Today, I flashed back to fourth grade at Valley Jr. High. Particularly PE, which I loathed above all things — including long division. Not that I have anything against PE in theory. In fact, objectively, I’d say it’s a very good idea. But as an uncoordinated fat kid, I found it wasn’t exactly my wheelhouse. So oftentimes I sat out citing one sprain or another. Honestly, I only ever participated long enough to acquire the injury required to sit out the rest of the week. Thankfully, my tendency to faceplant with even the slightest provocation made my task an easy one.
The best part of all that sitting out was socializing with whoever else might be out of play that day. This particular day, the small group of non-participaters included my cousin Misty, a very sweet girl who loved to talk. Best of all she loved to hear me sing. And I liked nothing better than taking requests. “Ooh, Jodi,” she said. “Do ‘House of the Rising Sun.’ I just love that one.” It so happens, I did, too. And I launched into a very passable rendition, if I do say so myself.
Now the better I like a song, the louder I tend to sing it, so Misty wasn’t my only audience that day. As I wrapped up the final verse — the one advising mothers to guard their children from doing what I had done — I happened to meet the gaze of our PE teacher. Our very disapproving PE teacher. We’ll refer to her as Ms. No Name to protect the guilty…er innocent. Now she never REALLY approved of me in the first place. I’ve mentioned I was fat and uncoordinated, and to her way of thinking that meant I was lazy and didn’t try hard enough. Perhaps I didn’t. But I chose to focus on my other talents. You know, like singing the blues. Because if anyone can truly feel the emotion of that genre, it’s a fat fourth grader. And that day my small cadre of gimps, coughers, pukers and shirkers awarded me with a nice round of applause on that final note.
It was too much for Ms. No Name. She shook her head sadly and wondered what kind of parents would let a child of my age be exposed to such a song. I cocked an eyebrow. Because even in the fourth grade, you didn’t talk about my family. She looked away, and no more was said. But I really wish I could go back and answer that question.
I’ll tell you what kind of parents I had. Parents that, despite being of a painfully religious bent, still recognized that music was a gift from God. And just like our human emotions it ran the gamut from joy to sorrow. I’d like to ask her to read the book of Psalms and pay particular attention to the fact that mixed in amongst the glory and praise, there are songs of loss and regret. My parents believed that music was beautiful and powerful, whether or not your key slipped from major to minor. And they didn’t say, “Don’t listen to Willie Nelson or Johnny Cash because they do drugs.” And they never censored Queen or Elton John or David Bowie because they looked funny or lived their lives a different way. They let the music speak for itself.
Best of all they recognized that one little fat girl had a voice as nimble and swift as any fourth grader’s feet could ever hope to be. They were the kind of parents who knew the inside of a song was a good place to rest, to hide, to recharge, to mourn, to laugh. They gave me the world in an 8-track, the full history of human emotion written in grooves on vinyl.
That’s the kind of parents I had, Ms. No Name. Thanks for asking.