The Music (Mother, May I? class, day 4)

When my younger sister, Elia, was four, she met Emily Hill, also four, whose parents taught art at the university in my hometown. The Hill family soon moved, but not until after all of us became best friends with all of them. None of us ever again lived in the same town, but our bonds have only strengthened, and, more than 30 years in, we still spend holidays, weddings, hard times and happy ones together.

My Dad and Jim (the Hill patriarch) go camping each year, have a “tickle for Dickel” when they get together, and the eight of us once made and ate nine pies over the course of one Thanksgiving.

My parents listened to the the Oldies, 60s and 70s tunes they grew up loving and, even though the 80s and 90s were “my” and my sister’s music, we always knew that our parents’ soundtracks were infinitely better. I still have Sam Cooke, Aretha, Mary Wells, Judy Collins, the Supremes, Stones and so forth on my main playlist.

We used to have epic dance parties, without the Hills and with them. Sugar, Sugar, and Windy never failed to get us grooving, and just when we thought our pounding hearts would expire from the intense cardio, Smokey Robinson would start crooning The Tracks of My Tears, our pace would slow and we could catch our breaths.

My mom and Elia loved Sonny & Cher’s I Got You Babe and, after a concerted, joint effort at deception, convinced Emily Hill that Mom was the oboist who'd played the critically important oboe background - the pitched 'punh-punh'- throughout the song. Mom had been in the recording studio with Sonny & Cher! With an oboe! An instrument she had never and has never held in her life!

Emily believed them for years, and I doubt that when in the same house, when I Got You Babe played, Mom ever failed to pop up “punh-punh’ing” oboistically.

In 2010, Emily Hill got married, and Mom and Elia planned to perform I Got You Babe during the reception. I was given the job of sitting offstage but in clear sight to manage the flashcards, should nerves shoot blanks into their memories.

By the time we were up, I’d had plenty of champagne and was feeling festive as all get out. I sat down with the giant posterboards of carefully printed lyrics and felt in control and collected as the opening beats strummed.

They say we’re young and we don’t know
We won’t find out untiiiiiil we grow
Well I don’t know if all that’s true
‘Cause you got me, and baby I got you

I don't remember which was Sonny and which was Cher

I don't remember which was Sonny and which was Cher

<Oboe punh-punh>
I got you babe
<Oboe punh-punh>

Mom’s popping up and down with her vocal oboe beats, and Elia is laughing but trying to stay on point, and I just couldn’t remember if I was supposed to put the completed cards at the end of the stack, or was there a discard pile somewhere? I couldn’t let go of any card for too long because the large stack was awkward and weighty and what if the cards fell? And while I thought Mom and El knew the words, we were all tipsy and celebratory and at a wedding in a dark reception room with approximately 8 zillion eyes upon us expecting something, and who knows what that could do to memory.

Not everyone knew the back story, and part of me wondered what they thought of these Louisiana women, two singing and one sitting as gracefully as she could in her silk shantung strapless dress in a chair with giant cards unsure what to do with the spent ones.

They say our love won’t pay the rent
Before it’s earned, our money’s all been spent.
I guess that’s so, we don’t have a plot
But at least I’m sure of all the things we got…

Mom and the oboe bit…

So I just started dropping the cards alongside my chair, and each catches a bit of air, you know? And they’re slip-sliding all about, Mom’s oboeing up and down, Elia is a professional actress so she’s trying to keep everything together but is laughing too, the insiders are cracking up, the ones not in the know have rather blank but sweetly bemused stares (most of them), and I just could not keep up with the cards.

“Why are there so few words on each damn card?” I think, nearly doubled over in hysterics about both the pressure I felt under and also how hilarious this all was.

Meanwhile, Sonny and Cher got flowers in the spring, he got her to wear his ring, she says his hair is NOT too long, and they, hand in hand, know they can scale any peak.

Oboes, cards, punh-punh, thirty years. It was great. And to this day, every time that song plays anywhere, I can't stop myself from air-playing that background beat.