A Life of SingingSeptember 20, 2016
There was a wood fire going in the basement furnace and another one that had been stoked up in the kitchen range. The floor-to-ceiling register between the downstairs kitchen and the upstairs bedroom, where my brother and I were nestling in, radiated the warmth from the fires below, as well as the music that radiated from my mother.
I could see her sitting on the kitchen stool, strumming the guitar that seemed like her instrument of escape, and singing the familiar songs that would put us to sleep.
I say “familiar,” but they were only familiar to us. A favorite was “Two Little Orphans, a Boy and a Girl.” (It brought tears to my eyes.) Then she sang “Spanish Cavalier,” (where did she learn that?) and then she would probably shift to “Yes, We Have No Bananas.” We kids played her big black record of that on our hand cranked “Victrola.”
Dad was at the store on a Saturday night like this. Those years, we stayed open until midnight. My oldest brother was likely helping him there, and my older sister was probably at the dance down at Fankhanel’s Hall, across the street from our hardware store. My mother was always strict about how late her kids stayed out, but not if there was music involved, like at a dance.
So here we were, my brother and I, being sung to sleep by a mother with an angel voice, waiting for the family to come home, keeping the home fires burning. She had no musical training. I think she picked the strings on the guitar more so than chording. But there was more to it than just the song. There was an unspoken closeness, a comforting contact, a touch of the heart, a joining of souls just 10 feet apart from upstairs to downstairs. We drifted to sleep soothed by the warmth and music.
As we grew up, my mother taught us the songs she knew so well. She not only encouraged us but set us up to sing. One of my earliest recollections, when I was about six years old, was traveling all the way from Pelican Rapids to sing at the Frazee Methodist Church at the invitation of Mrs. Iver Lee.
We moved to Vergas in 1933 and spent the years of our youth singing for confirmations, weddings, funerals, creamery days, and town hall basket socials. I can’t believe we were talented singers. We were simply the twins that looked alike, dressed alike and were available. I heard words like “cute.”
Singing at PTAs at the many rural schools was part of our agenda. I think of one out by Lake Franklin where Gerald was in charge of the program, and was also a local entertainer. My brother and I had two songs planned, but wound up with him joining us in an impromptu song, then plying his accordion, and then him whistling along with us as we sang yet another.
The lunches afterwards were always good, which made the evening worthwhile. One other night when we showed up at the Vergas School, the PTA president announced that they hadn’t had any luck finding something good for the program so they’d asked the Hanson twins to sing.