In Grandma's book the kids are alright
The first half of the Belfair Community Talent Show featured a troupe of adorable, heavily sequined tap dancers, an occasionally funny but more often not comedian, several singers (mostly children, but a couple of adults as well, including the special treat of local treasure Donna Weathers singing an aria from the Marriage of Figaro), and one rather overly-earnest poet neurotically tucking her hair behind an ear while over-sharing about a failed relationship. It was only at intermission that Debra discovered that Sophia’s mother, Rosie, was sitting right behind them, and sent Kurt off to the snack bar with Mia so she and Rosie could catch up. It was funny how little you could interact with other parents - even ones whose kids seemed to spend nearly every waking moment with your own.
“So, your mom seems to be recovering really well,” Rosie half-shouted over the hubbub.
“Yes, she’s walking with a cane now, which is QUITE the improvement when you think of where she was 6 months ago!” Debra replied.
“Thank God for the settlement – it’s so nice that she can finally retire!”
“Well, she got robbed, if you ask me. Only $20,000 for all she went through! But yes, she finally conceded that she can’t keep working, and the settlement plus Social Security is enough to get her by. At 68 years old – can you imagine? Still working at 68!” Debra paused to let Kurt and Mia wave their hellos and squeeze past her back into their seats. “It’s been a godsend for us, I’m here to tell you. Kurt and I are SO busy with the remodel and the house is an absolute DISASTER, so having Mom available to watch the kids has been a-MA-zing.”
Rosie smiled to Kurt and Mia with a little finger wave at the child’s beaming, now chocolate-embellished face. “Well, it must be amazing for her, too, to finally have some time to relax, enjoy hobbies, maybe travel…?”
Debra laughed. “Oh I don’t know that Mom has much of a travel bug, you know, or much in the way of hobbies.”
“Really? I mean, she writes, obviously. It must be nice to have time for that.”
“Oh right – Mom’s little black books! She is always scribbling away in one. She’ll never tell me what she writes about, though. She just says, ‘Oh, just this and that!’” Debra dropped her voice low and hoarse for Irene’s voice – a pretty fair imitation. Too many years before she finally gave up the cigarettes. “I'm like, ’No, really Mom, what ya writing in there?’, and it's always, ‘Oh, just this and that!’”
“Well, it’s nice that she might have time to put something all together now. Although the kids sure appreciate the extra music lessons. Sophia has been over there so much lately. And I keep trying to pay her, but she’ll have none of it.”
“Oh no – don’t worry! She loves kids. And Jenn and Aidan wanted PLENTY of piano practice before tonight.”
Kurt leaned over, passing his wife a cookie as he interjected, “Oh, ‘wanted’ might be too strong a word. I saw no joy on our children’s faces – or on Irene’s – when this little scheme was hatched!”
“Oh, and how did that go, dear?” Debra smiled sweetly.
“OK, I will admit, shockingly well. Our darling tweens actually stopped moaning about it after only a couple of weeks of so generously sharing their misery.” Kurt conceded. He was distracted by Mia, who was excitedly pulling on his shirt. She was bouncing as she shouted, “They’re next! They’re next!”
“Well, this should be great fun!” said Rosie from behind a couple of teenaged girls sidling by down her row.
“Thank you, I think they’ll do just fine,” Debra replied.
Mia said happily, “Unless Aidan barfs!”
Debra shot her a warning glare, and Kurt backed her up, saying “Oh hush punkin’, my boy Aidan is waaaay braver now. We shall ne’er spend hours cleaning vomit from twixt piano keys again!” But he looked a bit perplexed as he watched the stage.
Debra wove back and forth to catch a peek at her children between the abnormally tall men in front of her, but it looked like some kids were setting up a drum set. “Well, maybe they’ll be after this one.”
Kurt said, “No. No, that’s Aidan. And… Sophia?”
Sure enough, Rosie’s daughter Sophia was standing there in rather disheveled black clothes and dramatically dark makeup, wearing a guitar and fiddling with a microphone stand. Dodging left, Debra could make out the boy adjusting cymbals and a microphone over a sparkling black drum set.
“That’s not – oh, wait. It is Aidan!” She grabbed her husband’s sleeve. “Kurt, what’s going on? Where are the pianos?”
“I have no idea, hon.” His face provided clear confirmation. Mia, however, was hiding a huge grin behind her fist, looking back and forth at her parents with pure mischievous glee. As people began sitting down, Debra spotted Jenn to the left of her brother, wearing odd layers of ripped black clothing and dark eyeshadow and lipstick like Sophia. She was wrapping the cord for some boxy electronic gadget around its stand and plugging it in, awkwardly pinning a bright red guitar against her with an elbow to keep it from knocking into anything.
“What? Where…” She turned to catch Rosie’s attention. “What’s going on? Where did they get all that?”
Rosie shook her head and shrugged, wide-eyed and evidently equally clueless.
Mia was hopping up and down now. “Grandma bought it all!”
“What did you say, Mia? Grandma –“
Debra was drowned out by emcee Mimi Guterson asking everyone to please take their seats. The fourth member of the band came on stage, a cane in one hand and amplifier in the other, dwarfed by the neon yellow bass guitar hanging across her. The left half of Irene’s short white hair was dyed deep blue, and she was wearing black jeans tucked into boots and a long black-and-white-striped top that thankfully covered her hips and thighs, but left her frail white arms bare. Someone laughed, then it built and rippled through the crowd.
Jenn hurried over to take the amplifier to center stage for her grandmother. From the look on Aidan’s face, the odds of the second vomiting-on-stage event in his short life were increasing every moment the laughter continued, and Sophia and Jenn didn’t look to be too far behind.
“Well… drums will be easier to clean,” Kurt muttered.
Mimi gave Irene an encouraging pat on the arm, then announced, “Please give a warm welcome to Granny Four!”
Irene gave a little wave to the audience, then turned to smile and nod at each of the children in turn as the hall grew quiet. She settled on Aidan, sitting tight-mouthed and pale, and Debra could just make out her voice. “You own this stage, boy! Ready? One, two, three…”
Aidan launched into a steady, compelling drumbeat, brows furrowed in concentration. Irene nodded along, then started playing a quick, catchy bass line. This involved stepping away from her cane, a wide-footed number that stood on its own, leaving it looking forlorn in its abandonment. These new incongruities set off another round of scattered laughter. But Irene kept her eyes on Jenn, who hit a button on the electronic device to start a track of something sounding like synthesizer-distorted voices singing, but weirdly off, like it was playing backward. Then Jenn and Sophia watched each other, and jumped in together on their guitars, and suddenly immense sound filled the room.
Irene stepped to the microphone and she and Aidan sang together.
We will feed her her dreams
Of the wife she could be
We will always say ‘I’
She will always say ‘we’
You could hardly even call it singing, actually – almost a monotone recitation, with Irene’s voice lower and scratchier than her grandson’s.
And on every screen
We’ll be playing the lead
Together picture the man
She can help us to be
“Is this a joke? Is this supposed to be funny?” she hissed at Kurt. “Is this her idea of revenge for having to watch the kids?” But Kurt was bent over Mia, who was tracking her finger across the writing in a small notebook in her lap as her brother and grandmother sang.
He said something to Mia and took the book. “It’s not a joke – look!”
She took the little black notebook and flipped through. Page after page was filled with poems in her mother’s small tight handwriting.
“See!” Kurt said, as Mia flung herself over her father’s lap to snatch the notebook back. “It’s full of songs! This is legitimately her thing!”
A girl behind Debra exclaimed, “Oh my God, this slaps!”, and sure enough, people all around were smiling and head-bobbing along. Jenn and Sophia took the next verse, singing an actual melody in lovely high voices:
A good woman lifts up
A good mother feeds
The men who create,
Build, heal, and lead
All instruments abruptly dropped out except a rapidly thrumming drumbeat.
Better build the walls high
Better dig the moat deep
A silent beat, then all four sang together,
IN CASE SHE WAKES!!
There were some hoots and cheers from the audience as the music erupted all at once again and Aidan and Irene resumed vocals. People were standing and bouncing on their feet, more and more each verse. Kurt and Mia left their seats, cheering and clapping along, and Debra stood on tiptoes, swaying to try to keep a clear view of the stage. The duo sang,
She stands tall on her feet
And she starts to shake
You had better get clear
Then all four came together again:
In case she wakes!
In case she wakes!
And now throughout the hall people were joining in as the song built to its finish,
IN CASE SHE WAKES!
IN CASE SHE WAKES!
IN CASE SHE WAKES!
Mia jumped up and down clapping wildly in the applause that followed, and Kurt laughed and hefted her up so she could wave and cheer over the crowd. The musicians looked ecstatic as they bowed and shared a group hug, then hurried to pack their gear.
Kurt set Mia back down and she shouted, “Grandma says I can learn saxophone and play in the band and we can be Granny Five, even though she says that Granny Five isn’t as funny as Granny Four!”
Kurt was smiling as he replied, “That sounds great, Mia.” But Debra could see the uncertainty when he looked at her. “Doesn’t that sound great, hon?”
“Yeah,” Debra said, glancing back to watch her mother limping about with that ridiculous blue hair, the kids all happily chattering away at her while loading their arms with equipment. She smiled at Mia. “Yeah, that sounds amazing!”
Note: Full lyrics of the Granny Four song can be found here