The House That Roared

Posted on December 26, 2014 under Storytelling with 3 comments

Singing to Nan (1 of 1) (2)

Photo courtesy of Peter MacDonald



What’s in a number?

There are some numbers that stand out.  What is the first thing you think of when you hear the number 99?  It’s most likely Wayne Gretzky, or you remember sitting on a bus, on a high school road trip, singing “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall”.  Has anyone ever sung all 99 verses?  The number 13 is normally associated with bad luck, so much so, that most hotels don’t have a 13th floor.  Retirement is purported to happen at 65 … a pipe dream for most of us.  And, of course, the number 1 is often trotted out by sports teams when they win a championship; “We’re number 1!”

I would like to add my own special number: 39.

If you do the math, it would appear that thirty nine is triple bad luck, but nothing could be further from the truth.  You see, this is the number of the house that I grew up in and I affectionately call it the “house that roared”.  Oh yes, there were times that blood curdling screams have emanated from the walls of this structure as our parents rose to the challenge of raising 8 children.  But above all the din and confusion, one thing stands out about #39.


We congregated recently at the house to celebrate the life of our beloved niece, Audrey.  The room was filled with people weary from a week of sorrow and anguish.  There was our 89 year old mother and her great granddaughter, 3 year old Anna, and just about every age in between.  It took all of 5 seconds for the pall to be lifted as we belted out “Sound the Pibroch”.  And like fire and gasoline, there was an instant explosion as our grief found relief in song.

The music crossed all generational lines.

“Abilene”, “The Mary Ellen Carter”, Puff the Magic Dragon”

We tend to take our music for granted on the East Coast.  A kitchen party is par for the course and you could go to just about any house after a funeral and have the same experience.  All that was missing from our gathering was a fiddle.  Two of my sisters are learning how to play.  They chose not to debut their talents on this particular night!  I have family on the west coast and they claim that out there, a spontaneous gathering of this sort is as elusive as a sighting of the Loch Ness monster.

“Ring of Fire”,” Song for the Mira”, Twinkle, Twinkle”

We start them when they’re still in the cradle.  Just about every get-together over the past 60 years has featured the young and the old.  It is hard to tell what an infant being nursed thinks about all the racket in the background.  But it becomes obvious over the years that the sounds and rhythms get into their blood.  How else can you explain the following exchange I had with my grand-niece, Grace (she’s 8):  “Would you play a song for me?” she asked.  I was expecting the request to be a nursery rhyme or something from Frozen.  “I would like to sing “Auld Lang Syne.”  I nearly dropped my guitar. She knew every word and sang it flawlessly. If Dick Clark lives long enough, he may have her as a guest on New Year’s Eve from Times Square.

In The Evening by the Moonlight”, “Working Man”, “Baa Baa Black Sheep”

A family friend who is a member of the RCMP sat and watched, mouth agape, as brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, mothers, grandmothers and cousins all took turns singing their favorites.  He wondered aloud if we got together often to practice.  “Only for funerals or weddings,” ran through my mind as we explained that these gatherings are a part of our DNA.  It’s “What’s Bred in the Bone,” as Robertson Davies said in his classic novel.

“Calendar Girl,” “Eight Days a Week,” “Skinnamarink”

Our recently departed niece was ever present as we sang all of her favorites.  Well, maybe not all, as she knew a broad repertoire.  Had we agreed to all of her requests, we would be there still.

Arm in arm, we belted out the refrain from “Good Night Ladies”.  The house fell silent as we made our way back to our homes, which all have a number… just not #39.

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