Sing us a Song
by Marie Rossiter
Every once in a while, I’ll have a string of days when I get in mycar, turn on the radio and even if I’m surfing from one station to the next, the same song will come on—day after day. It’s as though the disc jockeys out there have some sort of hidden camera in my car and say “Hey, there she is! Put the song on now!”
Fortunately, the song that keeps making a repeat performance in my car is Billy Joel’s classic “Piano Man”. It’s a great tune, so it makes the repetition easy to bear. Also, the song is etched onto my personal soundtrack. Everyone has one of those and as the years go by, songs are continually added onto the play list. Some songs are played only a few times, and then sit and wait to be heard again at some obscure time—like just about the time I’m getting ready to have my teeth cleaned. Then, there are those tunes that are on high-rotation, as if to say “Don’t forget this one, honey,” or “Do you remember when?”
Even as a kid, I was a big fan of Joel’s music and every time I could charm Dad into giving me a quarter for the jukebox, I always made sure I knew what letter and number buttons to push so I could hear “Piano Man”. Joel’s classic moved me to sing for others for the first time in my young life. So what that I was only 7 or 8 and my audience was a bunch of guys that hung out at the local bar?
Yeah, I spent more time in a bar as a child than I ever would either in college or even as an adult. Of course, a bar is not the ideal place for a kid to be spending her time, but in my case I had a very good reason. It was one of the few places I could spend time with Daddy, and not have to worry about his ever-changing moods. At
O’Connors, Daddy was happy. I guess somewhere in my young, but precocious mind I figured if I couldn’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
So, that’s exactly what I did. I knew that kids didn’t belong in a bar (hell, if Mom knew I was tracking down Dad there, she would have had a fit!). Just walking in, pulling up a stool and saying, “Hey, Daddy, what’s up?” wasn’t an option. My plan was subtle and admittedly devious. It started so innocently. I would open the door to O’Connors and as the stark sunlight streamed through the doorway of the darkened room, heads would turn.
“Pumpkin, you’re not supposed to be here,” Daddy would say, trying to sound stern, but rarely succeeded when it came to me.
“I know, Daddy, but I need some money. My friends and I are going next door to the Deli and I don’t have enough to buy a slushy.” Cue the puppy dog eyes and pouty-face.
That’s when I’d get the invite in, while Daddy dug deeply into his jeans’ pocket, pulled out a dollar and then would send me on my way.
It didn’t take long for me to do that enough times that, eventually, Daddy’s friends would want to know and see more of the “red-haired cutie” who would come to visit him. Daddy was many things, but one thing to his credit was the pride he had for me. I had moved from sheepishly pushing open the glass door to O’Connors to having a stool pulled out for me and bellying up to the bar. My drink of choice? Coke, on tap, no ice; I could taste the syrup better that way—ordering a good drink must have been passed on through my genes.
Believe it or not, I found a lot of things to pass the time while in O’Connors. When I tired of listening to Daddy’s jokes and stories, which he could seem to tell for hours some days, I would spend my time in front of the jukebox. I don’t know whether it was because I looked a lot like the Irish lassies that many of the men who frequented the bar fancied, but there were days that I had an unending stream of quarters, so that I could keep that box singing for what felt like hours.
One day, the familiar strains of harmonica filled the bar and I jumped for joy. Without even worrying about the audience around me, I sang along to “Piano Man”, in full voice. It didn’t matter that I was only a kid and didn’t have a true understanding of all of the lyrics; I belted out that tune with gusto!
And, there was Daddy, sitting on his stool and beaming with delight. As his buddies clapped and cheered, Daddy scooped me up and sat me on the bar. Naturally, like most kids, I loved the spotlight and kept right on going. I got a standing ovation. Not bad for a first time performer.
My solos at O’Connors continued, as patrons would put money in the jukebox just to hear me sing. One day, Mr. O’Connor showed me an old piano he had out back in the lounge area. I had permission to play it whenever I wanted. I spent many days plucking out tunes by ear and singing along. In the background, I could hear Daddy’s voice above all others, talking about his “musically gifted daughter”
Over the years, my talents eventually brought me to the real stage, but never to stardom. Although I had my share of fans back then, my singing talent didn’t take me far in life. But, what I lacked in true talent, I made up for with heart and soul. Truth be told, I did enjoy the crowds, but for me, there was really only ever one person in the audience there that mattered.
My singing was a way for me to connect with Daddy in ways I couldn’t when we were at home. There were times I wondered if the glass door to O’Connors was actually a door into a different time and place: most times when I was there with Daddy, there were no obstacles that wedged themselves between us. He almost seemed like a real person there, and not the Jekyl and Hyde that lived with my mom and me.
When I sang for Daddy, it was one of the only ways I thought I could truly touch his soul. Circumstances merely dictated that I had to sing at a bar to reach him.
Marie Rossiter is a freelance feature writer and columnist for the Lewiston Sun Journal based in Maine. She has many other publishing credits and is in the process of completing amemoir “Stirred, not Shaken”, as well as working on her first novel. Marie is a licensed literacy specialist and English teacher who lives in Auburn, Maine with her incredibly supportive family. She can be contacted through her email firstname.lastname@example.org or her website www.marierossiter.com