Back when all my mom’s side of the family would still get together for the holidays; a younger cousin was always the center of attention. She was cute, bossy and if she wasn’t the center of attention, she’d hold her breath until she turned blue until she got the attention she felt she deserved. Seriously! I even remember hearing members of my family talk about her passing out from holding her breath once.
It obviously worked.
Based on the fact that Tanya Tucker and her song Delta Dawn were topping the charts at the time, the year must have been 1972. I was five, so that would put my cousin around three-years-old. Every child who was any child had a cassette recorder with a microphone and when my cousin would see a microphone, she wanted it and would begin bellowing out the lyrics of Delta Dawn. The family would gather around to watch and listen to her cuteness and when she was done, everyone would make a fuss over her.
In the days that would follow, I remember spending the night at another relative’s house. I don’t recall if it was a time when Tony was in the hospital again or if it was for pure fun. I do remember thinking that if my younger cousin could make people happy and entertain them with song, I thought I might be able to grab my own bit of attention the same way.
From the backseat of a car ride, I began to sing Delta Dawn myself. Little did I know that all voices were not created equal but it didn’t take long for me to find out. My aunt snapped from the driver’s seat telling me to knock it off that my singing was getting on her nerves and that my voice was too “nasally.” At the age of five, I had no idea what that meant, but it would shut me up, and stick with me for the many years to follow.
When it came to music class, school programs, church, church programs or anything that would require singing, I would freeze up and would not sing. What I did learn though, was how to master the art of lip-syncing. I also learned how to avoid microphones and voicemail messages like the plague. When I would HAVE to leave a voicemail, I would write it out and focus intently on my voice to ensure I didn’t come across too “nasally.”
I have spent the rest of my life never singing Happy Birthday, not even to my children. I’ve never sang a lullaby, I have never sang the National Anthem, I have never sang in the shower, or while driving down the road with my music blaring and windows down.
Looking back from the ripe age of 48, I would imagine that my aunt was under a lot of stress at the time and didn’t mean her comments the way my five-year-old mind took them. I seriously cannot imagine any adult being THAT hurtful, intentionally. Still, the damage was done and my voice was gone – is gone.
As I grew older, people would comment on my squeaky voice. Telemarketers, to this day, will ask me if my parents are home. The difference now is I find that part amusing, and actually quite beneficial when I can tell telemarketers that I am the babysitter and the owners of the house aren’t home.
That singing incident taught me a valuable lesson – be careful with what you tell a child and how you tell them. If you’re not careful, you can just as easily steal their voice.
NaNonFiWriMo – The Write Nonfiction in November (WNFIN) Challenge, also known as National Nonfiction Writing Month (NaNonFiWriMo), where I have accepted the challenge to start and complete a work of nonfiction in 30 days. Read my other NaNonFiWriMo posts here