Thursday, June 2, 2011

Happy Birthday Sis

The year 1941. I'm the weirdly dressed but cute as a button one on the left. The really adorable, sort of Oriental-looking cute one on the right is my sister Lois. Harsh sunlight bothered her, as did winter's cold. Still does, as a matter of fact.

There are so many memories of our years growing up together, but I vividly remember frigid mornings, standing outside the locked doors of St. Peter's School in Greenville, RI, along with six or seven other pitiful, shivering children huddled together for warmth. This Dickensian scene describes those of us unfortunate enough to be first arrivals. The Sisters of Mercy (a misnomer if ever there was one) declared that no students could be admitted into the toasty warm school building until ALL students were present and accounted for.

Her acute sensitivity to cold caused poor little Lois's hands to turn blue. In frustration and genuine outrage, I once took it upon myself to bang the front door loudly, gaining the attention and consternation of Sister Mary Benedict, a tall, thin-nosed woman whose kind and patient demeanor in the classroom always impressed me. Surely she would take pity on my now almost navy blue-handed sister, make an exception and permit her to enter and thaw out. She could see for herself how merciful it would be to ease Lois's discomfort, couldn't she?

Fat chance. Rules were (and still are, after all) RULES!! established for the very best of reasons, the mysterious benefits of which were to be withheld from children, who knowing them, might question and even rebel. Not likely in a Catholic school, of course. But it was right about that time that Lois and I decided we would NOT become nuns. Ever.

Lois is a cat lover, a letter-writer (she knows not the intricacies of a computer), a prolific Thank You, Christmas-Easter-Birthday card sender, and an admirer of cat-related kitsch who pastes darling images of cats all over the envelopes she mails. Thanks to her, my kitchen calendar features monthly photographs of adorable kittens. Easter changes the decor of her house dramatically, hard surfaces providing perfect display areas for ceramic rabbits and Easter egg baskets. The result is abundantly cheerful. Lois has never met a knick-knack she didn't like, although the last time we visited a shop filled with that sort of merchandise, we entered a solemn sisterly pact to stop buying the stuff from that moment on. (See, it's in the genes and I am prone to the disease myself).

When we were growing up, we enjoyed the luxury of separate bedrooms, each decorated as we wished. Hers was filled with posters and magazine photographs of her favorite movie stars, i.e., Robert Wagner (before he chose Natalie Wood instead of her) and Marlon Brando in his leather and bike gear for the 1953 film "The Wild One". Her love affair with Wagner continues to this day, and she actually met him, backstage at a road company production of the two-character play "Love Letters". She very nearly fainted dead away.

Being a singer with some experience, I can attest that my sister is a terrific vocalist. We both inherited good natural voices and applied them with teen-age gusto in the church choir. Lois could have had a singing career if not for a chronic case of stage fright. However, she gradually understood and dealt with it, and used it most effectively one winter night a few years ago when I was to appear at a Rhode Island jazz club.

The snow and slick highway made for an interesting journey for the driver, the late, great jazz drummer Alan Dawson, so we arrived after start time. To my surprise, I saw and heard my sister's distinctive voice swinging away on some standard tune (scat singing included, if you please!) It was a sweet, and generous gesture, keeping the audience entertained until I showed up.
Thank you Lois!

The photo of us below was taken two years ago at her surprise 70th birthday. Far as I'm concerned, she still looks cute.

So ....
Happy Birthday To You ...
Happy Birthday To You ...
Happy Birthday dear Lois ...
Happy Birthday to you ....

1 comment:

Connie Ciampanelli - RI said...

Dear Carole,

My husband and I were there at Chan's that night when Lois took to the stool, microphone in hand, until you arrived safely from the snowstorm. I'll never forget the look on your face when you walked into the door and saw your sister entertaining, very well, I might add, the folks awaiting your arrival. It was a night never to be forgotten.

You signed my album, "Love You Madly"...and so did Lois. It is framed and on the wall in our family room.

A belated happy birthday to Lois.
And thanks to you for many, many hours of listening pleasure, which began when I heard you play, with a bit of discomfort, one of your own recordings, requested by a listener, on the old "Music America" on WGBH. I loved Ron, but was not unhappy when you covered for him!

Warm Regards,
Connie Ciampanelli
North Providence RI