JI heard a song by Bill Anderson: Mama Sang A Song, and it struck a chord with me. My mama sang hymns too, all day. And as the song says, I think a lot about the time back when I was a girl.
Mummy was a #SAHM (stay-at-home-mum). Back then the term was not in use because in my country, in those days, most mother’s stayed at home. So it was no big deal. But unlike most mothers, mine had been a working girl before she married!
She was a #WRIN. That’s what the women working for the Women’s Royal Indian Navy Service were called. Since Daddy didn’t want her to continue working, she resigned herself to being a housewife. The term ‘homemaker’ was not in use then. But Mummy didn’t seem to resent that.
However, life didn’t prove to be what she had dreamed it would be. She grew up in a well-to-do family. Although she was an orphan, she was the child of rich parents who left her for a ridiculous reason. Her foster parents were affluent too.
My father, on the other hand, grew up in a respectable family but ‘rich’ or ‘well-to-do’ were not ascribed to it. His father was a school teacher, then, with ten children, though respectable and certainly not in a hand-to-mouth situation, the family was just getting by comfortably.
Mummy grew up in a different society and their cultures and traditions were poles apart. But then, opposites attract (they say!). It didn’t matter much though. What made it difficult was the lack of luxuries she had been used to as well as the extravagance she enjoyed as a single working woman.
She told me how annoyed her mother was when she learned of Mummy’s decision to chuck a college education (her mother had registered her name for admission to a prestigious college in their city) and take up the Pitman’s Secretarial Course, instead.
My grandmother warned her that her salary if she worked, would be less than her monthly expenses. But Mummy was adamant and did what she wanted to do, and landed up as a WRIN. She found out soon enough that she couldn’t manage on what she earned!
How could a stenographer who wanted to eat breakfast in Taj Hotel, Mumbai, off and on, survive on a steno’s salary! Sometimes, she’d take along a friend or two, too. And let’s not talk about shopping! She realized that her mother was right. Her salary wasn’t enough for her extravagant nature. When I heard this story as a wide-eyed girl hanging on to every word, I thought this was the point when Mummy would say she curbed her lavish lifestyle and became financially wise. Was I in for another wide-eyed revelation!
Her mother sent her a handsome amount of Rs. 100/month as pocket money so she could continue living the way she wanted. BOOM! She laughed rather triumphantly when she saw my expression. I guess she knew what I was expecting.
Daddy gave her the best he could. There was no lack of domestic help; people to help around the house and kitchen and at most times, two people on twenty-four hour call. Not that they were called at odd hours but in an emergency, they were there in the servant’s quarters behind the house. But that compensated for little. Her expectations went beyond the domestic arena. So life was difficult for her. There was a lot of adjustment involved at every step.
But Mummy sang. She sang to build up courage; she sang to console herself; she sang to rekindle joy; she sang to calm her soul; she sang to cheer up her sagging spirits; she sang to fill the home with melody. But most of all, she sang because she loved to sing.
When she was at a crossroad and didn’t know which way to turn, she sang, “Lead Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom, Lead thou me on…”
She cooked and baked her way through delicious meals for the family and filled the kitchen with tempting aromas and heavenly tunes: “The chimes of time ring out the news another day is through, someone slipped and fell was that someone you? You may have longed for added strength your courage to renew, do not be disheartened for I have news for you: it is no secret what God can do, what He’s done for others, He’ll do for you…”
When daddy put in for premature retirement from the Navy and moved the family to his hometown in Punjab, she was devastated. Did she crack? No.
She took it in her stride. She took to rural life; pumping water from a hand pump, washing, cleaning, and cooking with no domestic help. She was not one to sit pretty even though she had lived with help around the house all her life. But neither did it mean she never felt the strain or that the transition didn’t take its toll. She calmed herself with: “Tempted and tried, we’re oft made to wonder, why it should be thus all the day long while there are others living around us never molested though in the wrong. Further along, we’ll know all about it. Further along, we’ll understand why; cheer up my sister live in the sunshine, we’ll understand it all by and by.”
When she was lonely; had no one she could befriend in this Punjab town, she went through the day happily humming: “I’ve found a friend in Jesus, He’s everything to me, he tells me every care on him to roll, he’s the lily of the valley, the bright and morning star, he’s the fairest of ten thousand to my soul.”
And when she lay down tired, at the end of the day, she’d fall asleep singing: “Safe in the arms of Jesus, safe on his gentle breast, there, by his love o’er shaded sweetly my soul shall rest.”
Mummy sang some other songs too not just hymns, but her favorite and most sung songs were hymns. I have mentioned situations and some hymns she would sing to show how she built herself up and how she looked to God for peace and strength to keep her happy, smiling, joking (yes, she laughed and joked a lot!). This, however, isn’t the only reason she sang. She sang because she loved singing. She sang Alto in the church choir.
Mummy actually taught us faith. Not in sermons, not in speech but through her songs. She turned to God every time to replenish hope, love, and joy, not only when things became difficult for her but all day long. In doing so, she taught me a valuable lesson.
Mummy’s singing brought peace and calm then, and today the legacy she left carries forward in my home and life. I sing too. I sing a lot of songs from different genres, unlike my mother, but like her, I sing a lot of hymns too. Like our home when I was a girl, my home is also filled with songs. I am grateful for her singing. It made me happy when I was a girl and it makes for such precious memories now.
These lines from Mama Sang A Song sum it up:
God put a song in the heart of an angel, and softly she sang it to me…
I get to thinking lots of times…of the old home place where I grew up, of the days both good and bad…
Our home fire never flickered once, ’cause when things went wrong…
Mama sang a song…And those were the greatest days of all, when mama sang a song…
No voice is left to fill those halls, and no steps to grace the floor,
for you see my mother sings in heaven now, around God’s golden throne.
But I’ll always believe this world is a better place (for me)
because one time my mama sang a song.
I am a grandmother now but the memories of mummy singing as she carried on faithfully with her chores and duties, still motivate and inspire me.