The two of us huddle together under the grand piano while Frances plays and Mom sings. My little sister and I are coloring. We take the trip down to Champaign-Urbana every week for my mom’s voice lessons. On the weekends, we are with my mom up in the balcony as she sings solos at weddings and funerals and our first grade teacher accompanies her on the organ. It is the very balcony where, with my gangly arms and legs, I trip up some carpeted steps and cut my head open on the radiator. My mom holds my head in her lap staunching the bloody cut while my first grade teacher drives us to the emergency room, 35 miles away, in the same city where Mom takes voice lessons.
Then, for a few years, voice lessons are on hold. My little brother and other little sister have arrived, and there is no time for voice lessons. But the singing in church remains. Praising God with song always remains.
All four of us grow up. Mom begins taking voice lessons again, this time in Chicago.
I accompany my mom to auditions, to support her and calm her nerves. Mom wears her grandmother’s confirmation ring on her thumb for good luck. Her other fingers are too slender to wear the golden band. She sings her signature piece from Handel’s Messiah over and over again:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee.
One choir rejects her. But another one accepts her! She has the perfect voice for baroque music, and becomes a singer with Ars Musica Chicago. She has the opportunity to perform in the chorus of an opera, La púrpura de la rosa, and I am in the audience, shouting “Bravo!”
As the years go by, Mom becomes an elementary school music teacher, and leads her students in song. When she has retires from teaching, she helps my dad with chapel time at their church’s daycare, and teaches little preschool children how to praise God with song. Mom joyfully becomes a grandma. She rocks my babies and sings them to sleep.
And in that last year, even though the radiation to her skull steals not just her hair but her singing voice as well, she sings to my children in a whisper.
I am Jesus’ little lamb; Ever glad at heart I am. For my Shepherd gently guides me; Knows my needs and well provides me. Loves me every day the same; even calls me by my name.
Praising God with song always remains. I imagine she is still praising God with her singing.
Written in memory of my mom, Loreeta Brammeier, Sept. 16, 1942-Nov. 23, 2009