Monday, May 29, 2006

A Broken Promise

Not only did I not intend to break my promise to a little old lady, but I didn't even KNOW I had broken it until I read in the obituaries that she died last week and was buried Tuesday. I saw her name in the paper and suddenly felt as if a dagger had just plunged into my chest. I was heart sick with guilt and it was weird because I didn't even like her.

Betty smelled like dirty laundry and stale cigarette smoke and she walked everywhere she went. She looked, dressed and sounded just like a man. People pretty much avoided her, not because she was masculine, but because Betty was so clingy and starved for affection that she'd follow people around like a high school nerd eager to befriend the prom queen. Her adoration was claustrophobic in a "somebody please get this leech off of me" kind of way.

Still, I'd give Betty a ride home if I saw her walking in the heat or rain and I tried to smile sweetly when I really wished she'd go away. She never would. I just had to find a way to pawn her off on somebody else to make my escape.

I made Betty a promise a very long time ago, not once, but over and over every time she asked me for months and months until she went into a nursing home and lost touch with her family and reality. She wanted me to sing "His Eye is on the Sparrow" at her funeral. I promised I would.

"You haven't forgotten?" she'd always ask me.

"No, Miss Betty," I would assure her, "I've even bought an accompaniment tape just in case there's no piano player. I won't forget."

And, I didn't forget. But seven years after they put her in a nursing home, her family forgot.

When people ask me to sing at their own funeral, I tell them to make sure they write it down for their family and preacher. If they have a pre-arranged funeral, I tell them to write a note to the funeral home. It doesn't always work. More than once, I've had the awkward duty to call a grieving family and ask to sing at a funeral so I could keep my promise.

But, now I'd broken one and it's one of the most disturbing feelings I've ever known. I had to do something.

In a cemetery full of Memorial Day services, veterans, and families visiting graves of loved ones lost to wars, I sat on a beach towel with my karaoke machine and a battery operated power inverter right next to a fresh grave sadly adorned with only a few little flowers.

ME: I sing because I'm happy --
FIRST SON: Too loud.
ME: I sing because I'm free --
THIRD SON: That creepy guy with the shovel is looking at you.
ME: His eye is on the sparrow --
SECOND SON: Can't you sing softer?
ME: And I know He watches me --
FIRST SON: Mom, seriously, you're drawing a crowd.
ME: His eye is on the sparrow --
SECOND SON: Dude, just put the shovel down.
ME: And I know He's watching me.
THIRD SON: And now, so is everyone else.

Promise kept.


Anonymous said...

no words can say how proud of you I am at this moment

mernitman said...

Aaaaw! You did good.

Shane said...

Yeah. Real good.

And where-ever she is, she appreciates it, too.

oneslackmartian said...

Dang, girl, you know how to keep a promise.

But "Eye of the Sparrow"? Isn't that the theme from Baretta?

And let me say, from reading your blog, you’ve planted more indelible images in your kids than any ten parents. Uhh, that’s a compliment.

MaryAn Batchellor said...

It was the right thing, but I sure hope I never have to do that again.

Chesher Cat said...

That was definitely beyond the call of duty.

I probably would have done the same thing, except I can't sing.

Douglas Cootey said...

You didn't break your promise. It's very touching that you felt guilty about something that was outside of your control. How kind of you to sing for her anyway.

The question I have is "How did you become known as the funeral singer?" This sounds like something that is asked of you a lot. My wife and daughters sing quite well, and publicly, and they've never been asked to sing at somebody's funeral.

MaryAn Batchellor said...

It's kind of a snowball thing that started about twelve years ago, but with whom? I think it may have been a National Anthem at an outdoor picnic or a senior adult conference at Southfork Ranch-- I dunno for sure -- somebody heard me sing and asked me to sing some place else. Somebody there asked me to sing another place and over the years, I (sometimes alone and sometimes as part of a ladies' ensemble of six) have just gotten regular invitations to do funerals, weddings, conferences, rodeos, baseball games, senior centers, women's events, church events, picnics, outdoor concerts, opry houses, etc...

My ensemble has a lot of connections and if all or one of us can't do an event, we call on one of the ones who can.

Funerals, however, are always requested by somebody who knows me personally. I'm not a great singer but I'm the very best of the mediocre and to an old person who knows me and loves me, I think they don't even hear my voice when I sing. They hear my heart.

Neal Romanek said...

Good work.