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My son is 15 years old. From the time he was a newborn until four or five years ago, I sang to him, every night of his life — just after stories, just before sleep. A few weeks ago, I was browsing through some old email and I found a seven-year-old note I had written to my friend, Sally G., who had taken an interest in my nightly singing. She asked me what I sang and I produced a list for her.

It was interesting, after all that time, to see the list. I had forgotten some of the numbers in my repertoire and I enjoyed becoming reaquainted with them. At the time, I wrote this to Sally: “I’m thinking of singing them on to a tape so I can play them for him when he’s 15. (Or threaten him with them.)”

I never did get them sung on to a tape but I will share this enhanced version of them with him here — and with you too!

1. Rock a Bye Baby (Well, I avoided versions by Nirvana, Metallica, Nine Inch Nails — but please check this, Virginia O’Brien from the Marx Brothers movie, The Big Store, with a little intro by Groucho.)

2. Lullaby and Good Night — Brahm’s Lullaby (Update: I had to add this replacement for my original choice. This is Jewel.)

3. Hush Little Baby Don’t Say a Word (This is a version by Yo-Yo Ma and Bobby McFerrin and it doesn’t sound at all like me but I love it.)

4. Little Sir Echo (Dame Vera Lynn — need I say more? With Ambrose of the Mayfair Hotel Orchestra.)

5. Alouette: (This is so much fun.)

6. Tell Me Why (I spent a long time looking for this song. I won’t go into all the discoveries I made during my search except to say that it was nice to listen to the Four Aces singing Tell Me Why — even though it was the wrong song. This is the wrong song too — another Tell Me Why, this one written by Titus Turner and sung here, magnificently, by Maria Knight. But here is the song I was looking for, sung so sweetly by Tony and Bobbie sitting at their kitchen table. I liked them right away.)

7. Turn Around and You’re Two, Turn Around and You’re Four (I made myself cry most nights that I sang this. I made up little-boy words to substitute for “little dresses and petticoats” and other inappropriate phrases. The song was written by Harry Belafonte, Malvina Reynolds and Alan Greene. This is Harry.)

8. Moon River (A big bedtime favourite for many years. Written by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer for Breakfast at Tiffany’s, when a choral version rises up behind Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard embracing in the pouring rain with old wet Cat squashed between them … c’mon, not a dry eye in the house. Here’s the incomparable Audrey. And here’s the final scene from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Get the tissues.)

9. The Teddy Bears’ Picnic (In 1930, the lyrics of The Teddy Bears’ Picnic were written by Jimmy Kennedy and set to the original music written in 1907 by American composer J.K. Bratton. This is the real thing: Henry Hall & his Orchestra recorded in 1932.)

10. Let Me Call You Sweetheart (Bing Crosby. The song with music by Leo Friedman and lyrics by Beth Slater Whitson was published in 1910. At some point, my son — with his boy sense-of-humour — began to demand the parody version: Let me call you sweetheart, I’m in love with your machine. Let me hear you whisper, that you’ll buy the gasoline. Keep the headlights glowing and your hands upon the wheel. Let me call you sweetheart, I’m in love with your au-to-mo-bile.)

11. Swing Low Sweet Chariot (I didn’t sound anything like Kathleen Battle. Or Joan Baez who sang it at Woodstock.)

12. I Don’t Know Why I Love You Like I Do (I wasn’t the only one who sang this one: Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Sarah Vaughn, Hank Locklin, Stevie Wonder, Marty Robbins … This, however, is Dean Martin. It seems to suit him.)

13. Good Night Irene (It was famously written by Huddie Ledbetter — Leadbelly — and recorded by many artists over the years. The Weavers had a huge hit with it in 1950 accompanied by a bit of controversy as they tamed the lyrics a bit from the original.)

14. Home on the Range (Here’s Roy Rogers, The Singing Cowboy.)

15. Take Me Out to the Ballgame (It was written in 1908 by Jack Norworth. This is a great version, apparently recorded in 1908 by Edward Meeker.)

16. My Buddy (This is a sad little song, universally believed to have been written about a World War I soldier who lost his friend in battle. The music was written by Walter Donaldson, the lyrics by Gus Kahn. The song was published in 1922. I would like to have been able to link you to a version that seems closer to World War I but I have settled on an “amateur” performance that seems to be Mom-related.)

17. You Do Something to Me, Something that Simply Mystifies Me (Here is Ella Fitzgerald and you will never find a better version than this so don’t bother looking.)

18. Four Strong Winds (It was written in 1961 and recorded by at least 50 artists. William loved this song. Me too — and I loved Ian and Sylvia.)

19. Now and Then There’s a Fool Such as I (This is young Elvis who could do no wrong. And as I didn’t want to make a choice, here’s Jim Reeves also. He wasn’t as cool as Elvis but this version was really good for the last dance — and much easier for bedtime crooning.)

20. ‘Till There Was You (From The Music Man. When I was living in Prince Edward Island, I celebrated a significant birthday and my friends, Heather and Rachel, tried to get Robert Preston, the Music Man himself, to come to PEI as a birthday present for me. I’m not sure how far they got in Hollywood but I appreciated the effort. This is Shirley Jones singing so sweetly to Robert Preston.)

21. As Time Goes By (Play it, Sam. Dooley Wilson.)

22. Que Será Será (The New York Times would like to see Doris Day honoured with a special Oscar this year. Although she’s mostly remembered for light romance with Rock Hudson, here’s her rendition of Que Será Será, from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much.)

23. You’ll Never Know Just How Much I Love You (From the time he was very young, William insisted that the line, “And if I tried, I still couldn’t hide my love for you …” should be, “And if I tried, I still couldn’t hide my love from you …” He got such pleasure from waiting for that line and correcting me authoritatively that I continued to sing it as it was written: ” … my love for you …” This is Alice Faye. The song is from the movie Hello, Frisco, Hello and won the Academy Award for best original song in 1943. Who knew?)

24. Oh Canada (A nice version, sung by a children’s choir, here. When I sang it, I always changed the lyrics to, “Oh Canada, our home and native land, true patriot love, in all of us command … ”

I was surprised — although, in Internet comment sections, nothing much surprises me any more — that when I was browsing around, looking for different versions of the anthem, I came across so much vitriol being spewed at our country. Goodness, some people take such pleasure in saying such vicious things.)

25. Kiss Me Once and Kiss Me Twice and Kiss Me Once Again (As the years passed, bedtime changed and soon enough, the long sessions of singing came to an end. This was the last song to go. Some nights, I would stop in and say, “Would you like to hear a song?” and he was always very polite and said, “Sure.” This was always the song. Here are two irresistible versions. Enjoy them both: Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong.)

This is my core list. Other songs added themselves from time to time but didn’t have the staying power to show up here. Some of these occasionally dropped off the list but they bided their time and in the end, they were rewarded with a permanent spot.

It took me really long to do this post but I had a very good time doing it. I listened to dozens of versions of these songs that didn’t make the cut and I learned a few things as well.

Go ahead — click on all my links. I know you’ll be glad you did!

One of the highlights of 2009 was the May reunion of my Montreal General Hospital nursing class. I did a short write-up of the weekend for the alumnae newsletter which was published in the Fall. I’m republishing it here. It will be of special interest to my nursing friends but perhaps there will be some general interest in it as well.

When I began to write this, it took me by surprise when I acknowledged to myself that a tour of the hospital and the nurses’ residence, Livingston Hall, stood out as such a highlight of the reunion weekend. Hanging out in the hotel, walking the downtown neighbourhoods, eating good food and being together for the wonderful evening of the alumni dinner couldn’t have been more fun but it was in walking the halls of where we used to live and work that the past really returned to life.

In 1961, when we arrived at the MGH, the hospital had only been open for six years. It’s been through a lot since then; it shows some wear and tear but that’s to be expected. During the tour, we found it amazing 1) how much and how many details we remembered and 2) how everything used to be so much bigger.

For those of us who haven’t worked in a hospital setting for some time, things looked unfamiliar and intimidating but we found it easy to super-impose yesterday’s memories over today’s realities. We stood in the sixth floor lobby – not as imposing as it used to be, by the way – and looked at those six elevators that used to take us up to work every morning. Funny thing, we all had the same memory and that was how, as student nurses, we had to stand back and let the staff doctors go first even though they wouldn’t catch hell from the head nurse if they were late – as we certainly would.

From that memory, we went on to the one about being in the cafeteria lineup where we had to let practically everybody get into line ahead of us – and we had only a strictly-enforced 30 minutes for lunch. The cafeteria is a much different place today and if we complained about the food then … well, there’s no guarantee the commercial fast food and pre-cooked meals of today would be met with any more satisfaction.

The affection that we feel for the Montreal General is connected to much more than happy thoughts of youth. The time we spent at the MGH School of Nursing was formative in so many positive ways. I had written about an earlier reunion and speculated on the intimacy that was still present in our relationships with one another:

We wondered why we still felt so close, although it had been many years since some of us had seen each other. We knew there was something more than just the simple fact of having lived in residence together even though our residence was not only our home but was also our school and was connected to our workplace on several different physical levels.

In the end, I think our bond of sisterhood grows out of years of proximity to each other but also to our shared participation in the great stories of life and death and in knowing the intrinsic value of the important work we were so well-trained to do at the Montreal General Hospital.

There were 57 members of the Class of ’64 at our 45th reunion. There were classmates whom I hadn’t seen in the whole 45 years since graduation. It made me think regretfully of the light-hearted way the words, “Have a great life …” are used by the young and how different the significance of those words is at the different stages of our lives.

The organization of activities and fun was flawless and in case we didn’t all get a chance to say so, many thanks to everyone who worked on the reunion, at all levels, to make such a satisfying weekend come together.


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