First, this memory.
I am seven or eight years old, and my parents' friends Sue and Ian have come to stay. After dinner, we all sit cross-legged on the carpet in the lounge room and sing. Folk music, mostly, from the 60s and 70s, as well as some of their originals. Ian pulls out his guitar, Mum pulls out her flute, everyone sings. Ian is super-cool to me, a bit like Bob Dylan, but Sue’s voice is more like a soprano version of Karen Carpenter: all strong and smooth, with a gently undulating vibrato. As she sings, she bends her head forward and her long blonde hair falls over her shoulder like a single sheet of water. Like an angel.
This is what I think about as I sit on the carpet with them all, listening and admiring and sometimes joining in, and I feel like I have been allowed into something special and mysterious and grown-up. I also think, "I want to be Sue when I grow up.”
They were playing Cat Stevens in my local cafe yesterday morning while I waited for my bagel and coffee. “Too emo” muttered the barista, and switched to something else, but the damage was done. Like osmosis, I had already absorbed the song under my skin and, once there, it made its way into my blood-stream and within a nanosecond had tickled a long-neglected corner of my prefrontal cortex, awakening the memory of this late-night singalong from its decades-long hibernation.
Holding my coffee, I walked back along the footpath in the bitter cold and spitting rain, thinking about friends and music and, because Cat Stevens was still on my mind, I also thought about the Harold & Maude soundtrack. Especially the two songs that Cat Stevens had written just for that movie (this one and this one), which are both about stepping up and being proud of who you are, and embracing your life. Scout loves these songs, and asks to hear them often.
I thought about that scene in which Maude sang “If you want to sing out, sing out” and it made me smile. I started humming to myself as I walked through the rain, which was sweeping sideways by now. My hands were so cold I couldn't feel my fingers around the coffee cup.
I thought, “I want to be Maude when I grow up.”
And just at that moment, in the wind and rain, a woman drove past me on a beat-up old Vespa motor scooter. The woman would have been at least 80 years old, maybe more. She was wearing an ancient helmet that looked like one of those WWII aviator helmets, and was squinting against the icy rain that must surely have been piercing her cheeks like needles. Across her face was spread an enormous smile of pure joy.
And I thought, "Why wait?"
Image credit: Ismael Nieto, licensed for unlimited use under Creative Commons