Singing - II: Night Singing

     I lay in bed last night listening to the whirring sound of two American Toads somewhere out in the dark. It is one of the most calming sounds I know. For falling asleep, I'd say it's about equal to the sound of what the Navajo call the gentle “female” rain. I wonder if these are the sounds they put on “white noise” machines that people play to feel soothed. Is it called white noise because it's like white magic?
     We have – or I should say used to have – another kind of night music. It was much more active.
     “Who's ready to sing?”
     “I am!” – three voices from different bedrooms would call out, and Meg's feet came thundering up the stairs so she wouldn't miss a moment of this bedtime ritual.
     We chose Anna's or Andrew's bedroom, and the three little pajamaed bodies would wriggle into two big laps. That meant two had to share a lap, and once that got sorted out, we came to the next question.
     “What shall we sing?”
     It used to be that there was time for each of them to choose a song. At first, the repertoire was traditional children's songs and nursery rhymes set to music: “Little Bo Peep”, “Mary had a Little Lamb”, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”, “Little Boy Blue”. There were others, but I only seem to remember the ones with “little” in the title.
     As time passed, the collection expanded to include some of my old camp songs, songs of woods and blue waters and wilderness. They knew these because I used to sing them back to sleep in the middle of the night after an earache or bad dream or passing snow plow had woken them. “Way up in Algonquin” used the familiar tune “The Ash Grove”. “There's an Island Somewhere” was about getting away from “the bustling city”. They didn't know what a bustling city was, but they liked to sing about it.
      “The Star-Spangled Banner” seemed like a good one to teach them, handy for the baseball games of their future. No one predicted 9/11 though, shortly before Andrew's second birthday. We added “Oh Beautiful (America the Beautiful)” and “My Country 'Tis of Thee” then.
     As the kids got older, we started doing rounds: “Frere Jacques”, “London's Burning”, “Dona Nobis Pacem”. Then they began to bring their camp songs back, so we added those. We sang wherever we were going to bed: in a tent, at Grammy and Grandad's, in a shared bunk room with friends. Three choices dwindled to one as evening time became more compressed. But every night, we always ended with the same last song:
Day is done,
Gone the sun,
From the lakes,
From the hills,
From the skies,
All is well,
Safely rest,
God is nigh.”

     The first time they ever heard it beyond the bedroom was at a Memorial Day gathering by the Civil War monument in our small town. The parade was over, speeches and prayers were finished, and then from one corner of the town green a lone trumpeter played “Taps”.

     Anna and Andrew, sitting in our laps, looked up at us, confused. Another trumpet, a little further off played it again. Grown men in uniforms were wiping their eyes. A third and last time we heard it, far off, fading.

     Homework has overtaken our night singing now. I think that we will try again, once school is over, before Meg leaves for her summer job. My guess is that her feet will eagerly come thundering up the stairs, and while our laps are no longer big enough, there will be some arrangement of connected bodies across the floor. And when we're done, they will stay up, and Bob and I will go to bed.