At sunset, a breeze blew in from the coast and swirled up the valley, ruffling feathers on a jay that was perched on the fence, and knocking on the door of a room in my heart where I store my favorite memories.
It’s a big room. Getting crowded. More so every day.
I heard the breeze before I felt it. It was whispering secrets in the oaks and cottonwoods that grow along the river and make this valley such a place of peace.
I closed my eyes to listen. And somehow, in my mind’s ear, the whispers became a song.
“Gonna take a sentimental journey/Gonna set my heart at ease/Gonna take a sentimental journey/To renew old memories.”
It was an old hit from the ’40s, even older than I am. It sounded like the Andrews Sisters. My mother loved them the way I love Aretha Franklin. Who doesn’t love music that feeds your soul and makes you feel just a little more alive?
But it wasn’t the Andrews Sisters that I heard singing it.
My grandparents’ nine daughters were well and truly known as the Wilde Girls.
“Wilde is their name,” my granddad would say with a grin, “not their reputations.”
Preacher Wilde was proud of his daughters, especially when they sang in church. They started as little girls, forming a quartet they called the Cheerful Chimers (Wilde Girls seemed a bit much for church). It featured the older sisters, with younger ones included at times.
But as the girls grew older, their interests began to stray, as their mother liked to say, “from h-y-m-n-s to h-i-m-s.”
Pretty soon, they quit singing for church, and began singing “sister songs” on the radio.
Preacher Wilde missed their singing in church. But he always said they were as good as, if not better than, the Andrews or McGuire or Lennon Sisters.
It was just a local station, only one song a week. But still, it was something. They were bound for stardom. Everybody said so.
However, the radio station was so small it held only four girls. They began to argue over who would sing, what to sing and even what to wear, which made no sense, as it was only radio.
Finally, they quit singing for the radio and sang only for themselves and for the people they loved. I felt blessed to be one of those people.
In winter they sang in the kitchen fixing supper or doing dishes. In summer they sang on the porch, slapping mosquitoes and tapping their toes, with moonlight in their eyes.
When they sang, they never argued or gossiped or wished to be somewhere else. Their voices became one and so did they.
I wish you could’ve heard them.
They’re all gone now, my mother and her sisters. Most of them left this world more than 20 years ago. They lie buried with my grandparents in a family plot on a hill with a lovely view of the BI-LO parking lot.
I think of them often and hear them singing at times, when the wind comes up the valley and whispers secrets in my ear.
Some days, if I’m alone, I like to sing along with them. I sing a harmony that’s all my own, but it blends pretty well with theirs.
We sing mostly sister songs, like “Sentimental Journey.” I know every verse of it by heart.
But I’ll gladly sing anything the Wilde Girls want to sing, from “Amazing Grace” to “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.”
Sometimes they let me do a little Aretha Franklin. And they do a knock-out job on backup.
I wish you could hear us.
No matter what we sing, it always feeds my soul and makes me feel just a little more alive.
You might think it’s all in my head, and in some ways, you’d be right. But honestly? It’s not in my head. It’s all stored in a room in my heart.
Randall is an author and longtime newspaper columnist who may be contacted at P.O. Box 922, Carmel Valley, CA 93924, or via her website, www.sharonrandall.com.