Sunday, December 26, 2010

My Mother The Atonal Phone Harpy

I’ve been in Alabama for the past few days, and it’s been snowing here. SNOW, PEOPLE! IN ALABAMA! We’re in Northern Alabama, so it’s not completely unheard of, my childhood has more than a few memories of bucolic sledding down neighborhood hills with borrowed sleds, but I haven’t seen snow since 2005, and I think that was in Pittsburgh in February or something.

It started snowing on Christmas morning, and the first thing most people do when there’s a decent snow (these pictures were taken when it first started snowing) is to build snowmen in yards. It’s a knee jerk reaction. Whenever we’ve gone out in the car over the past 48 hours, we’ve slowed down to pay respects to every snowman we see. That’s what they’re there for, of course. They’re decorated with hats, scarves, twigs for arms. And carrots for noses. There’s ALWAYS a carrot for a nose.

Even my baby snowman, no more than a foot high, had a little carrot nubbin for a nose. He was supposed to have M&Ms for eyes, but they wouldn’t stay put. (It was icy snow, rather than sticky snow), and they’d fall off when we tried to put the head on, so he’s not quite fully assembled here.

People get all bent out of shape over snow here in Alabama. They even canceled local church services, for fear of slippery roads. The roads were fine to my eye, and I was thoroughly bummed to miss a good old Southern church service.

But we did make it to Christmas Eve service, so not all was lost. The church has gone under some renovations, I THINK these are the same pews I grew up in, though they appear to be canted at more of an angle than I remember. The front stage has been enlarged, the massive cross has come off the wall and is now suspended by wires over the choir section, which led to visions of something snapping and something horrible happening dancing in my head (nothing did.)

This is the church I grew up in. I once shot golf balls off the back balcony towards a golf hole at the front of the church altar in a church-sanctioned putt-putt course that went all throughout the building. I don’t think you could do that now, because you’d most likely hit the now-suspended massive cross in front. I was there for the good years, heh.

This is the church I grew up in, and though it’s got some fancy bells and whistles on it, some things never change. Our Christmas Eve service will always be scripture readings of the Christmas story, interspersed with traditional carols (the Korean translation of the songs were new, apparently a small Korean church rents out the Fellowship Hall for their Sunday services.) There will always be a church candle lighting done to Joy To The World.

And My Mother The Phone Harpy Whom I Love Very Very Much will always be horribly off key.

I grew up in this church, and I grew up standing next to MMTPHWILVVM and her atonal warbling in Sunday services for years and years. I remember it being something like yowling cats. Howling knives on chalkboards? I love her very very much.

I never thought much of it at the time. This is MMTPHWILVVM, and this is how she sings. I’m sure your moms did something throughout your childhood that later on in life, you look back and cringe at. Picking you up at elementary school in an embarrassing car? Maybe unfortunate footwear? Blowing up the kitchen with an ill-advised cooking experiment? We’ve all got something.

But somewhere along the way, I realized that I could sing on key. I escaped the genetic punishment of Off Key, and I was On Key. I LURVE singing. One of my goals for 2011 is to sing Smokey Robinson’s “More Love” at a Karaoke Night To Be Determined.

How is it I can sing, MMTPHWILVVM can’t, and I’m related to her? I dunno.

She sung falsetto for years and years, until some throat nodes some years ago knocked that out of her, and now she’s humming down on an alto level. Which is where she was this past Christmas Eve. She’s tackling faithful standards such as “Angels We Have Heard On High” and “Away In A Manger” (for which there is no Korean translation for “Round Yon Virgin” HA!), and she’s off every third or fourth note. I wonder if that’s why Dad put me firmly in the middle between them in the pew, to act as a literal sound barrier. Nah, she’s not that bad.

I mean, it’s definitely noticeable. I’ve been battling a mild congestion case, putting my own voice down at Lauren Bacall levels, and I’m more on key than she is. The guy behind us is over 60, and he’s got a beautiful voice, I can hear him clearly. I can only imagine what the people are thinking in front of us. Nobody’s turning around horrified.

And yet.

This is the church I grew up in. This is the church my Mom attends regularly. We’re surrounded by regular attenders of all kinds – people who’ve called this church home for 1 year, 5 years, 10 years, 20 years. Mom’s a veteran, over 30 years at least.

And this is our church family. The stuff inside may move around – pews, massive crosses, new additions out the back – but this church still stands. And the people still stand inside it. They even add to it, thank you Korean congregation.

So I smiled, realizing that My Mother The Phone Harpy, Whom I Love Very Very Much and her atonal pipes have GOT to be an institution by now. Everybody who’s been going here for any length of time totally knows what they’re getting into when they sit in her pew. She’s here. She loves God and Jesus. And she’s gloriously off-key.

And we all love her for it.

Happy Holidays, everybody.

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