She sang. She was always singing. When he was alive, my Poppie (her husband) didn’t like it, apparently because he thought she didn’t have a good voice. She said she couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. They were both wrong. She sang lots of songs, the same ones over and over. It was so characteristic of her to sing while making breakfast, sing while ironing my white uniforms for school, sing while sitting at the dining room table, working on a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle…another characteristic trait, “playing puzzle.”
She sang so many kinds of songs. Old songs from the ‘30s and ‘40s, Western ballads, songs from musicals, children’s ditties she had learned in school, folksongs. Patsy Cline, and Irving Berlin, and Cole Porter, and the occasional Sinatra. “What’ll I Do?,” “The Story of Two Cigarettes,” “You Are my Sunshine,” “I Fall to Pieces,” “Down in the Valley,” “I Love You For Sentimental Reasons,” and so many others. I learned these songs by hearing her sing them, and to this day there are few I have heard in their original form. I remember her singing them as they were meant to be sung, and I remember all the funny little ways she would sing them when she felt silly and happy, replacing words and adding in her own tempos. She was rarely unhappy, at least when I was around.
“Room Full of Roses,” was one of the songs she sang the most. A country song, it was recorded by George Morgan in 1949 and hit number four on the Billboard charts that year, which must be when she first heard it. I had never asked her, and I doubt she would have remembered such trivia. It was covered by Mickey Gilley in 1974, and was a major hit for him. As I write this, I have never heard either version, but I know the lyrics by heart.
It is a bit ironic that I chose this song for the title of my blog. It isn’t a tribute to either George Morgan or Mickey Gilley, and the irony lies in the lyrics— it’s about someone breaking someone else’s heart, certainly not something Grandma ever did to me! It is so iconic of her, though, and in spite of the story the song tells, I like to think that my Grandma gave me many, many figurative “rooms full of roses”— gifts, lessons, memories to cherish, and love to remember and hold onto. I love the idea that we each do essentially the opposite of what the song says for each other— that every time we make our loved ones happy, cheer them when they are sad, care for them when they are sick, play and laugh with them, we bless them with roses of our hearts. She filled rooms, and rooms, and endless rooms of those kinds of roses for me…
So here it is, the original version shared with you on the four-month anniversary of her passing. I think of her, and hope that somewhere she is singing with me a sad song, but a song that only ever brought us happiness: