Jest for Grins: This family’s sing-alongs are usually out of tune

Hubby Ray’s recent party ended the family spring birthday season at our house and, with it, the traditional singing of “Happy Birthday.” Friend Jean says she enjoys attending birthday parties at our home because when our family members sing, it sounds just as bad as when her family sings.

Sister Vicki says it would be worse if she didn’t pull a Milli Vanilli and lip-sync “Happy Birthday” at every party. I can’t verify the truth of her statement because I have never heard her sing … not even as a child.

Dad once remarked that he reared four daughters, three of whom sang around the house with varying degrees of skill, but he never heard Vicki sing a single note. And that begs the question: How can Vicki shower if she doesn’t sing?

I thought Vicki’s situation was unique until friend Kris confided that she cannot carry a tune and “whisper sings” whenever group singing is required. She claims her singing is so bad that during long-ago church services when she thought she was whisper singing, her young daughter and son would warn, “Mom, we can HEAR you.”

But, unlike Vicki, Kris will sing out loud in solitude. Recently, in the privacy of her home, she was singing while sewing. But she realized she wasn’t truly alone when her dogs ran into the room, whining and pawing at her to stop making a racket that was unbearable even to their ears.

None of the Henry family dogs ever begged any of us to cease singing, although Vicki thinks they might have had she sung. Sister Bette and I can sing but not nearly so well as mom could. I don’t think sister Lesta lip-syncs “Happy Birthday,” but she declares she’s not a singer and I’m taking her word for it.

Yet our parents were quite musical. Mom had a beautiful voice and even sang on radio broadcasts in Oklahoma when she was a teenager and played bass drum in her high school marching band. In college, she studied voice as well as piano and organ.

While in high school, dad studied opera with a private voice coach. I’ll never forget him singing Italian opera at the top of his lungs while shaving. He had volume that could be heard in the farthest corners of our house.

The only instrument dad learned to play was a banjo. TV personality Arthur Godfrey had made banjo playing popular (much like Steve Martin did for a later generation), and dad bought a banjo and had Mom teach him to play a single song to serenade the mayor at a city council meeting. Think it was the mayor’s birthday? Think again. The song was “Enjoy yourself (It’s Later Than You Think),” and the mayor was serenaded just before the council decided to allow citizens to vote on changing the form of city government from mayor-council to commission-city manager (and, yes, there’s much more to that story).

My sisters and I tap-dance but play no musical instruments. Bette insists she took violin lessons — I don’t remember that — and quit when we teased her about torturing a cat by pulling its tail.

Husband Ray can play piano, guitar and once played the accordion. (I guess he still can play it if accordion-playing is like bicycle-riding.) He has a wonderful baritone voice and used to sing duets with his friend Glenn at community meetings at their country school. I credit Ray’s talent as the reason our sons can sing and play musical instruments.

The most fun I ever had singing was when we visited Oklahoma and mom or one of my aunts would play the piano in my grandparents’ small living room while a large crowd of relatives gathered round and sang hymns or Christmas carols. That really was a joyful noise.

Just don’t expect a joyful noise if you’re ever invited to our home for a birthday party.