A Shared Secret
My literary career began before I could read or write, and I suppose that Mother Goose may be partly to blame since I learned of rhyme and rhythm from the sing-song-y verses Mama read to me at bedtime.
It’s the wanting to REMEMBER, though, that birthed the writer in my soul. More specifically, it’s the COMPENSATING for FORGETTING.
And it is as simple as this: I often heard songs, I often heard poems, I often heard stories that I loved. I loved to hear a well-told tale. I loved to hear a lovely song. I loved to repeat a well-turned phrase.
The stories my Mama read to me, she read over and over again; and I could remember every word.
The songs my grandpa taught me, he sang with me over and over again; and I could remember every word.
But there were OTHER songs. There were OTHER stories. I would hear them once. I would want to tell them. I could not remember the words.
I would try to sing a song I had heard. (This was generally for my own amusement. At that point I was a toddler, and for the time being, an “only” child.) I would recall a phrase or two, but not the whole. So I would think. I would try to remember. I would wonder what comes next. “Now what word sounds like sky?” I would say to myself.
Then I would sing, and just PRETEND my new verses were how the true song went.
I needed to memorize my made-up verses as I went along, though. So I would do two lines, and get them to rhyme, and then repeat them again and again before making up the next two. Repetition like that is how my grandpa always taught new songs to me.
Sometimes I would remember almost nothing of the “real” song, and I mustneeds make up MANY verses, in order to go with all the notes. It seems I could naturally remember the tune and how long the song should be, even if I heard it only once, but I couldn’t memorize the words fast enough to keep them forever. And I mustneeds keep them forever. That I cannot tell you why, because I do not know. I have simply always wanted words to be kept forever.
When I got older and went to school, I loved to share songs; but at first I continued to pretend these all were songs I’d learned somewhere. I ashamedly hid the truth that I had “written” them myself. At that young age, I somehow felt it was wrong of me to selfishly make up words just so I could teach myself to sing the pretty songs.
Eventually, however, when I was nine, a teacher found me out. I had escalated my criminal behavior to include teaching my songs to a girlfriend whose daddy played guitar, and this little girl had a charming voice. Her daddy had her sing for people, and she liked to do that.
Our teacher played piano, and our whole class sang at the beginning of every school day. My little entertainer girl friend volunteered to sing my songs in front of the class and dragged me up front with her to sing along. I could carry a tune, and she could sing like an angel. Our teacher loved music, and she encouraged us to perform this way every time my girlfriend said that she and Rani had a new song.
Without my knowledge, that teacher started writing down some of my words, and she gave typed-up copies of my “poems” (as she called them) to my mama at parent-teacher conferences.
When my mama showed those “poems” to me, I was stunned to discover that it pleased my parent and my teacher that I was doing this dishonest thing of making up my own little stories and rhymes.
Well needless to say, my temperament being such as it was, I was all about pleasing the parent and the teacher; and heck, by that time I could make a rhyme out of anything, any time it struck my fancy to do so.
So that’s my story
Each word is true
And I have remembered it here for you.
My girlfriend’s name was Mary Lewis. Her voice sounded just like Mary of “Peter, Paul and…” I just this moment remembered her name. The school was Malcolm, the town was Sault Ste. Marie. Mary, if you’re out there, write to me. You moved away before I did, and I never knew what became of you. I wonder if you knew that I was “making up” the songs. I do not think I told you.