My mother and my sister died in December. Meanwhile, my dad was born in December. He also nearly died during December, and easily could have, except, being strong and stubborn to the end, he held onto life for two days in January.
My dead family tugs at my memory, though never more so than in December. Each December my feelings and memories will surge, stirred and heightened by the emotional tides of this month. The nearness of so much death never fails to roil the emotional waters, like the deep sea that is compelled to move by the moon’s gravity at perigee.
I still recall how as a kid my parents would regale me with stories from their high school days. More than one of these stories involved the famous singer Mel Torme, nicknamed the “Velvet Fog” because of his silky voice.
Although he was several years my folks’ junior, they all grew up together on the South Side of Chicago, and for a time, my mom and Mel sang together in a band.
My mom loved to sing and she was a talented singer. My dad often attended the dances where they performed.
Much later in her life, if mom were miffed at my father, I might hear her tell him that with any luck she might have ended up with Mel Torme. Not to be outdone, my dad would curse his bad luck that Mel had failed to win her hand. Thus, it appears that by default they had no choice but to stay happily married for more than sixty years, until death took her from him.
W.C. Handy wrote his jazz classic “The St. Louis Blues,” in 1914. Since then, the lengthy list of great singers and musicians who have recorded this song includes Bessy Smith, Benny Carter, Louis Armstorng, Cab Calloway, Fats Waller, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Bing Crosby, and Ella Fitzgerald, to list but a few. Oh, and did I mention that Mel Torme also recorded it?
However, my favorite recording of “The St. Louis Blues” is a thin and tinny version featuring me on the guitar accompanying my mother, who is singing. I made this recording using a cheap, battery powered, G.E. unit that I got from my folks as a gift when I was ten or eleven years old.
For decades, this tape recording had disappeared into the mists of time. Then one day my nephew, Alan, was visiting his grandfather and discovered the relic buried among my father’s belongings. Alan preserved the song digitally, transferred it to a CD, and presented me with a copy soon after my mother died.
Now, I listen to the recording nearly every year around this time. No matter how I am feeling, hearing mom’s lovely singing voice once again is sure to brighten my day.