Just you wait: new stories. We visited my Aunt Pat, Uncle Jimmy and Aunt Joan, all in their 80s. I want more stories!
My Aunt Pat and Uncle Jim were married for two weeks and then took a newborn home: me. My mother was in a tuberculosis hospital for active tuberculosis and could not be around me. I would be infected and die. So I went with my father, my aunt and uncle, my paternal grandparents and my great grandfather Malcolm Kenyon Ottaway and Florence Henderson Ottaway, who were visiting from Lincoln, England for two weeks. My father, aunt and uncle were all in college at the University of Tennessee. My aunt says it was rather chaos.
My great grandfather Mal would walk up and down singing this lullaby: “With her head tucked underneath her arm.” It’s about Anne Boleyn as a ghost after being beheaded, haunting the Tower of London. So this was one of my lullabies. Some of the songs to raise me were fairly peculiar choices. This might explain some things about me. My Aunt Pat says that Great Grandfather Mal said “‘ead tucked underneath ‘er arm”.
The photograph is Aunt Pat and Aunt Joan playing four hands Christmas songs. YouTube sometimes does not approve of my music choices. After finding these four versions of “With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm”, it plays this to try to mellow me out. Just stop that, YouTube.
Rainshadow Chorale is going to sing like Shakespeare birds on November 5th and 6th. I think this will be another delightful and really fun concert. I tried out for a solo wearing a cowgirl hat. My hat got a solo. I got a small group part. I’m too jealous of my hat, of my hat.
Why a cowgirl hat for Shakespeare? You’ll have to come to the concert to find out! We have composers ranging from Purcell to modern, all using Shakespeare’s words.
Anyhow, mark your calendars. My father was one of the initial eight choral members in 1997 and I joined in 2000. Sing on!
This is Malcolm K. Ottaway, my father, singing the Humpty Dumpty Blues in 2009.
He made them up when I was two. Here are the two stories that my mother would tell and that I finally linked.
In the early 1960s my parents married at age 21 and were both going to the University of Tennessee. They married in June and I was born the next March. In a tuberculosis sanatorium, because my mother started coughing blood at 8 months pregnant. She thought she was going to die. She didn’t die, but after I was born she did not hold me again until I was nine months old. I was suspicious of adults by then, because they kept giving me away.
My parents had music parties, where my father played guitar. My mother had a prodigious memory and would remember every verse, so she was the last one singing. My mother said, “At one party you wanted your father to play Humpty Dumpty. He wouldn’t. You were the only child there. You kept asking. Finally he made up the Humpty Dumpty Blues. You were so angry at him that you stomped your feet at him and everyone laughed.”
And the second story: “One morning after a party, your father picked up his guitar. It RATTLED. It had 17 beer bottle caps in it. We checked and not one person had seen you pick up a beer bottle cap or put it through the strings. It took your father hours to slide the bottle caps out from under the strings with a butter knife.”
Well, that will teach him to not sing a song for the two year old. At any rate, he sang the Humpty Dumpty Blues my whole life. I don’t remember the original party or sliding bottle caps through the strings. I must have done it after the party was over, right? Did I go during the party and pick up every cap I could find, or did I already have a hidden stash? Two year olds can be sneaky, apparently.
At any rate, I am very happy to have the recording now, even though the original made me stomp my feet.
The photograph is of me, in about 1963 or 64. I don’t know who took it, but it was taken at Lake Matinenda, in Ontario, Canada.
The Ragtag Daily Prompt today is memorize, and oh, what I have memorized! I saw a t-shirt at the Nowhereelse Festival in Ohio that said, “My memory is 80% lyrics.” Yes, me too, a mix of songs, poetry and books that I have read. My sister Chris and I were busily memorizing songs as soon as we could. Here are three very educational songs for young girls. The last one we learned from our cousin, who was a girl scout and a girl scout leader. She was in the calendar one year, making cookies. I was very very impressed and a little jealous.
I bought a four hour recording session at a silent auction and the recordings are me and my sister and my father. We did them in two sessions. We made a list of songs and lost it immediately so we all took turns suggesting songs. My mother had already died of cancer. My sister died in 2012 and my father in 2013. I am so glad to have these recordings. We called it Mocoko for Malcolm Ottaway, Chris Ottaway and Katherine Ottaway. We sang most of them just once and so they are not polished, but I still am happy to have them.
I sang Bridget O’Flynn to my daughter when she called me about dancing. “Mom! I love to twirl!” Um, well, yes, your parents met at a contra dance at Glenn Echo Park in Maryland. We love to twirl too.
A cautionary song, an old barbershop quartet song, that we sang.
I wonder if the girl scouts still sing this.
The photograph is my son scaring me. Ok, that boulder is sitting there balanced BUT! GET OUT OF THERE! Taken in Palm Springs in 2011 up on the mesa. Beautiful.
YOU thought I said “Fish face.” Fish faces came up at the wedding.
When my son is a baby, he goes with my husband for a well child check. I am in residency and can’t get away. The doctor asks, “Can he play patty cake?”
“No,” says my husband, “but he can make a fish face.” My husband has a long narrow face. He pulls both ears out and purses his lips. He wiggles his ears.
My son promptly makes a fish face.
“Good enough,” says the doctor.
My son has a small godson. They have mostly said hi on zoom. My son has taught his godson to make a fish face. When they visit in person, he makes the fish face and his godson’s face lights up. Oh, this is THAT person and they are REAL, not just on a screen!
The godson is the ring bearer at the wedding last Sunday. I tell him I am his godfather’s mother and make a fish face. Then I call my ex over. He makes a fish face and the godson is delighted. All of these talented people at the wedding! Who know about fish faces!
For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: faces. Very Happy Mother’s Day to everyone, who is a mother, has a mother, is a grandmother, has a grandmother. I could go on.
I have been in Rainshadow Chorale since 2000. My father, Malcolm Ottaway, was one of the eight people who started it in 1997. He and my mother moved here in 1996. My mother, Helen Burling Ottaway, died of ovarian cancer on May 15, 2000. Rainshadow agreed to sing a Byrd Mass for my mother’s memorial. My father asked if my sister and I could sing in the chorale for the memorial. We were told yes. I had moved to Port Townsend at the end of 1999.
After the Memorial, I asked if I could stay in the chorale. The answer was yes and I have been in it ever since.
Our director, Rebecca Rottsolk, is retiring from the chorale after our next concert. She has picked favorite pieces. I have sung in nearly every concert since 2000, though I couldn’t sing in the one right after my father died in 2013. He followed my sister, who died in 2012. My throat wouldn’t let me sing that one.
So Rebecca, thank you for the music and thank you for being a wonderful director and forcing us to level up over and over. I am sending you peace and love and joy.
And everyone else, put this concert on your calendar.
You were an artist You are an artist You said that you’d have to live to 120 to finish all your projects And died at 61 I keep wondering what the art supplies are like and if you work on sunsets or mountains or lakes
Trey, 9 made a clay fish last summer that I admire He said grumpily “It’s too bad Grandma Helen died before I could do clay with her.” He tells me he’s ready to make raku pots to fire in your ashes as you wished I ask what he’d make He considers and says, “What was Grandma Helen’s favorite food?” I can’t think and say that she liked lots of foods At the same time wondering squeamishly if maybe he should make a vase and then being surprised that I am squeamish and thinking of blood and wine, too, I wonder if my dad would know. “Maybe guacamole.” I need to find a potter to apprentice him to.
Camille, 4. asks how old Grandma Helen was when she died. I explain that she died at 61 but her mother died at 92. Camille asks how old I am. 40. When are you going to die? I say I don’t know, none of us do, but I hope it’s more towards 90.
Camille studies me and is satisfied for now. She goes off. I think of you.
I perpetuate the Christmas cards you did with us upon my children. They each draw a card. We photocopy them and hand paint with watercolors. Camille wants to draw an angel and says she can’t. I draw a simple angel and have her trace it. She has your fierce concentration bent over tracing through the thick paper She wants it right. The angel is transformed.
My kids resist the painting after a few cards as I did too. Each time I paint the angel to send to someone I love I think of Camille and you and genes and Heaven I see you everywhere
January 19, 2002
published in Mama Stew: An Anthology: Reflections and Observations on Mothering, edited by Elisabeth Rotchford Haight and Sylvia Platt c. 2002
Refugees welcome - Flüchtlinge willkommen I am teaching German to refugees. Ich unterrichte geflüchtete Menschen in der deutschen Sprache. I am writing this blog in English and German because my friends speak English and German. Ich schreibe auf Deutsch und Englisch, weil meine Freunde Deutsch und Englisch sprechen.
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