The Altos

I come from a family where everyone sings, and every single female is an alto. My only brother is a tenor, but he could easily join us. While not mob members like the Sopranos, we have our own set of skills. Let me give you the rundown.

I hadn’t realized that my oldest sister, Linda, could actually sing until our summer as camp counselors. We had a cabin full of young, homesick kids, and Linda would sit at the edge of their bunks and croon to them. One time, since I knew the song, I joined in. A little girl opened her eyes and glared at me. ‘Not you,’ she said. ‘Just her.’ That was my first inkling that not every Hanson was meant to solo. Even at camp.

I attend community choir because I enjoy singing, can carry a tune (if it isn’t very heavy) and love musicals. That’s it for me. I’m also shy, which might surprise my friends, and prefer being one of a crowd of sixty stuck behind the orchestra pit with the drum thumping nearby. Now that’s a choir experience I can get behind.

As the Shirley Temple of our generation, Susan had chubby cheeks, white blond hair, and a hyperactive desire to entertain people. We were the same size when I was seven and she was five, but I didn’t have an ounce of her pizazz. At the lake, on a car trip, in our own kitchen, in the middle of a movie, she was always singing, and that battery never wore down.

I didn’t know my brother Bill could sing until he joined choir. When he was a kid, he’d have thrown himself off a cliff before a single note slipped out of his mouth. His friends just didn’t roll that way. Picture a handsome young blond tenor weaving his way through a gang of Hell’s Angels while singing an Andy Kim song. That would be a no. To my surprise, he tried out for a part in the musical, Titanic, and nailed it. He feels too busy for choir now, but if we could persuade Crystal and Mark to start at six AM, he’d be there for sure. Otherwise, you can catch him singing karaoke at the Hooter.

Cindy was the only true hippy in our family. She liked to wander around the bush near our house, plucking a guitar and singing wistful songs about love and harmony. She lived for the TV show, the Partridge Family, and was convinced that all of us could be contenders. But no one ever listens to little sisters, unfortunately. Later, Cindy shone in choir, taking a lead role in Follies after starting out with a bit part from My Fair Lady, as Eliza Doolittle. ‘Aye, Guvnah!’ No one could have done it better.

Joni never gave us a clue that she could sing at all. She had a gravelly voice as a child, perhaps a symptom of too many colds. She spoke and people would search for the elderly man in the room. When our family performed gospel songs at church, and occasionally in the community, Joni was partnered with me as a ‘root pal.’ Everyone else harmonized around us. But as I stood by her, I heard the smooth tone of Doris Day. That girl could sing! We made a video to send to brother Bill who was traveling at the time. It was unintentionally hilarious, as we kept stopping so we could switch places. It looked like a badly done magic trick as we disappeared, popping into different spots throughout the song. To make things weirder, we were all dressed like Nikki from Big Love. Or old time Mennonites. Take your pick.

Jennifer is a whole other story. Severely red haired, she was bellowing out Hello Dolly! in an Ethel Merman-like voice when she was barely born. The last of seven children, she continued to be the loudest in the family. It was that or starve to death. (People from big families know what I’m talking about.) It was nothing for nineteen year old me to be driving around with four year old her in the back of the car and hear her belting out a mashup of ‘Everyone’s banging Lulu!’ with ‘And Bingo was his name-o!’ I can’t imagine what went on in her daycare, and anyway, its too late now. Still occasionally loud, always funny, she should be a writer. If you’re lucky enough to live in Flin Flon, she’s performing this Friday and Saturday at Johnny’s social club. And she doesn’t just sing. Trust me.  Now I’m going to hide from my family until they all get over this post. Goodbye.

2 thoughts on “The Altos

  1. Judi Simes Sargent

    Judy you wrote about your family and it was like I was back in Flin Flon living across the alley from your house! Thank you so much for bringing back such great memories!

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  2. judithannepettersen Post author

    Thank you, Judi. I was speaking with Cathy Bryson last night and we were discussing all the wonderful things about small town life and growing up in a time when there was always someone to play with. Apparently, I taught her to walk on stilts! Thanks for reading.

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