Last week I shared my pre-teen dream of achieving peace and love via Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Sounds of Silence.’ It remained just a beautiful dream until I learned that my Calvinette troupe would be hosting the Calvinette banquet. And I knew what had to be done.
What is a ‘Calvinette?’ Pretty much what it says. A little, female follower of John Calvin. Although we owed more to the Girl Scouts than we did the worthy reformer. My particular Calvinist denomination had a Calvinette troupe in each church. Sort of like Awanas for preteen girls. We had a motto. (Grace is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears Jehovah, she shall be praised.) We had a song. ‘Oh Calvinettes March Forward.’
We got badges. I learned to darn a sock over a lightbulb. And every year or so, all the Calvinettes in the state came together for a banquet. As hosts this year, our duty was to provide entertainment.
There was the plum. Sitting in my lap, smiling up at me. “You need a place to start changing the world? Here you go!”
Almost a hundred other junior high girls would be there. They would hear ‘Sounds of Silence.’ It had been off the airwaves since we were mere third graders. But now, on the cusp of teenhood, the world would soon be ours. WE COULD MAKE IT NICE. Every girl in that room couldn’t help, on hearing The Song, to be moved. To go home and cry. And then begin the change that would change everything.
I gathered my friends to share my vision. My vision may have lost something in translation, but no one argued when I suggested that, as the Dream-transmitter, I would sing lead and accompany on guitar. Like polite girls (Calvinettes were well-mannered and supportive) my friends agreed. There were half a dozen of us united on this giddy venture to set world kindness in motion.
At the first practice, only 5 girls showed up. The second had 4 and by the third, it was me and my friend Nan. Who I forbade, on the force of my (actually underwhelming) personality, to drop out.
Why, when offered a chance to achieve greatness and love and flowers and puppies via a song, did those Calvinettes skedaddle? Some had parents who, foreseeing disaster, wouldn’t let them participate. The rest were smitten by self-preservation combined with common sense. Did I mention that I am thiscloseto tone deaf? And that my guitar prowess was the result of 6 half-hour lessons?
Poor Nan. She tried everything to make our duo work. “How about I sing harmony?”
Did you know that to the musically-impaired, harmony sounds like a pig wailing over a stolen corn cob?
I laughed her to scorn. Me. Who had the nickname ‘Gravel Gurdy’ as a child.
But she hung in there, agreeing to sing melody. An octave higher than me.
The night came. THE NIGHT. The night when the tentacles of love would go out and—
“Girls.” One of our long-suffering Calvinette leaders beckoned Nan and I into a private corner. Just before the festivities began.
“We’ve been listening to the lyrics.” Her matter-of-fact tone didn’t fool us. It concealed the deep discomfort of an adult addressing juveniles on carnal matters. “The verse about ‘written on the subway walls’ is not appropriate.”
We looked at her blankly. We barely knew what a subway was. She fidgeted and straightened my Calvinette scarf. “It isn’t nice.”
We obviously were not getting it. She sighed.
“Subway walls have things that aren’t…appropriate…written on them. You’ll have to eliminate that verse.”
My vision of a brighter future crumbled at the edges. But I would not give in. I would not let the music die.
Our names were announced.
Nan stood with the air of one facing the guillotine. I marched forward, guitar hugged to my ribcage.
We turned to face a sea of 11-13 year old female faces. Our Calvinette leaders’ faces were buried in their hands.
I plucked at strings for the opening I’d painstakingly created.
I strummed. I sang. Somewhere around the key of ‘bottom of a deep dark pit.’
Nan, thankful that video phones and youtube were decades in the future, was possibly singing, or possibly just frozen. I couldn’t tell. The blood burbled in my ears and drowned out even my own rumbling tone.
We stopped signing abruptly, just short of the final verse. I faded out with the same soulful, ‘I’m a Little Teapot’ sort of notes I’d started with. The audience sat stunned. I was surrounded by the sounds of silence. Then, grateful it was over, my kind-hearted Calvinette leaders began to clap. The rest of my club joined, and soon the entire room was gently patting their hands together.
Nan and I found our ways to our seats. Banquet-type stuff happened. I went home. But something died in me that night. Right about the second verse of ‘The Sounds of Silence.’
Please come back tomorrow to learn the moral of the story.