Thursday, May 14, 2009

Aunt Ida & The Bucket List

When I was young, my grandparents had an organ in their living room. It was very old and small, only about four octaves of keys on the right side, a few dozen chord keys on a panel on the left, and a pedal that didn't work.

I couldn't have been more than 6 or 7 when I took a sudden interest in this organ. Since no one in the house played an instrument, I had to go it alone, and the first few attempts I made were nothing more than one-finger renditions of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star". I used to watch people play piano on TV, mull over my own playing, and think, "hmm, this is going to be harder than I thought."

One day, Aunt Ida came to visit (she was actually my Grandmother's sister-in-law, but when I was young, I considered every older female family member to be my aunt). At first the visit was no different than an other, but only until Grandma told Aunt Ida about my piano ambitions. She was very pleased and moved to the organ bench to show me how it was done. I don't even remember what she played, but I do remember wondering how she could possibly make such beautiful sound from those few dozen little keys. And then I was on a mission.

I spent the next few months pouring over the books that came with the organ; a difficult task, since I couldn't read music. But, in pestering Grandma half to death with, "how does this one go?", I used her singing and humming to memorize the melodies to a few standards. Before long, I could play "My Wild Irish Rose", "Home on the Range", "Long, Long Ago", and others (the names of which escape me) from these books.

Repetitively banging away at these songs on the organ led me to discover that I could quickly pick up the melodies to other songs, without having any sheet music for them. Over the next few months and years, I taught myself how to play piano by ear. When people would come over to visit, I would always end up putting on a concert in the living room. The favorite was always "The Rose" by Bette Midler.

I'll never forget waking up Christmas morning when I was 10, and seeing a brand new keyboard. It wasn't fancy by today's standards, but back then, it might as well have been made out of solid gold as far as I was concerned. A "real piano", oh, the things I could do! The songs I could play!

For my grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary party, I played "Wind Beneath My Wings", my grandmother's favorite song, for the whole crowd. I remember being as proud as a peacock, though looking at myself on the video of that evening all these years later, it's obvious I was scared to death. After all, Donald MacRae and Joe Oram had just played for that same crowd; it was a tough act to follow.

Then came the business of piano lessons. Since I was quite good for my age, without being able to read music, it was decided that formal lessons might do me some good. Mr. Digout made an attempt, as did Ms. Thibeau, Mrs. Garrison, and even the great Henrietta Doary, but to no avail; me, my parents and grandparents, were all told that my self-taught methods would be impossible to break, and that lessons would not do me any good.

In my formative years, I became a fixture at variety and Christmas concerts, pageants, plays, and other amateur venues that allowed myself and others to take the spotlight. Still, as much as I loved the applause, playing piano alone in my bedroom was always my favorite place to shine.

I haven't played the piano in years, and I'm not even sure I could anymore. But, I remember well the pride and satisfaction I felt just from being able to play once upon a time, pride that turned an article about my new venture into an article reminiscing about my piano-playing days.

That being said, my dear departed Aunt Ida would be happy to know that I've again taken her advice. The same woman that encouraged me at the piano had, for years, begged me to take up violin. She assured me I'd be good at it, and even though I had never so much as held a fiddle before, learning to play has been on my bucket list for many years.

I finally got my hands on one last week and the learning process has begun. I may not be able to play like Donald MacRae yet, but I don't let the squealing sound of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" discourage me; after all, it worked last time around.

A Dying Breed

Imagine reading this job advertisment in the paper.

At your disposal: big screen television with satellite and surround sound, a movie collection, a Nintendo Wii with American Idol Karaoke and Guitar Hero, Playstation 2, phone with unlimited long distance, laptop with high speed internet, novels and magazines galore, and a refrigerator full of food.

Your duties: keep open ears, use common sense, behave, and let the dog out to pee when he starts dancing in front of the door.

Your qualifications: mature, responsible, reliable, drug-free.

Salary: negotiable.

Any takers? Believe it or not, we haven't had a single one, which begs the question, where have all the babysitters gone?

I babysat from the time I was 13 years old. There are no restaurants or corner stores in River Bourgeois, so if we wanted to work, we had to baby-sit. There wasn't a huge market, but girls usually found one or two people in the community who they regularly sat for.

On an average night, I'd arrive at around 7:00pm, say goodbye to the parents, and play with the kids for awhile before tucking them in bed. Once they were settled, I'd have to clean up (like my mother had instructed me to every time I went to baby-sit. "They're paying you, the least you can do is tidy up and do the dishes.")

I'd spend the rest of the evening doing homework or watching television, unless the kids woke up, which rarely happened. Once the parents arrived home, usually at around 2:00am, they'd thank me, hand me over $25 or $30, and drive me home. As I got older, the only thing that really varied in this scenario was that I'd drive myself there and back.

It may not have been much money (about $5 per hour), but hey, it was money, and since you can bet my parents weren't throwing $30 at me every time I left the house, it was money I cherished. I babysat every weekend night I could, even as I got older, since making money was always more appealing than blowing it on junk food and garbage, like I would if I were out roaming around with my friends.

Cut to years later, and I found myself looking for a babysitter. Even five or six years ago, it wasn't all that difficult to find someone. I had a bevy of young girls waiting by the phone for me to call, since I paid a whopping $40 for a night out.

But now, with two young kids, a home in the middle of Port Hawkesbury, and a desire for a night among adults, a babysitter is harder to find than a four-leaf clover. We've been looking for two full years, and haven't found a single suitable candidate (well, one, but we only found her a month or so before she left for university).

We've been told we're a bit too picky, but this is our children we're talking about. We won't settle for less than absolute trustworthiness and maturity since their well-being is our top priority. Our "no drug users" stipulation has, sadly, limited our pool of candidates, by their own admission. We could easily find someone who is 12 or 13 to watch them, but that's only a year or two older than our oldest son, which, as far as I'm concerned, is too young to baby-sit a three-year-old. If you have a 12-year-old baby-sit your toddlers, that's your decision; it's not a chance that I, personally, am willing to take.

So where are all the high school juniors and seniors? What do they do on the weekend? It has been suggested to us that we're wasting our time, for several reasons.

They have part-time jobs and aren't willing to give up their nights off to work some more. Fair enough, it's good to see young people working. But (and this is just friendly tip), for any teenager who would rather baby-sit than don a visor, I dare say you'd make as much money babysitting as you would working a few shifts a week at a fast food place.

Others have said it's because parents are giving their kids enough spending money that they don't have to work. I can tell you this much, my sons needn't think that, at 16, they'll be getting $20 from me every time they leave the house. A few bucks, whatever - but parents giving their perfectly able-bodied and employable teenagers an endless stream of cash? Wow.

I've heard everything from, "they're out at the bars" to "they're home taking care of their own kids" to explain the elusiveness of good, occasional babysitters in town.

Whatever the reason, it's not making my quest any easier. Do I just not know the right people? Or are there really no babysitters? Drop me a line if you can shed some light.