My two aunts on the Ebeling side both had soprano speaking voices. Shrieking might be a better word for how they talked. Both of them were more effective than most females in families of the 1940s and '50s because they could send their words out like a sword, shrilly piercing over whatever other conversation was going on.
“If you sing before breakfast you'll cry before dinner, haven’t you ever heard that expression?” I had come down from the tower to the kitchen in the morning and found my mom and my aunt there, and I'd been singing all the way down the winding stairs--
Yes, the house outside Bartlett had a tower, and a ballroom. It was this huge rundown mansion my dad bought, fixed up, and then flipped, then we moved again.
The tower had a winding staircase what would be three flights, you’d climb round and round on this staircase and at the top was my playroom. At the top of the tower with -Wow, as I write this I can even see it, sun like the Chicago area sun, always behind a layer of clouds, so the air has a gray glow. Look out the tower window and you can see the garage, the ground, in the back of the house, kitchen stairs where Father Horne stands-
Father Horne at the back door in regular man clothes, not priest clothes...
“Sing before breakfast, Cry before dinner,” my Aunt Ruth lilted an octave above high C. “Haven’t you ever heard that expression before? Haven’t you? Huh? Huh?”
She was trying to get something out of me. Probably “What's wrong with you, why are you acting this way,” because the previous day I’d been really weird…
Now I walked into this morning kitchen, and singing was a way to cover something else up, and I knew my aunt wanted me to bring it out and say the thing, but instead I… internalized. That's a big word, not the word I'd use back then, but the one I use now to describe it. It’s like folding over mud, packing a layer of mud down on something to bury it.
Bury it good.
My mom was standing to the side, straight stiff, and I stood with my mouth gaping open, not saying a word. For now I'd also stopped singing.
“Sing before breakfast cry before dinner, huh? Huh? Huh? What do you think that means, huh?"
She's reaching to me and I'm going away too fast for her to get me. The layers of mud are down now, packed, and I can’t budge. That morning must have been around the beginning of the buried memory. Because that house with the tower and the ballroom and the three-car garage, we moved from it into Bartlett, the town, when I was six-seven, then moved from there to Los Angeles the summer I turned eight.
Sunset Boulevard was one of the first rides we took when we moved to L.A. in 1955.
“This is it, the Sunset Strip,” my dad gestured as we got to the 8000 and 9000 block of the road that starts downtown and goes all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
My dad put his hand back on the steering wheel then pointed again. “There's, Dino’s, the night club, see that’s Dean Martin’s place, Dino’s. Yeah, we're in the middle of it all now.” My dad and mom in the front seat, I'm in the back my nose to the window.
And what I see as we drive along Sunset Strip is a little girl, maybe thirteen, not an adult, a pre-teen aged kid. She’s wearing a long coat. Everyone is wearing coats. It used to get cold in Los Angeles.
She’s a teenage girl, wearing a Midwest style coat and hat, and carrying a suitcase, and she’s SINGING. Singing at the top of her lungs as she walks along the sidewalk, making heads turn, people are looking at her, people are laughing as she walks past them.
She’s walking down Sunset Strip about 13 years old, carrying a suitcase, and singing, singing as she walks, singing at the top of her lungs.
And dressed in a long coat like she’s from small town Illinois.
That was one of the first things I saw when I was eight years old in 1955 and we arrived in L.A. and took a drive down Sunset Boulevard.
Sing before breakfast, cry before dinner. An amazing bit of psychological insight on the part of my aunt, who was born in about 1913 and had yet to hear the word psychiatry in 1953.
Sing before breakfast, cry before dinner.
That sums up my whole bipolar existence. The days I'm singing in the morning, I'm probly going to be wailing in the afternoon.
"Mom, you're bipolar," my daughter says to me.
"I know, isn't it wonderful?" And then I laugh out loud, this long rolling laugh that involves my whole body and usually ends with a rush of endorphins like you wouldn't believe.
A laugh so loud and deep, no one can argue with me.