly well off, you might have a home disc-cutting machine, and if not, you used a local business which allowed people to make records that they could take home. I don't actually know if mom's family had their own machine or not, but either on her own machine or in a studio (definitely the latter when she was in New York), mom made dozens of acetates between 1941 and 1952, enough that, when she compiled all of them on a reel to reel tape decades later, they filled up two hours of recording time. Her first acetate was cut the month she turned 18, but it has extreme surface noise and is a hard listen. Here she is a few months later, in June of 1941, singing Mozart's "Voi Che Sapete" from The Marriage of Figaro

Download: Mary Frances Godwin - Voi Che Sapete, June, 1941


For someone who had wanted to return home so badly a short time earlier, mom’s next move was nothing if not interesting: She moved to New York City to pursue stardom, hoping to get onto the Broadway stage. Her father by then was working for ABC news, and he got her a job in the ABC music library. And I don’t know if this was a paid job or a volunteer position, but she also sang current and recent popular songs at hospitals for wounded GIs. This also brought her into more frequent contact with her father, who had a home in New Jersey and who, as noted, worked in Washington, so he was quite a bit closer to New York City than he was to suburban Chicago. In her down time, she auditioned for role after role on Broadway, getting a bit part in a show called “The Would-Be Gentleman” starring Bobby Clark, a vaudevillian who was then nearing the end of his fame. Mom was one of a trio of girls who appeared in one scene, and also understudied the lead. While researching the R & B charts in Billboard a few years ago, I randomly stumbled across a review of the show in a January, 1946, issue, which includes her name. 

She’s also on the Internet Broadway Database.

Here she is, singing in New York, on another acetate, this time singing the Kern & Hammerstein Broadway hit, "I've Told Every Little Star," a song which remained in her repertoire for the rest of her life. On that day, she was with her cousin, Bob Button, and they engage in a bit of banter before he accompanies her on piano: 

At some point, I think mom decided a career on Broadway wasn’t in the cards, or maybe she became homesick again. For whatever reason, she came back to Illinois by 1947, if not earlier. By this time, with all of her children out of the home, her mother had moved to an apartment at the southern tip of Evanston. Mom became the student of a voice teacher who she would later describe as a “Svengali” type, who started to sort of try to run her life, and whom she would describe as trying to mold her into a fairly weirdly-styled singer, suggesting and imposing on her all sorts of odd vocal styles, techniques, etc.

She also learned that her church had hired a new organist, the fantastically named Porter Heaps, who was frequently heard on the radio station WGN, and who was the national spokesman for the Hammond Organ company. He had seen to it that a Hammond Organ had been installed at the church, and wanted to have one professional singer as a paid soloist in each of the four vocal ranges, Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Bass, so as to beef up the sound of the choir and to attract others from the parish who would like to sing with such a choir. Mom applied for the soprano soloist role and was hired, a position she would keep for over 55 years.

Around the same time, mom started chatting with a young man who was living with his father and stepmother in the adjacent building; their kitchen windows faced each other, and they would talk about what each of them was having for breakfast. This was Frank Purse, who had returned from being a Captain in the army – a fighter pilot over Europe – and who was completing an engineering degree at Northwestern. I know my mother had dated other men, but with one exception (she was once in love with a man who could not marry her), I know nothing about these others. But Frank Purse I obviously know about, and at some point along the line in 1948 or early 1949, they started dating.

Mom’s voice teacher was vehemently against her dating anyone, and particularly someone who she was so obviously becoming serious with. But in late fall, 1949, mom discovered she was pregnant, and that settled the matter. Mary Frances and Frank married two days after Christmas, 1949, in her mother’s apartment. They moved in together in one of their parents’ apartments (I don’t think I’ve ever known which one), and soon after, the relationship with that vocal instructor was over. So were mom’s dreams of a full-time classical music singing career. As she said to me a few times, at that time, a successful female opera singer either had a career or a family, not both at the same time. I don’t know if that was actually true in 1949 or not, but she believed it. And as she also said, in the back of her mind, she always knew she wanted babies more than she wanted a career. My sister was born in July of 1950.

Here is probably my mother's final acetate, made on my sister's first birthday in 1951. It's "Little Butterfly," a song based on an instrumental piece by Chopin, with lyrics written many years later by Sandoval: 

Download: Mary Fran Purse - Little Butterfly, July, 1951


Mom’s next few years are a jumble to me, given that I wasn’t there. What I know of the early and mid ‘50’s is mostly “mom” stories about my older sister and brother (he was born in 1954). They are lovely stories, and were told with great affection and nostalgia, but not really what I’m writing about here. But mom’s life was taken up with two young children, during those years, although she continued to sing professionally, in church and in the community, throughout those years and afterwards. It was during this period that she developed a relationship with her all-time favorite vocal instructor, Ruth Singletary.

In 1952, the small family had moved from…whichever parental apartment they’d been living in to a brand new co-op in the quickly expanding village of Skokie, which is just west of Evanston, a building that might have been called a “four-flat” except that they weren’t exactly apartments. Each of the four families owned their fourth of the building, and together, they co-managed the property. Sort of a tiny condo arrangement. There they lived for nine years. 

Here is a recording made in June of 1954, with the aforementioned Ruth Singletary on piano. By this time, my father had obtained the family's first reel-to-reel machine, which I've written about at length before. On this day, mom was days away from giving birth to my brother, and this recording was made in that co-op. This is one of my three or four favorite recorded performance by my mother, a deeply emotional piece called "Depuis le jour" from a French opera by Charpentier, an opera which, I am advised by a friend who is a voice teacher and masterful singer himself, is "all about sex." Listening to this aria, I can believe it. During this performance, you will hear some noises in the background - the upstairs neighbors (the two families did not particularly get along) were not happy with mom recording about 15 minutes of soprano arias, and began loudly pushing their living room furniture around, hoping she would stop: 

Download: Mary Fran Purse - Depuis le jour, June, 1954


Here is a publicity photo from that period: 

And here is the family, probably in or near 1958: 

Here is a cute family tape from not long after that picture was taken. In it, my brother and sister sing "Let the Rest of the World Go By," along with mom, who seems to start and stop singing a few times during the performance. I supposed it's nothing special, but it is sweet, and shows the love of singing she was already passing along to her children. Please note that the harmony parts are being sung by my brother, who was at most four years old at the time of this recording. 

Download: Mommy, Marcia and Billy - Let the Rest of the World Go By


And during those nine years, mom’s career flourished about as much as that of a part-time singer and full-time parent could in those days. Keep in mind that classical music was still one of the dominant genres of music sales in those days, and that the young adults in that era had been through school systems that gave many of them a fairly strong grounding in at least the 18th- and 19th- century versions of classical music. And one of the biggest cultural events in Chicago at that time, was The Chicagoland Music Festival. This festival features stars from many fields within and without the music industry, and had been headlined, over the years, by everyone from Fats Waller to Liberace. Part of the festival was a contest featuring multiple classical performers in each vocal range.

I believe that my mother entered this competition more than once. The finals were held, if you can believe it in this day and age, at Soldier Field. In 1958, mom received the medal as the second best soprano in the entire contest. This was a great honor, of course, and what’s more, each year, the top three singers in each vocal range got to be part of a recital at a large downtown auditorium! Well, no. In 1958, the rule was changed: starting that year, only the top singer in each category got to sing. This ate at my mother for the rest of her life, and she told versions of this story to everyone and anyone who would listen, literally up to her final days. The story always ended with “but I’m over it.” Not hardly.

She did get a nice write up, however, in a local paper, one which used that same publicity photo I shared above: 

At some point during the mid 1950s, mom began journaling (although I doubt she would have called it that), mostly writing down notable events in the life of her family, and in particular, cute and fun stories about her children. And around the same time, she began writing a daily diary, perhaps because her own mother had been doing the same thing for years. Mom wrote in her diary, every day (with only a few exceptions, such as in the days after her mother’s death), until she was no longer capable of doing so, creating some fifty years of entries. I’ve occasionally thought a blog featuring nothing but mom’s entries from “this day in…” might be an interesting site, but I’m probably wrong, and don’t see myself having the time for it, anyway.

Mom was also actively involved in music clubs, three of them to my knowledge, one based in Evanston, one covering the entire North Shore area of Chicago, and one known as “The Little Music Club.” These were entirely (or nearly so) made up of women who, like my mother, were trained classical musicians but were, for the most part, housewives with children at home, that being a typical role of a married, middle- or upper-middle class woman of the day. Meetings of each club took place in a different member’s home each month, with performances by three or four of the members at each meeting. I’m not sure when she joined these clubs, but her involvement in them continued into the 21st century.

Here is a recording mom made in 1960, of Mozart's "Alleluia." with her great friend Mary Catherine Collins (an uncommonly sweet, older member of her clubs, who I grew very fond of, when I was a child) on piano: 

Download: Mary Fran Purse - Alleluia, 1960


My mother and father had long wanted and expected to have three children, and two days after my brother’s sixth birthday (and three weeks before my sister’s tenth), in June of 1960, this writer entered the world. Room was made in my brother and sister’s room for a crib, and for over a year, the five of us lived in that four-room co-op “apartment”. Not long after I was born (five months, in fact), my maternal grandmother, “Matey,” died.

I mention her death because there was money earned by Matey’s father, my namesake, Edward Easton, founder of Columbia Records. And this money, which had been held for years in accounts to be passed along to his grandchildren, went to those grandchildren on Matey’s death. And so Columbia Records’ money allowed my family to have enough for a down payment on a house. At first, my parents were going to buy a lot and have a house built based on a model designed by my father, but for some reason, that plan fell through. After considering two sites in nearby suburbs, one in Glenview and one near Northbrook, they settled on a modernistic ranch house in Northfield (another, far tinier nearby suburb), a house which was remarkably similar to my dad’s model house. We moved there when I was 14 months old. My parents would spend the rest of their lives there.

Certainly, nearly all children are attached to their mothers; I was apparently more attached than most. My uncle Harry – my mom’s oldest brother – in speaking and writing to my mom, called me “your little shadow.” And I was surely an aggravation to her on a regular basis: I know that, many, many mornings, maybe even most mornings, when I woke up before her (which was usually), I would go to her room and wake her up so she would go out into our kitchen and living room with me. Even now, I can just picture myself tapping her on the shoulder until she woke up. I may have done this until I was as old as seven or eight, but perhaps I stopped earlier – I'm not sure. I can remember that often, I tried to will myself not to do it, but in the end, going to get her anyway. I cannot imaging how irritating that got. 

 As had happened with my siblings, mom immediately and nearly constantly passed down to me her love of music; how could it be otherwise? The home was filled with classical music, folk music, humorous music and (mom made sure) lots and lots and lots of kids’ records. I still have that collection, which clearly indicates that purchases of children’s music were made, and kept being made, from the time my sister was an infant. There are Little Golden Records from the early 1950s, 45s on children’s labels from throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, and children’s albums galore, from Ray Heatherton (The Merry Mailman) to Pete Seeger’s Children’s Concert to records based on Hanna-Barbera cartoons, and nearly everything possible in between. The Limeliters’ “Through Children’s Eyes”, which was bought for me, remains one of my three favorite albums ever released. When the “Ballads for the Age of Science” LP series was released, around the time I was born, mom snapped up all six of them. My brother and I had a little record player with a needle which was probably made of granite, given the way it tore up records, and we played our favorites to death. If a favorite got broken, mom would, if possible, find a replacement copy of the same record.

In addition, live music filled our house. Mom rehearsed all the time, with visiting accompanists, accompanying herself or a cappella. Her music clubs met periodically at our home. At other times, she might simply break into song when something reminded her of a particular lyric. Just as likely would be for mom to sing a short song of improvised lyrics to an existing tune, based on something she heard, saw or said. Any given day, it was far more likely than not that singing would be heard in our home. And like mom, I have always been one to improvise songs about what I’m doing, what someone said or about something I saw, as I believe my siblings do, as well.

I don’t know how this came about, but in 1963, mom got a chance to do a recital after all, five years after losing that chance in the music festival. I was too young to attend, but was quite aware, after the fact, that this had been a big deal; a full concert of material, in a downtown auditorium. Sadly, her beloved voice instructor and accompanist, Ruth, suffering from cancer, was too ill to play for her that day.

Here's a song which was very likely part of that recital, Sempre Libera, from Verdi's La Traviata. It's heard here in a rehearsal from 1963, with Ruth on piano.

Download: Mary Fran Purse - Sempre Libera, 1963


Here's a family tape I treasure just about as much as anything I own. This is my mother and me, reading a book that I loved, called I Can’t, Said the Ant, when I was a little more than 3 ½ years old. The book is told entirely in rhyme, with each line rhyming with something which might be found in a kitchen – with a picture of the object in the text, rather than the word. As you’ll hear, it was my job, in this recording, to name every rhymed kitchen object. Now, my mom had lots of cutesy names for things, which had wide and varied sources. A kitchen timer was a “timer pink,” pink being her approximation of the noise it made when time was up. And so, at the moment when the book showed a clock, and wanted the reader to say “clock,” I very excitedly said “timer pink,” which no doubt was already a long-standing joke for us, within this book, by the time this recording was made. At the end, mom sings a favorite song with me, and then my sister comes in with a very excited, fun-filled announcement. I was in the midst of making a joke, answering my sister with a rhyme of the sort found in the book, when mom turned the tape recorder off.

Download: Bobby and Mary Fran Purse - I Can't Said the Ant and Little Sir Echo, 2-25-64


(Earlier that same month, my mom made perhaps my favorite entry in her daily diary. At the bottom of a typically lengthy entry for February 9th, 1964, she ended it with "Beatles on Ed Sullivan. Stupid."

As I moved into kindergarten then grade school, mom was my protector and advocate. I was a shy, awkward child, who also was showing the as-yet undiagnosed symptoms of ADHD. Mom advocated for me with a gym teacher who didn’t think I was trying hard enough – I was simply not physically adept – and worked with my first-grade teacher to identify ways that I could both get out my excess energy, and also ways to encourage me to try my best to sit still in exchange for getting to do something special – specifically, in one grade, I was allowed to review the weather page (something that fascinated me at that time) for the rest of the class, and answer questions from them about the weather in different cities that day. She ached with me when I was treated as someone to be bullied or teased, and remembered, all her life, a few adults who stepped in to help when they saw me being mistreated, including one neighbor who sort of celebrated me for being “different” when I was about seven. She also took the lead in getting me evaluated and onto medication, over the objections of my pediatrician, who was against the use of Ritalin.

Oh, and she read to me. Every night while I was in bed. Well, except Thursdays – that was for choir practice. I think Winnie-the-Pooh was my favorite, but the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books were a close second. In fact, I loved those so much I’m having trouble remembering what else she read to me. She continued to read to me until I was at least 11 years old.

Here is another of those recordings that I just love. Mom's college (and lifelong) friend Dotty Millar came to visit us from her home in Austria in early 1965, and we recorded her in performance of several classical and folk songs. At one point, mom and Dotty sang a folk song they'd been singing together since college, with Dotty on piano. At the end you can hear me suggest that we "see how that one sounds."

Download: Mary Fran Purse and Dotty Millar - Down in the Lowlands, 1965


And here's a little taste of what it was like for mom to rehearse with a young child in the room. In the first part of the segment, she tells me to listen closely to the words, as it tells a story. We fade back in as she finishes singing the song, and I make a comment which is not exactly what a singer wants to hear, with regard to having sung a song in English: 

Download: Bobby and Mary Fran Purse - Bobby's response to Mom's Rehearsal, 1966


I feel like I’m going on too much here, so I will just say that during the late 1960s and early 1970s, mom juggled the raising of three kids who were at very different stages of development and had extremely different needs, but continued to pursue her career, I think maybe at something of a slower pace. She did all this, at times, without the day-to-day support of my father, who had moved up quickly in his career, and at that point, was frequently traveling the world on business trips. Her diary entries, and particular her journals, make clear the amount of stress she sometimes felt during those years. I know that’s what many women do, and particularly what they did in those days. I certainly don’t mean to make her a hero in any way, as she had a level of family income and community supports that many poorer folks would have loved to have. But I think this role should be recognized and celebrated, with regard to anyone who has done it, and I appreciate that she pretty much sacrificed what could have been a much more substantial career in order to have and raise children.

And speaking of raising children, he's an odd, but endearing little segment I found on a cassette tape some years ago. It's from when I was ten, and apparently I was meant to listen to this tape one morning. My brother is making noise in the background. Why she did this for one particular morning, I do not know. 

Download: Mom's Morning Instructions for Bobby, Late 1970


I do feel like I’m not really giving a sense of what my mother was like. She was gregarious and loved both entertaining and being entertained (IF the entertainment was actually entertaining, that is). She loved to talk and tell stories. She was also genuinely interested in other people’s lives, and could find herself fairly fascinated by their stories, particularly those which reflected different life experiences and points of view from her own. I often heard second-hand about things she’d been told by friends and acquaintances. She was also not shy about tooting her own horn; she knew she was a marvelous singer and made no bones about it. And as her children (in adulthood) achieved various successes – some of them (not mine!) of the sort that won raves and/or drew significant positive attention – she wasn’t shy about telling people about those things, either.

Oh, and she was probably ADHD, but grew up in a time when such a term was unknown. Like me (I am ADHD through and through) she could watch a TV show, do a puzzle book and carry on a conversation at the same time. She also was known to walk in and start a conversation without a clue as to whether those in the room had already been talking (something I’ve had to teach myself not to do). She loved her family and close friends dearly and had many, many friends throughout the area. She and my dad were, for several years, the ones who hosted the neighborhood New Year’s Eve party. She imbued our home with love and support, displayed a cheerful outlook most of the time and was self-assured in most everything she did.

She had virtually no “off” switch, and at least occasionally said things that probably would have been better left as things she thought to herself. I suspect that, most of the time, she was not even aware that she’d just said something that was experienced as irritating or which someone felt put off by, in those situations, as she most likely then flitting on to whatever came next in the conversation, in her plan, or in her day.

She also had an almost inexhaustible library of things she’d say which were references to lines from movies and TV, things that had once had specific meaning to her at some point in her life (for example, if the phrase “five minutes” was heard or uttered, she would chant “Five Minutes” two or three times, in the tone and voice of the man who had gone through the dressing rooms on Broadway, while she was in that show, telling everyone it was five minutes until curtain), and words and phrases that meant something only to her (such as the aforementioned “Timer Pink” for a kitchen timer, as well as the fact that she called any cat a “kitty pons” for reasons I never understood). Anyway, I would guess that more days than not found her making obscure references, for her own amusement, inside jokes for her, and perhaps the rest of the family (even if none of them were present), a dozen or more times a day. Mom was good at entertaining herself.

She was a huge fan of the more intellectual and/or thoughtful/satiric end of comedy, and I was therefore exposed, from my earliest days, to Nichols and May, Shelley Berman, Stan Freberg, Bob and Ray, Beyond the Fringe, Tom Lehrer, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, Anna Russell, Victor Borge and the like, and she was also a huge fan of playing with the English language, meaning that I was exposed to all manner of puns, jokes using all sorts of double meanings, and the greatest comic strip of all time, “Pogo.” And all of this – except Nichols and May – I internalized whole cloth.   

On the other hand, she held certain negative feelings close. I don’t use the word taciturn, because that word suggests someone who is reserved in all dealings. But the word surely applies, in a limited sense, to her expression of negative emotions. I can only remember a handful of times in my entire life when I knew she was furious, and few more when I knew she was irritated. It just wasn’t in her makeup to explore difficult feelings, with anyone, as far as I know. The times I realized that my mom was angry – particularly those times I knew she was angry at me… well, I can count them on one hand, and I could describe each of them in detail. They were just that rare.

It wasn’t until I was an adult that I found out that there were times that my parents simply stopped speaking to each other, because one or both of them were angry – I don’t think they argued. They just stopped speaking. If mom was irritated, and if she indicated it at all, she would be much more likely to make a joke of it than be direct. One time, when I was perhaps 16, my sister-in-law, while visiting, was making some very critical comments about some specific aspect of my mom’s parenting (of me). Mom listened for a while, and then, with a laugh in her voice said, “Well... fuck you,” which was so deliberately out of character that everyone in the room cracked up, as I’m sure they knew she would.

I don’t know if what I’m describing was a product of her upbringing (she was nothing if not a reflection of her English ancestors, through and through, “stiff upper lip” and all that), or if learning to show oneself as upbeat and unfazed most of the time was something that was taught, as part of her training as a performer, training that began while she was in her mid-teens. I supposed it’s also possible that she was preternaturally hardwired to not get angry very much or very often. I actually think that description is true of me – I don’t think I become angry nearly as often as many people do – so it’s at least possible. Or perhaps it was something else entirely. I do know this: given how close-to-the-vest she was about anything but happy emotions, it’s a wonder I turned out to be a sort of heart-on-my-sleeve type, particularly in my songwriting.

Since I mentioned all of that “being a performer” training, I will also share that mom was particularly “on” when there was a camera around. Much more often than not, what might have been a candid photo turned into a turn of her head and a professional sort of smile and expression. I don’t think she could help it.

But I still think I’m missing something in trying to describe her. She was FUN. God, she was fun. She was an entertaining bundle of energy. There was often a sense about her of “what can I do next?” or “what can WE do next?” She wanted to laugh and wanted to make other people laugh. She was a natural center of attention when in a group or at a party. She was a force of nature. I don’t think this was something she cultivated or in any way consciously planned – it was just her natural way. A friend of hers gave mom a little embroidered thing attached to a refrigerator magnet which said “Joy,”, and told her it was because mom brought so much joy to her life. My friend Stu recently wrote to me: “she was game for anything and had a wonderful way of making me feel welcome any time I was at your house. Singing with her was a joy.”

(On the other hand, in the mid-1980s, after my then-future father-in-law spent time with my parents for the first time, he described her as “a powerful woman” – he did not necessarily mean it as a compliment. So there's that.)

Oh, and here’s another (hopefully funny) aside. Mom was known to everyone not as “Mary” but as “Mary Fran.” And mom made a LOT of recordings, as I’ve mentioned, first on acetates, and then a ton on reel-to-reel and even more on cassettes. And when she wanted to indicate that her singing was on a piece of recorded media (or if she otherwise was making notes about something she’d done, performance or otherwise, she wrote “MF…,” followed by whatever else she wanted to describe. Everyone in the family knew what “MF” meant, and I’m not sure she was ever aware that at some point, in the culture, “MF” became commonly used to abbreviate something considerably different. So used to seeing this, was I, that it never even occurred to me that her initials, and that obscenity, were expressed with the same two letters, until after she was gone – they were that separate in my mind that I simply never made the connection.

(Years later, when telemarketers became a constant irritation for nearly all of us, mom loved to get calls asking if “Mary” was there. Before hanging up, she would say to them that there was no one there named “Mary”, because, as far as she was concerned, there wasn’t. “Mary Fran” was there.)

By the time I was the only child in the home – the fall of 1972 – mom’s singing career had perked up again. She joined with two of her closest musical friends, who were a pianist/flutist and an alto, in a trio they called “The Opera-Tunists.” Each year, this trio devised a presentation based on the operas which Chicago’s Lyric Opera would be putting on, starting the following fall. The presentations were usually about 60-90 minutes, and focused on perhaps 3-4 of the operas which were then coming up. They would give background on the plot of each opera (when he was available, the husband of the pianist would provide story boards and narration about the interconnectedness of the characters), and sing some of the most well-known numbers from each of the operas – the intent being to give those who might be attending a performance (but who were not well versed in the minutiae of opera) a head start before they went to the Lyric.

Each year, of course, the presentation was updated, and each year, the three of them would go to many, many women’s organizations, library presentations, music clubs and the like. I have absolutely no idea if this was sanctioned (or perhaps even funded) by Lyric Opera – probably not, but it was a rewarding experience for mom. The Opera-Tunists continued to provide this preview of Lyric Opera well into the mid 1980s, even several years after the death of the original pianist (who had been the founder of the group and writer of the scripts).

Here is mom with the founder of the Opera-Tunists, Dorothy Cragg, in typical costume for their presentations: 

Those pre-teen years were very hard on me. I was about two steps up from the lowest rung on the pecking order in 7th and 8th grade, and was teased and bullied mercilessly. It took a lot for me to reveal to my mother what was happening, and how intensely sad I was – I supposed I was just about as buttoned up as she was. But I still remember the day, and the conversation in which I told her exactly what was happening. I’m not sure what she did about it, but she did something, as after this conversation, it somehow led to a meeting with me, the 7th grade teachers, mom and school administrators, etc.

The spring before I turned 13, mom and I spent my spring break in Memphis, to visit her oldest brother, Harry Godwin, who I should absolutely write about some day. He was a force of nature, even more than my mother, and was old enough (67 that year) to consider himself – and call himself – my surrogate grandfather, a role he treasured for the rest of his life. We had a grand time, and mom and I (and Harry and I) bonded even more deeply. The trip included a drive to and from Nashville to spend a day at the then-popular Opryland Theme Park. The whole trip was a wonderful balm for a kid who was living through a rather hellish 7th grade year.

As I’ve probably made overly clear, 7th and 8th grade were an awful experience for me. On the other hand, my teen years were, for the most part, more enjoyable than teen years seem to be for most people. I LOVED high school, and I was never, ever, the surly teen or the rebel or really, any of the categories that everyone associates with those years. Hell, I spent my free time at ages 14 and 15 listening to and cataloguing all of my family’s 130 or so home-recorded reel-to-reel tapes; mom was nearby, much of the time, to tell me the names of the many, many classical pieces she was heard singing on those tapes. My parents and I traveled by car to Yellowstone the year I was 14, and I could not have been happier. I don’t mean to say that there weren’t down times – OH, there were, achingly painful weeks and months, almost entirely related to rejection by one girl after another that I liked or loved – or that I didn’t get away with things that my parents didn’t know about – I certainly did. But I had very few conflicts with them, all of which were with my father, not my mother. Mom and I understood each other, I think, and we were close. I’m not sure I ever yelled at her.

By the time I was a teen, and a budding musician myself, my mom’s ongoing presentation of classical music – on records, on radio and from her voice – which was mostly operatic and lieder, rather than orchestral/instrumental, had made me something of an opera fan (although I would never say it was, at any point, anywhere near my favorite genre). I was particularly fond of getting the score from a work out of the library, along with a boxed album set of the same work, and listening while reading the score. Somewhere along the line – early teens at the latest – I discovered Richard Wagner via this method, and I was hooked. This was not someone that mom had exposed me to – she was not particularly a fan – but his work connected with me like no other classical composer except perhaps Mozart. From that point forward, perhaps dutifully, mom took me as her “plus one”, to her season tickets to any Wagner work that Lyric Opera produced. This continued well into my adulthood – we attended three of the four “Ring” operas in the mid-1990s. I took a pass on the five hour “Gotterdammerung,” which I’m sure was a great relief to her.

Right around the same time that I discovered Wagner, mom discovered something much newer, and much more important to both of us, which bonded us further over a common love, and which made certain that my sense of humor was forever altered. It must have been 1974. Mom was listening to the legendary Chicago radio folk/comedy/etc show, “The Midnight Special,” when she heard something quite peculiar. She tried to explain it to me the next day on the way to church. There was an announcement of a presentation of “The Death of Mary, Queen of Scots,” followed by tremendous noise and lots of sounds of violence, with a pause for “I think she’s dead.” “No I’m not,” and more noise followed. When the “dramatization” ended, two ladies talked about penguins and then their radio blew up.

Luckily, “The Midnight Special” was rerun on Wednesdays, so mom taped it and found out it was a comedy group from England, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and that they had a TV show that had just started on the local public television station. We tuned in together the next Sunday night, and were absolutely captivated. We told my sister about them, and she became obsessed, learning all about the troupe and bringing us up to date on everything about them, including the records and books which were available. None of the three of us could possibly have loved the show more. I would still say it’s my favorite TV show ever, and I’m sure it was one of mom’s, too. As I said, we bonded tightly over our adoration of Monty Python, and references to it would pepper our conversations for the rest of mom’s life.

(Gotta add: my dad didn’t get the show…at all. And once, while on one of his business trips, he saw the show was on one night on his hotel TV, and decided to try an entire episode. It turned out to be “Mr. Neutron,” surely the weakest Python episode ever, and he felt confirmed in his dislike after watching it.)

As she had been for my siblings, mom was a great promoter and supporter of my musical endeavors, hounding me to practice piano and trombone, going to all of my band concerts and piano recitals, offering up great encouragement when I started to master one piece or another. I never came close to reaching the competence or excellence in ability of either of my siblings, but I did alright, and she was always there to say so. I think she also enjoyed my emerging…well, what my friend Andy would once refer to as my “impromptu” style of piano, an ability to improvise chords, settings and general backing for myself and others, while they (or I) were improvising songs or playing with words in some way. She also loved my (admittedly moderate at best) abilities at ragtime and stride-style playing – something I also loved and probably pursued because she exposed me to so much of it. She didn’t particularly like my tendency to sort of pound at the piano when I was accompanying her, but we did work up a small repertoire of her material that I could play – things that weren’t too complicated for my limited talents.

I've shared this next piece before, but it seems a natural to share it here, too. When I was 14, I fully expected that I would be a professional musician someday, so immediately upon getting to high school, I took music theory, and found myself in a class of most juniors and seniors. The final project was to create a fake product and write and record a commercial for the product, complete with two different musical settings within the ad. My product was "Fizzola Cola," and my mom and I sang the commercial, while I played piano: 

Download: Bob and Mary Fran Purse - Fizzola Cola Commercial


And from a few month later, here we are again. This time I'm fumbling through the accompaniment while mom sings another one of the art-type songs from her repertoire, a song called "A Curious Thing": 

Download: Mary Fran Purse with Bob - A Curious Thing, 7-15-75


Nearly a year later, mom's two best pals from college, the aforementioned Dotty Millar and Audrey, whose last name I do not recall, were both visiting at the same time. My dad had taught me how to play his baritone ukulele, and I had become sufficiently proficient at it for what I wanted to do. And during their visit, the four of us were together in the kitchen, and I was playing the ukulele. All four of us sort of fell into a rendition of the Stephen Foster song "Old Folks at Home," and mom quickly turned on the tape recorder to capture the moment for posterity. She labeled the tape "Swanee in the Kitchen," and it also features short renditions of "Ain't She Sweet" and "Oh, Susanna." Be sure to listen for my dad's comments from 2:55 to 3:10

Download: "Swanee in the Kitchen" - 6-3-76


At this time, The Opera-Tunists (see above) were still going strong. Here is a segment from one of the show they put together that fall. I selected this one because it features a song I have long adored, Offenbach's "Barcarolle", from The Tales of Hoffmann:

Download: The Opera-Tunists - Barcarolle - October, 1976


I graduated from high school in 1978, and did not go to college right away, and when I did, it was at a small, local school. As a result, I did not move out of my parents’ home until I got married, shortly before my 28th birthday. Essentially, between the time my sister moved out for the last time, when I was about 13, and when I moved out, there were 15 years when the family at home was me and my parents, and I was a young adult for ten of those years. When, during my later teens, I started to meet the people who would remain my closest friends for the rest of my life, they were all welcomed to our home when they visited; she made a real effort to get to know those who became frequent visitors. Even when I formed an improvisational comedic/musical duo, with one of my two closest friends, Paul, and we honed our act by recording tape after tape of our improvisations – in my bedroom (just off the kitchen) with piano and with PLENTY of (usually off-kilter) racket - sometimes also joined by my other closest friend, Stu, as well – even then, she enjoyed both of those friends mightily, and had nothing but patience for our antics.

In 1980, mom gave a recital at the prestigious estate known as Cantigny, in the western suburbs of Chicago. From that concert, here is a rendition of a song mom dearly. It's a setting of a children's poem titled "Pavane For the Nursery". There have been been other musical settings for this poem, but the one mom treasured was by a local (North Shore) composer, who was a friend of hers, named Phillip Warner. This is another song which was in mom's repertoire from the moment she heard it until she stopped singing. 

Download: Mary Fran Purse - Pavane For the Nursery - Cantigny, 11-9-80


In the early 1980s, I became enamored of the local (and now legendary) Chicago radio comedy duo, Steve Dahl and Garry Meier. I don’t know if I encouraged mom to listen, or if she simply listened to what I was hearing, and became a fan, as well, but either way, by 1983 or 1984, we were both dedicated fans. We would often share things we’d heard on the show with each other, since we each probably heard different episodes at different times. And we went to at least two of Steve and Garry’s local live shows together. (My dad, again, had no patience for this, and on multiple occasions took mom to task for what she was listening to, when he happened to hear one of the guys say something rude or over-the-top irreverent.)

In my early 20’s, as I’ve written about elsewhere, I fell headlong into American folk music, and particularly a love of the artists and music of the folk revival of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Very soon I had literally traded my electric guitar for an acoustic 12-string and acquired a banjo as well. This sat very well with mom, who had raised me on many of these artists, and on the aforementioned Midnight Special.

During that time, as I moved further into adulthood, mom and I became great pals in a lot of ways. We had a lifetime of in-jokes (as I’m sure nearly all families do), which we made reference to all the time, and we had the same little musical habits, which I’ve mentioned already. We went to operas together now and then. We even worked together, musically: mom’s biggest musical job at that time was with a troupe of children’s entertainers called “The Papai Players”. They presented simplified versions of child-friendly operas (Hansel and Gretel, for example), and I’ll venture to say she did somewhere between 100 and 200 shows with that ensemble. I was working with children by this point, and had worked up enough children’s songs on my 12-string, that she managed to get me hired as an opening act for her troupe, for several shows. Also, when my friend Paul and I decided to make some more “produced” material (as opposed to our improvisations), and we needed a high voice on harmony for a few tracks, mom stepped right in.

And also around that time that my friends and I started having musical parties – we would get together for evenings of improvised and prepared comedy and music – mom, on several of the occasions when these parties were held at our house, performed with me. More on this, later. 

Here is a picture I'll use to represent mom's work at church. She is seen here with Frank Drake, who was the bass soloist at St. Matthew's for decades. Please note that mom is deliberately holding her music upside down. That was just like her. 

As that picture indicates, all the while, she continued singing at church, in the community, at her women’s groups, and for anyone who would have her. She continued to work with a couple of different vocal coaches as she moved towards age 65 and showed no sign of slowing down. Except…In the midst of the period I’m writing about now, my dad became very ill with heart trouble and related issues, and that was the only thing that kept mom from virtually non-stop engagements, due to hospital stays, tests, appointments, support at home, etc. 

After that period of adjustment and some improvement in dad’s health, my parents greatly enjoyed his retirement, which lasted about ten years. They traveled to see relatives, went on trips through Canada, and spent countless evenings either watching television shows and movies that they loved or, in nice weather, sitting outside on the deck just talking. They had, from all appearances, an ideal last chapter together and a late-in-life relationship I hope I can mirror, with my wife, someday. Here they are, on vacation (I believe) in Canada, some time in the 1990s: 

Speaking of my wife, it was not long after my dad’s decline in health that I met Gina, who would marry me in 1988. Mom welcomed her with open arms, and Gina felt welcomed into our family. After we married and settled into our own place about 20 minutes away, we all frequently visited each other. Mom could not have loved and appreciated Gina more, even if the fact that she had "no off switch” led mom to say a few ill-considered "mother-in-law" things to Gina, over the years. About that, I will say no more.

Here's something I find sweet and cute. I've mentioned that my friend Paul and I would record improvised music and comedy. Well, one day in 1986, we were doing just that. We were in the living room of my home, which would have meant that neither of my parents were home, or were expected home; otherwise, we'd have been recording behind closed doors in my bedroom. Well, mom came home unexpectedly, while we were improvising a not-very-inspired song while I played my 12-string guitar. She tried to tiptoe past us, but I encouraged her to sing, and she did: 

Download: Mom Sings During an Improvisation Session


Okay, so I do not have a "perfect" place to insert these next three, very short sound clips, but I'll sneak them in here. They are all from the 1980s or 1990s, and each is just a momentary insight into what mom could be like at random moments. All three are from cassette tapes made while she was rehearsing - just three indications of who she could be when she didn't really think anyone would ever be listening:  

Here she is, at the end of one of her vocal lessons, greeting her vocal coach's cat with a bit of increasingly unpleasant vocalizing, and then asking how it was received: 

Download: Mary Fran Purse - Singing to a Cat


This one is nearly as short - she is rehearsing, a cappella, and is less than enthused by how she sounds: 

Download: Mary Fran Purse - Moment of Disgust While Practicing


Finally, a sort of "fly on the wall" moment, the sort of thing that recurs throughout her hundreds of rehearsal and vocal lesson tapes. In this case, she is expressing frustration with having a dry mouth, and frustration with herself for not doing things to keep herself healthier: 

Download: Mary Fran Purse - Dry Mouth from Meds - What I Need to Do


In 1990, my friends and I held yet another one of our music and comedy parties, which were always full of both prepared and improvised antics in both of those categories (sometimes at the same time) by my friends and me. Most of them were held in the house in Northfield, even after I moved out. That year, though, I had gotten it into my head that my two best friends and I, along with mom, should learn a few songs as sung by The Weavers, and try to get each of the four intricate parts right. Mom, of course, would sing the Ronnie Gilbert parts, and no one was going to sing Pete Seeger’s parts except for me. I taught all three of the others their parts, and when we put it together: magic. We sang three songs that night, and ten years later, at my 40th birthday, did one of those songs again and learned and performed a fourth one. Mom was over the moon at having been asked to take part, and she talked about how the three of us wanted to sing with her, and had invited her to sing with us, etc. etc. for the rest of her life, with as much delight as anything I ever, EVER, heard her talk about. It was one of her favorite things that she ever did. 

Here are the four of us, rehearsing for our performance as the Weavers knock-off group, "The Electric Loom Operators": 

And I think I've shared this before, somewhere, but here we are, the night of the party, performing one of those songs, "Poor Howard's Dead and Gone." (Stu and I neglected to work out how the instrumental solo passages were going to work, beforehand, leading to a bit of confusion during those sections - you can hear me thank him for taking the lead in those moments, as the performance ends): 

Download: The Electric Loom Operators - Poor Howard's Dead and Gone


Mom had always loved language, playing with language, intricate use of words, etc., and things related to language such as the wide variety of interesting names one finds in the newspaper, on TV and in meeting people from different cultures. All of this fascinated her. And throughout her life, she was also a person who was an absolute stickler for the proper use of English. One story I told at her funeral was about how she would always mention if someone used the word “nauseous” incorrectly. “One does not feel nauseous. One IS nauseous. ’Nauseous’ is the condition, ‘nauseated’ is the feeling: ‘I am nauseous. I feel nauseated’.”  My brother brought her a dictionary and showed her that the definition of “nauseous” was “nauseated.” Her response: “That Dictionary Is WRONG!” I have to admit that I am her son through and through. I’ve literally thought the same thing on occasion. Mom and I both loved James Kilpatrick’s “The Writer’s Art” column, which was hilarious, informative, prickly and pedantic all at the same time.

Here is a picture that I believe is from my parents' 40th anniversary party, in 1989: 

By the 1990’s, mom had joined a group called “SPELL.” The acronym was for “Society for the Preservation of English Language and Literature”, a group which sent postcards to newspaper writers, TV newscasters and the like, letting them know of some sort of written or spoken errors which had been made in the course of their jobs. A couple of the Chicago Tribune feature writers did pieces on her, and the “SPELL” group, after receiving a post card from her. She also gave talk to local groups about the correct use of English, and some of the most egregious errors people make. I’m sure to some of you, this makes at least this aspect of her sound insufferable, and indeed, I know I’ve rubbed people the same way from time to time by my own insistence on the use of English rules. My sister is the same way, and my brother has actually commented on how, when he sings to himself, if it is a song which has a line featuring poor grammar, he corrects the error in his little performance.

Also, as an aside, by the ‘90’s, if not sooner – can’t recall for sure – my mom had gotten in the habit of “flipping off the sky” every winter. If the weather forecast on her little kitchen TV set said there would be snow soon, she would raise her middle finger out the kitchen window (never mind that it faced east, rather than any direction a storm might come from), basically telling the snow to stay away. She seemed to think it worked more often than not. To this day, when a bad storm is forecast, my wife will say “okay, where’s your mom with her finger?”

Here is a recording of mom, in 1993, singing what is absolutely my favorite piece of classical music, "Die Forelle," by Schubert. The lyrics tell a story of the singer watching a trout get the better of a fisherman – listen for how Schubert portrays the babbling brook in his piano part – until the fisherman finally gets the better of the trout. It has the most gorgeous melody and piano part I've ever heard, or expect to hear. I could go on and on about this song, but I won't. But I will say that I tear up every single time I hear anyone sing this it, in response to its sheer gorgeousness. You will probably sense some lessening of mom's abilities here, but she was, after all, 70 years old at that time. She is accompanied by (and complimented at the end by) her dear friend Bob Reeves, who was the St. Matthew's Choir Director and Organist for twenty years. 

Download: Mary Fran Purse - Die Forelle - Fall, 1993


Mom wanted very much to have grandchildren – years later, once she had an e-mail address – it was word combining the fact that she was a grandmother with a reference to her career as a singer – Grammadiva. Her first two grandchildren came along when I was still in middle school and high school – my brother’s children – and unfortunately, they never lived less than half the country away. But she saw them as many times as possible, with visits from both generations to the other. Her second set of two grandchildren – my two kids – came about nearly two decades later, in the early 1990’s, and we never lived more than 30 minutes apart, so she and my kids got to know each other much more deeply. Mom was able to babysit, to go to events with us and/or them, and, as my children got older, to go to any performances they might be in, whether it was a play put on by four-year-olds or the piano and violin recitals that my two kids, respectively, performed in during grade school. For all four of the children, she doted on them, loved what they did, played with them, quoted their funny sayings, and talked about her experiences with them for the rest of her life.

Here she is with my two kids, probably in the spring of 1995: 

Sometime around 1995, my father confided in me that mom was becoming forgetful and was repeating herself at times. It wasn’t much of a decline in functioning, but it was a noticeable one, and he wanted me to be aware of it, both because he thought I should know, and because he didn’t want me to ask her why she was telling me something for the third time, if and when it happened. I actually didn’t notice anything of the sort for a least a few years after that. Dad died in 1996, quite unexpectedly. Mom paged me while I was at work. I knew before I called her what the news would be – there was absolutely no other circumstance under which she would have used my pager number. I returned the call, and she said “Dad didn’t wake up today.”

Mom held it together throughout all of the condolences, family and friend visits, the funeral and afterwards. But she later acknowledged that when the last of we three children left for home again, she did a lot of screaming and broke a few things. I can surely, and fully understand what led to that sort of reaction. And yet, at the same time, am completely unable to actually visualize her in that state, given how very few times I even saw her acknowledge even the slightest negative emotions.  A few months later she even acknowledged her months of sadness, saying something to the effect of “I guess that’s what depression might be like.” Believe me, even with the sort of distance that wording put between her actual feelings and her statement, it was an almost astonishing thing to hear her say.

Time went on, of course, and mom adjusted to being a widow. I’m sure having young grandchildren a half-hour away helped, as did a return to her music. She did start to talk about whether or not she wanted to live all by herself in that large, three-bedroom ranch home, or even if she had the ability to meet its upkeep in her mid-70s. As it happened, at that very moment, my sister was having extreme problems at her place of employment, in Iowa, where she had been happily (as far as I know) employed for about 25 years. People were being downsized, and there was always the feeling of another shoe ready to drop. When my sister learned mom felt overwhelmed being alone in the house, she left her job and moved back to Northfield, and she shared the home with mom for the rest of mom’s life. The two of them built up a really nice relationship, doing all manner of things together. It worked exceptionally well for both of them for the better part of a decade after our father’s death. I was, as you might imagine, very happy that my childhood home was not going to be sold just yet.

Here's a picture from somewhere during that time period, of my mother and me performing something: 

Mom was clearly in decline in those years, but it was slow, very slow. She continued singing on a regular basis until right around her 80th birthday. At that point, she announced her retirement from the church choir. She had mentored, encouraged and generally supported a few generations of younger singers while in the choir, in addition to her regular soloing and ensemble work in that ensemble (I recently learned that our current choir director, who was a newish member of the choir at the time, was considering retiring from singing around that time, and she told him that he was absolutely not going to do that – and he didn’t –  he added that he absolutely would have quit, and would have missed out on a terrifically successful and rewarding career, were it not for her insistence that he stay with it). Her retirement was celebrated with a special service and a fund-raising CD of her recordings sold to church members.

She had two reasons for retiring. First, her hearing had been declining for many years, and the then-current choir director was very soft-spoken; she said she literally could not hear what he was saying during rehearsals. But second – and I only heard this story recently – she confided in a few choir members that she no longer felt confident to perform soprano parts without missing high notes. One of them suggested that she switch to alto parts, and mom apparently reacted like that was the single biggest insult about her singing that anyone had ever suggested to her. She was a self-professed diva. Soprano divas do not deign to sing alto parts. (I’d like to mention, again, how mom sang the Ronnie Gilbert parts in our Weavers act on two occasions. Those were, of course, low alto parts, and by the third of our three songs, during our first performance, she could barely croak out the notes, because it had been so hard on her to sing in that range.)

For that 80th birthday, mom’s entire immediate family came to town. All three children and four grandchildren were there, along with her then-surviving brother and most of his family, and of course other family and many, many friends. Mom sang several songs, accompanied mostly by my brother, but also by me on one specialty, a song I’d brought to her attention several years earlier, by William Bolcom, “Lime Jello Marshmallow Cottage Cheese Surprise.” Being that it was a patter song, which required no real singing, this became the song she would perform, if she performed at all, during her final years – it did not require a great soprano voice, or even a singing voice, and I accompanied her on it in several performances between 1990 and 2005.

And here is the entire family - all of mom's children and grandchildren with her - at that 80th birthday celebration. 

And here is a performance of "Lime Jello Marshmallow Cottage Cheese Surprise." This is not from the 80th birthday party, but from a party I hosted perhaps a decade earlier. I am accompanying her. There are few bum notes from me, and she trips over the lyrics at one point, but it remains a favorite recording of mine: 

Download: Mary Fran Purse - Lime Jello Marshmallow Cottage Cheese Surprise


From that same party, here are mom and me, in another song I learned from a Weavers' album, in his case, a duet sung by Weavers members Ronnie Gilbert and Lee Hays, with me on the 12 string guitar. It's called "You Old Fool": 

Download: Mary Fran and Bob Purse - You Old Fool


By the time of her 80th birthday, we all knew that mom was starting to have some problems. She still got around well, sang from time to time, got together frequently with friends and family, but her memory was clearly getting poorer and poorer. And honestly, from that point until her death, four and a half years later, my own memory of when things happened, how they happened and in what order is sort of all blurred together. I think she was still pretty independent until somewhere between her 81st and 82nd birthdays. Eventually, she no longer drove much. If, for example, she was going to church, my sister would bring her before the service, and my kids and I would bring her back afterwards, usually taking her to lunch at Subway or somewhere similar on the way to her home, before we continued on to our place.

Eventually, she became fixated on things. Some were understandable, such as being frustrated at not getting enough sleep. Others were mysterious, such as the weeks she spent asking, incessantly, who it was that discovered that the Earth goes around the Sun. She also started telling us what certain long words were when spelled backwards. By that point, her short-term memory was pretty much non-existent. She could still take care of day-to-day tasks, such as cooking herself a meal and reading and responding to e-mail, but, for example, she would often not remember if she’d taken her pills.

Dementia is a mysterious and frustrating thing. When my younger child was in a full-body camel suit for a church Christmas pageant, mom happened to be sitting just in front of the church school director, who told her where Molly was in the play. We spent about two hours with mom after the pageant, and she told us at least ten times that she knew which animal Molly was because Pam (the teacher) had told her. So… she remembered there had been a pageant, she remember Molly was a camel, and she remembered who told her Molly was a camel. BUT… she didn’t remember that she’s already told us that story six, seven, eight, nine, ten times before.

And on Thanksgiving, one of those years, we celebrated at mom’s house, where my wife and my sister prepared virtually all of the meal. After we ate, mom got up and started preparing to clean up the kitchen and dishes. The rest of us told her that we would take care of that, and she should just relax. She acquiesced quickly, reasoning to that “after all, I made the turkey.”

It was hardest on my sister, who had previously had a wonderful seven years or so sharing her life with our mother, but now was her primary caretaker, with all that entailed. I was there during the relatively good moments; they were better than average moments, no doubt, because mom got to be with her grandchildren. I didn't see the deeply challenging times. And I wish that my brother and I had realized just how hard our sister's job was becoming. And we didn’t.

I think it was in 2006 that mom landed in the hospital with a twisted intestine (the same condition that brought on the death of Maurice Gibb and almost killed Alan Alda the following year!). Her heart doctor stated she could not survive the corrective surgery, and suggested a colostomy. My brother talked to her over and over again until she fully understood, and she agreed to it, after which she went into a rehab facility and then went home, weaker but still able to function day to day. Months later, the colostomy failed and they said they’d have to put her back together – the same surgery she was supposed to not be strong enough to survive. But she did survive it.

I’ve often wondered if she would have been moderately healthy, for longer, if she could just had the reconstructive surgery the first time, and not experienced two serious surgeries, since the process of surgery and rehab seemed to make her dementia worse each time. She went back into rehab and then back home. In retrospect, she probably shouldn’t have gone back home. I began getting repetitive e-mails reading “come see me today, love mommmmmmmmmy,” sometimes three in a day and then not again for ten days. On visits to the house in Northfield, I could sense less and less of her personality remaining, and more and more just a series of things that had to be done to get her through the day. Sometimes, during those last two or three years, she’d say “I think I’ll go die now” or “I’m going to go die now.” It became pretty clear what she wished would happen.

One bit of levity remained, indicating that one episode from mom's life still existed strongly in her memory. While she was in an ICU, at some point during her decline, I got to talking to one of the nurses who had been treating her. I mentioned in passing that my mother had been a singer. "She told me," said the nurse..."she got second place."

Sometime after that, almost certainly in early 2007, she went into the same nursing home where she’d been on rehab twice, this time for good. In fact, she eventually seemed to forget that she had a house in Northfield. When we brought her home for Easter, around the time of her 84th birthday, she had fun for a while, and even engaged in some egg-hiding with my kids, but sooner rather than later, became agitated and insisted that we take her back to her “home” at the nursing home.

My kids and I visited mom most weeks after church. Sometimes she was fairly lucid, sometimes less so. She still knew who all of us were, but during one conversation, when I mentioned something about “dad”, she looked at me and said that she was old and forgetful, apologized for asking, but wanted me to please remind her: “who is ‘dad’?” At that moment, I thought, if she can no longer remember the central person in her life story, then there was no remaining purpose for her to still hang on. Somewhere around that time we were advised that hospice care (in the same setting) was probably a better choice than continued rehab services, and that’s the direction we chose. 

On the last day of November, 2008, my kids and I visited mom, as usual, after church. She was particularly perky and upbeat that day, compared to her then-usual condition. The common room had been decorated for Christmas, and mom commented that Christmas was coming. She then broke out with a clear soprano voice that could no doubt be heard throughout the room (she was in a corner), singing the first verse of “Silent Night.” I had not heard her sing that well – that forcefully or accurately or anything – in at least a year or two. There was a bit of light applause from a few spots in the room – with her loss of hearing at that point, she would not have been able to hear those who were clapping – and we left on a very up note.

One week later, things were as different as they could be imagined. Mom was being combative and disruptive and could not be allowed in the common room. She tussled a bit with a staff member and just appeared to be very disoriented. She said something extremely rude to one of my kids – I don’t think she knew who any of us were, in that moment – and both of them turned away, crying. I’m sorry to say this would be the last time they saw her, and how I wish it had been the visit one week earlier.

I continued to visit mom in the evenings, when my job (which was an hour away and involved crisis work) allowed. I think I made it out there at three more times over the next 10 days, the last time on a Wednesday in the week before Christmas. She said “hi” to me, and that was it. I’m pretty sure she knew who I was, but she wasn’t responding beyond that. Late that night, she died.

I hope it makes sense when I say that it was long past time. I’ve gone through the unexpected death of my dad, who was a chronically ill, but fairly well-functioning parent until his final day, and the long, long goodbye to another parent, my mom, who faded away gradually over the course of years. The former was harder in the moment, but so much easier to process, in retrospect, than the latter. I know which one I’d choose for myself.

We waited to hold a service until after Christmas, and halfway into January. I asked to be the eulogist, and my speech contained briefer versions of some of the things I’ve written about here, all tied together with the statement that mom always knew who she was, knew what she wanted, had faith in herself to be able to achieve it, and usually did achieve it. She was self-assured and comfortable in her own skin in a way I think that too few of us are. I finished with the “Silent Night” story that I just mentioned. The choir, of course, had worked up a spectacular group of hymns and other pieces for the service, to bid adieu to the woman who had been the diva of the group for 55 years. I later heard from some of them that it was VERY hard to sing the next piece of music, following my eulogy, and in particular, after the “Silent Night” story. That’s as it should be, I think.

I thank my mother for an upbringing filled with love, family togetherness, interesting experiences, closeness, laughter, and so much more. Like her, I have a relentless optimism, a love for a huge variety of musical styles and genres, an inveterate drive and need to play with language and make little jokes, a tendency to sing improvised songs about whatever I happen to be doing or that I hear on TV and radio, and a passion for entertaining others. Oh, and once mom started doing something she enjoyed, whether singing or one of her hobbies (particularly writing in her diary), she never stopped. I’m exactly the same way, which is easily demonstrated by my obsessions with obscure tapes and records, as documented on my two blogs.

She was a guiding force in my life, no doubt the biggest influence on me overall, and in countless smaller ways. I can’t imagine anyone who I’d rather have had raising me, and as a friend in adulthood. I think of her every day, and often wish I could talk with her about some subject or another, or play her some song, or show her some funny show or video. Or just be together.

I’ll close with something I think my mother would have been glad to know. Some weeks after her death, I received a short note from a childhood friend, one I played with all the time in grade school, but whom I hadn’t spoken to or seen since age 14. I will add that I always got the impression that his home was not a particularly happy place. He pointedly did not include a return address –he just wanted me to know something, without resuming ongoing contact. He had seen mom’s obituary in the Chicago Tribune. He related that he’d never had any idea that she was a professional singer; he just thought she loved to sing. He said that one reason loved coming to our house was because my mother was always singing, always friendly and engaging with him and always seemed to be so happy. Nearly 35 years after he and I last saw each other, he wanted to make sure I knew how much of an impression she had made on him, and how she made him feel. And I think that says a lot about who she was.  

I hope that, if you made it this far with me, you enjoyed my story. Thank you for reading.