Author’s note: Fiction is a mysterious mix of truth and imagination. I offer this fictional story in memory of my Grandma Sandel whose presence at my high school Christmas concerts meant everything to me.
A silvery ribbon of soprano, my voice hung in the still air of the high school auditorium. A spotlight illuminated a circle around me as I stood next to the black Steinway, a 16-year-old woman dressed in a floor-length, soft blue crepe evening gown, tied with a midnight velvet sash. Formal long white gloves were drawn up to the puffy sleeves of the dress, which my mother had made for this Christmas concert.
I had just sung Lo’ How a Rose E’re Blooming. My voice, amplified by the microphone, wavered on the first acapella notes, but then grew steady, powerful enough to fill the darkness. I’d beat out the best voice in the senior concert choral when I auditioned to be the soloist. Nobody knew that I’d wanted to be a singer since I was a small girl. I dreamed of celebrity and recognition. Recognition of my voice. Recognition that it was special. Recognition that would never come.
My grandmother, my father’s mother, was in the audience. I sang for her. Grandma was special to me – a soft pillow tucked in the corner of my heart. She had been an opera singer in her home country of Poland. She was the same age as I when she sang her first solo concert at the glorious Krakow Philharmonic Hall. She’d performed selections from Puccini, whose music we both adored.
The story goes that the maestro, a dashing Pole with raven black hair and green eyes seduced her. She became pregnant. Ashamed, my ancestors put their maiden daughter on a boat to Ellis Island, to the Americas. She miscarried on the stormy, Atlantic crossing. I imagined that her first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty was a moment of fierce victory for having survived, and of barren emptiness.
My grandma never sang again. Except once, for me, when I was seven years old. My parents had dropped me at her modest home in a Polish neighborhood of Detroit, so they could go Christmas shopping. After Grandma and I drank tea with milk, I followed her into the cold, dark basement where she kept her Victrola. She asked me to sing for her. “I can’t Grandma,” I said. “I’m not good at it.”
Puzzled, I watched her pull a tiny brass key out of her bra. She reached behind the mahogany record player and pulled out a square crimson velvet jewelry box. She opened it and turned it over. I gasped when two bold earrings dropped into her wrinkled palm. Their quarter-sized lobes were circles crusted with diamonds. The dropped loops, at least two inches long, sparkled with more diamonds.
Grandma clipped the jewels onto her ears. She straightened. Her shapeless cotton shift draped a body heavy with age. I thought she was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. Grandma slipped a recording of Puccini’s music out of a cream-colored paper sleeve. The Victrola’s speakers crackled as the needle skipped over a well-worn vinyl record.
My arm was slung around one of the rusty steel poles that held up the basement ceiling. Grandma looked straight at me. She sang, “O mio babbino caro.” The sound echoed into the cement cavern and filled it with light, with God. My ears were flooded with love. I thought the beauty would burst my heart. When she finished singing, Grandma dropped to her knees. She dried my tears with her flour-speckled apron. “Don’t cry little one,” she said. “You have a gift. I have given you, my voice.”
© Linda Sandel Pettit, Ed.D., 2022
Photo courtesy of istockphoto.com
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Linda Sandel Pettit, Ed.D. inspires intuitive-creative women healers to use their healing modalities, speaking voices, and written words to unfold and share the wisdom of the Sacred Feminine.
She offers The Writer’s Sanctuary, a very small group program for women who want to become better writers, be accountable to their craft, and publish.
Visit www.lindasandelpettit.com to learn more about The Writer’s Sanctuary and her array of programs and masterclasses. Apply by January 1st, 2023 and enjoy a 20% discount.
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