The Littlest Duet

My mother was always singing. All day long, round the house, doing her work, making the dinner… she sang.

She never sang in public, only ever in the safety of her own home. Growing up, I thought everybody’s mother sang; as it turns out, they didn’t.

She had quite a repertoire too, my Mum. You name it, Jim Reeves, Elvis Presley, The Beatles and then, as they came along, I even remember Elvis Costello or even The Stranglers creeping into the show too.

There are some songs that I have only ever heard my mother sing – I’ve never heard them anyplace else. Occasionally, I’ll hear one of them on the radio and go, “God, that’s one of those songs!”

One such song was called ‘I saw Esau’. I really thought she’d made it up, until I heard it one day. It’s an odd experience when that happens.

One song I still haven’t heard elsewhere was called ‘Five Minutes More’ (Give me five minutes more of your charms). I Googled it up, just now, and there it is, it seems Frank Sinatra did a version of it. Cool, I’ve only heard it in one place though.

I’d always had this little vision that one day we would sing together, my Mum and me. I imagined it would be at somebody’s wedding. Maybe she would start and then I would join in. I’m not actually a great singer or anything but I can sort of hold a tune and I usually know all the words.

Anyway, this dream of mine faded after Mum suffered a series of strokes which left her disabled and in need of permanent care. Whenever I visited her, weather permitting, I would wheel her off around the country roads and we would talk about all kinds of stuff. I treasure those days.

But on the days that it rained, there was no going out and there wasn’t much else to do but read the newspapers and keep an eye on the little television up above the bed.

On one such Saturday we were reading away while the afternoon movie was on. The film was ‘High Society’ with Grace Kelly and Bing Crosby, (not to mention Frank Sinatra). I like this film but I wasn’t giving it too much attention.

Then in one scene, which I’m sure you all know, I noticed that Mum had put down her part of the paper and was paying particular attention to the TV. She hadn’t sung in a long long while but softly and rather indistinctly I could hear that she was singing now.

“For you and I have a guardian angel on high with nothing to do
But to give to you and to give to me Love forever true.”

I joined in, softly and indistinctly myself. Nobody else was around, nobody ever heard.

It was just Me and Mum, Bing and Grace.

When it ended, we didn’t mention it or anything. We just went back to our sections of the newspaper.

A month or so later, Mum took a turn for the worse and I remember thinking, ‘Is this how it has to be, death by a thousand blows? Wouldn’t it be nicer if it all just went more quickly.’

Two weeks after that, I had my wish and she was gone.

So I got to have my duet after all. Not at a big wedding or in a grand hall. But it was every bit as good, in its own little way.


Susan at Stony River said...

I loved this post. You caught that special moment beautifully, and now I'm missing my mother too. We couldn't sing, but we were great with a kitchen table and cuppa, hours together. Joint efforts at the crossword are what I miss, we were a good team.

And, I'm so embarassed. I saw the first few lines you wrote, and saw the photo, and thought, WOW his Mum looked just like Grace Kelly when she was young.

DUH. (when I read further)

Maybe I shouldn't stay up this late anymore!

Catherine @ Sharp Words said...

I want to say something about this post, but there are so many different levels of things to say that I'm not sure which one to address.

Except for the fact that my dad and I sing together in the car whenever I'm visiting my parents and we go on a long drive somewhere. We usually sing Welsh hymns to which I know the words and he often doesn't. My mum always tuts, but we just keep right on singing...

hope said...

Your Mom raised a very kind and sentimental son. The world could use a few more folks like that. What a nice legacy she left behind.

Beamer said...

I'm sorry for your loss. Sounds like she was a pretty special Lady.


Anonymous said...

Ken, for the first time, you made me teary eyed because of this post. It is beautifully written, such a wonderful tribute to your mom.

and such a good hearted don't be too humble.

I sang too with my mom at family parties. not just the two of us but the whole lot. You can call us a singing band of some sort...the lost band..he he he.

When we were younger, almost all of us participated in singing contests; not really the big ones because we haven't had formal training, but members of the family do have passable

Thanks for sharing this, it brought back old, happy memories.

BTW, I like your new header, how did you do it?

Sarah at SmallWorld said...


Anonymous said...

Ken, can you write my comment for me? I can't write in words how touched I am by your story! At least not with the same charm you would.

It's a wonderful memory, even if it is related to your Mum's death. And I just want to say thank you for sharing it with us. Its the kind of stuff movies are made of.

Anonymous said...

Gosh! I am so moved by this post.

It is like a movie or one of those books you treasure not because it's some great literary work but because it touches the deepest part of your soul.

I'm very fortunate that my mother is still alive and very healthy for a woman of 87 years. We don't sing -- she never did (or does) to my knowledge but we have other little things we do together.

Super stuff, Ken.


Debbie said...


I am writing this through tears, you wrote something so amazing here.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your kind comments on this.

Just in case, you don't know it (imagine that!) here's the little scene we were watching:

'True Love'

Susan: I was thinking, in adding that (nice) picture, "I Bet someone will think that's a picture of mum". So you're not alone in that. Anyway, she was just as pretty (aawwwww!) :)

Thanks Catherine: I would like hear you and your Dad sing a little Welsh - how about a lullaby - Suo-Gan perhaps? Here's good old Bryn doing it and putting the orchestra asleep in the process. Quite charming.


Hi Hope: I can certainly be kind and sentimental - I can be other things too, some of them my mum might not be so proud of. I hope, over time, to let this blog reflect all of these aspects. Some of them might not be so... well, we'll see, won't we? Thank you for the kind words.

Thanks Beamer, Mate! :) Mum died a little over two years ago and, as time passes, the mind jumps easier to all the many good times rather than the (luckily) few difficult ones.

That's nice Jena, I bet you sing up a storm. Matt Urdan at Michigan Rafter kindly did my header for me - he is very talented. And Margaret at Eyespi did the previous header which was exactly what I wanted - she got me on the road to graphical betterment and I will be grateful for ages yet. She too is a (modest) graphical wizz:)

Dear Smallworld: Thanks :)

Reggie: All right, darlin', I'll write a comment for you...


"Dear Ken, if I wasn't already heavily involved with a wonderful Irish bloke, I would take my little pink toenails off to Castlebar and...". 'Second thoughts, maybe you'd better write 'em yourself. )

Hi Margaret: I'm gald you liked it. I wasn't aiming to be maudlin or anything - I hesitated to post it (as you know I do sometimes) and then thought, what the hell, it's an honest and happy memory and it's nice to keep loved ones alive in stories and conversations as well as in every other possible way.

Debbie: Don't cry darlin'. It was all-good... well, mostly.

Thanks again guys. :)

Catherine @ Sharp Words said...

Ken, Bryn Terfel sang Suo Gân and Ar Lan y Mor at my wedding last month!
Well, ok, he was just on CD. But those were the pieces of music played while we were signing the register. :)

Dad & I tend to belt out things like Calon Lân and Cwm Rhondda though. Full-on loud hymns with fun harmonies.

Cleveland Real Estate said...

This is what life is made of. You captured it. I'm glad you had that little duet that became larger after the fact...

My father sang and whistled constantly. I was told that I started whistling before I could walk... I started singing soon after and haven't stopped. Your post made me think of him.

Keep singing Ken...

Jim Murdoch said...

My Dad thought he could sing like Bing Crosby and he did his damnedest to. My mother on the other hand could sing like Gracie Fields. She sang more than he did but I don't ever recall them doing a duet. I never sang as a kid but even if I had I was such an awkward cuss back then that I never would've joined in. And now, of course, it's too late.

Anonymous said...

You so touched my heart with that post. You had your duet with her and that song will always be with you.

My Mom used to sing around the house all the time. Songs from the great american songbook and I used to love to hear her sing. Your post brought back memories of that time and I thank you for that.

Anonymous said...

@Ken: LOL You're right, probably best I write it. Its the kind of memory that I hope everyone haves with their parent(s).

It doesn't have to involve singing... just that moment where you are both so in-sync with each other that you don't even need to talk about it afterward. Pure magic.

Rachel Fox said...

Lovely Mum, lovely boy.

And the songs are everything...well, almost everything!


Ken Armstrong said...

Hi Catherine: God, you had me there! I thought you had Bryn there at the wedding! (I would have driven there and crashed just to hear him sing, really! I wouldn't have got in the way or anything, just stood and the back. And if the Preacher had done that "is there anybody here who has good reason..." bit, I would have behaved myself.. mostly.

Bryn features quite heavily on my ipod. I saw him first on 'The Last Night of the Proms' wearing a Welsh Rugby jersey and his rich deep voice just blew me away. I came to 'Suo Gan' from (of course) 'Empire of the Sun'. A movie I have come to admire.

Your wedding sounds like it was lovely.

Hi Cecilia: Your visits are even more 'day-improving than before. :) I have this picture now of you as a baby, whistling for your supper... shucks! Hope the game was good and that your side won.

Thanks Jim, I'm not sure it's ever too late - although we never duetted on 'I saw Esau', I could sing it myself now and be back somewhere good. Perhaps try humming 'Sally, the Pride of our Alley' and see where it might take you. Come on... 'On Mother Kelly's Doorstep...' (My Mum used to sing that one too) :)

Joanne: I'm glad the writing touched you, that is an objective, I guess, although I don't often admit to it. Did your Mum sing, songs like 'Hard Times Come Again No More' and ' Water is Wide'? Great great songs...

Hi Rachel: Songs are, as you say, quite a lot. They're amazing in their power, really.

Ken Armstrong said...

Hi Reggie: 'A moment when you are in sync with your parent?' God, that *would* be one to treasure, wouldn't it? :)

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, I am quite seriously thinking of giving up the poems and just writing songs.

Angela said...

What a beautiful and touching post. I'm so glad that you were able to have your duet before your mother passed.

Carol said...

My mom did sing professionally - opera. And she sang ALL the time at home. In the car. In the grocery store. Every-stinkin'-where we went she'd be singing under her breath all the time.

She doesn't do that as much anymore. And, after reading your post, I'm feeling a little guilty about how crazy she drove me all my life.

Y'got me!

CelloBella said...

Great story - gave me that warm and fuzzy feeling and a wish to go and visit my folks...

Dave King said...

Strangely, I remember my mum singing Five minutes more. She iddn't sing much on her own. She would play the piano for dad to sing and sometimes sing along with him. But not long before she succumbed to a stroke I do recall her singing that song softly to herself. Afterwards, it seemed to have been prophetic, somehow.
A beautiful post, a privilege to have read it.

Anonymous said...

Don't give up anything Rachel - a poem is just a song waiting for its tune.

Thank you Angel, I'm glad too. :)

Hi Carol: Opera in the car might be bit overpowering all right - did she wear one of those helmets with the horns... no, never mind. :)

Cellobella: Don't visit folks with that warm and fuzzy feeling they'll think you've been at the Pinot Grigo again.

Imagine, Dave, 'Five minutes More' - it must've been quite the hit in it's day. Glad you liked it.


Unknown said...

Wow. This lovely, moving post has everyone delving into their past. My mum read Woman's Weekly all her life and, way back when, they ran a series of the lyrics of Donald pears songs. We used to gather round our coal fire on winter evenings and sing them all. I can't remember them now - just a bit of one that told about a babbling brook, that's where I fell in love with you.

tashabud said...

Hi Ken,
I got teary-eyed with your post. It really tugged at my heart. You truly have the gift of writing these subject matters of the heart, which touches all of us one way or another.

I think it affected me more than the others perhaps because a few months ago, my son expressed that he wished he and I can record a music together. However, he's into rap music, and I'm more into the mainstream music of love songs, easy listening, mellow rock, ballads, country, and rock. I sing at home all the time too and that's why he got the idea. He has recorded some of his rap music with his simple home recording studio and had them published free on line that rappers sing and play without giving him any acknowledgments. Now, I think he stopped making music. He must have been disenchanted since his music is not getting anywhere. After reading your post, I might have to make an effort to do a duet with my son, even just for a memento when I'm gone.


tashabud said...

I forgot to express my condolence. From the sound of it, your mother was very special and seems like you were very close to her. Your post is a great tribute to her. You're a good son.


Ken Armstrong said...

Thank you Jakill: "In a shady nook, by a babbling brook,'mid the flow'rs, I spend hours, ev'ry day"


Hi Tasha: If you recorded a duet with your son, and my post had a little something to do with that, then that would make me very happy :) Thank you for your kind sentiments.

Cupcake said...

Point out your posts to me anytime. I find your writing thought provoking and your musings exactly the kind of things I like to ponder.
This brought tears to my eyes. I'm so glad you were able to have the duet with your mom. A memory that will live on in your heart forever.
Thank you so much for sharing.

Bees said...

such a lovely story - and such a beautiful song to have for your memory

@cherrymorello said...

My Da always sang Paul Robeson songs as lullabies when tucking me into bed when I was tiny. Many years later I bought a Paul Robeson album and my first disgruntled thought was "Humph! This isn't how this song is meant to go!" I much preferred my Da's versions.

We still share many a song over a few pints. In many years from now (I hope) my boys will recall fond memories of a silly mum that sang all the time. They tease me that everything they say I make a song out of it.. Singing is a wonderful thing to share with the people you love. Thanks for a truly beautiful blog Ken xx

Christopher said...

As someone whose family life was a mess. I thank you for sharing your private moments. Memories are a gift to yourself and those you share them with.

Cath Watson said...

Oh Ken, your blog strikes so many chords with me. Firstly so sorry on the loss of your mum. My dad was a constant singer just like your mum. I've only heard maybe 2 of the endless songs he sang outside of the home. I think a lot of them were old music hall numbers. He had a different song for every doll I had (I was into guns and cars so I had to make dolls interesting, and I did that by sitting on his knee and bringing up each doll at a time for him to sing their "theme tune". Occasionally I'll sing a song in the house and my husband will look incredulously and say what the fuck was that? And I have to say I don't know, my dad used to sing it. I don't know why I never sang along, but I did in my mind.
My dad died very suddenly of a heart attack, so I never did sing along with him. I'm so glad you got to :)
Love Cath (serialfrenchies on twitter)

Luce said...

I loved this. Very touching. And it has inspired me.:-) x

Anonymous said...

Song lyrics. My Nan, suffering from dementia, cannot remember who I am. Has almost no idea who her daughter is. But whenever I visit her, I start a little song - perhaps "We'll Meet Again" or "I saw Mummy Kissing Santa Claus". She'll take over. She'll sing it right the way through, with a sparkle in her eye. It's my way of connecting with her. Once the song ends, the light goes out again, but it's still a connection. Lovely post, mate.

Simon Ricketts

Dee said...

One of my most favourite songs from a musical. I'll be singing this all day now ... after I stop crying. Beautiful tribute to your Mum, Ken. Thinking of you today. xx

irishminx said...

You paint a very visual picture in your words, that I was there observing you and your Mum. Beautifully written, thank you.

Tommy said...

Absolutely love this. Lovely tribute to your Mum :)

Jules said...

That's beautiful. You have a wonderful way of painting truly touching scenes.

Carolinesweetie said...

Hi Ken,
What a beautiful expression of love between you and your mum. This left me teary eyed. I hear songs sometimes that my mum used to sing and it transports me back. I can hear it being sung by her. I am fortunate to still have my mum although I miss her as I'm in Norwich and she's in Belfast.
I think that moment was so precious that you had with her, just you and her.
Your writing is so eloquent and full of feeling. Thanks for sharing.