Happy Birthday, Mom!

Today is my mother’s birthday. She is awesome. Here is a story that tells you pretty much everything you need to know about her:

Back in the early nineties, when I was in high school, my parents took my sister and me to see Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie performing at Northrop Auditorium at the University. My sister and I were dubious, but we went and enjoyed ourselves (because, let’s be honest, Pete Seeger is an adorable human being).

Anyway, on the afternoon before we went to the concert,  I came home from school and my mom was in the kitchen. Her cheeks were flushed; her eyes were bright.

“I did something,” my mom said.

Oh god, I thought. “What?” I said.

“Well,” my mom said. “I made a song request. For the concert.”

What?” I said. “How?”

“Well, I really wanted him to sing ‘I’m gonna be an engineer’, you know, for my teenaged daughters.”


“And I figured that if he’s performing at Northrop, he’s probably staying at the Radisson nearby, so I called the front desk and asked to be transferred to Pete Seeger’s room.”

“You didn’t.”

“I did. They said he wasn’t available.”

Mom, I thought. Honestly.

“So I left a message. And he’s probably gotten it by now, and maybe he’ll sing the song.”

There was so much wrong here, I didn’t even know where to begin.

“Mom,” I said, speaking very, very slowly. “There is no way that your message is getting anywhere near Pete Seeger. This is the silliest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“Well,” my mom said, utterly unflapped by my wet-blanket predictions. “We’ll see.” And then she started humming.

That night, we went to the concert. My sister (who is a year younger than me) next to one another and our parents on either side.

And Pete Seeger gets on stage. And he starts talking to the audience about “the folk process” and how all folk music originates with grandmas – the songs that grandmas sing to their grandbabies. And he sings this cute little song (one that I would, years later, sing to my own three kids) – “Creepy crawly little mousie from the barnie to the housie”, etc. and makes the audience sing with him. And he can do this because he is Pete Seeger, and utterly adorable. With his banjo. So everyone in the audience is singing and giggling and relaxed and prepared for a perfectly nice time with some folksy icons.

And then he says this:

“Speaking of grandmothers, my sister is a grandmother now. Great folk singer too. About twenty years ago, she wrote this song about a young woman making a path for herself, despite everything in her way. It was a pretty good song. And today, some woman called my hotel room and asked me to sing it for her two teenaged daughters. Seemed like a good idea to me.”

No, I thought.

It can’t be, I thought.

And my mom was elbowing me madly, her face shining like a dang jewel. She bounced in her chair. She poked my sister.

He’s talking about me,” she whispered at my sister.

He is not, mom,” my sister hissed. “Goll!”

“Actually….” I whispered back. I couldn’t even say it.

And then, goddamnit, he sang “I’m gonna be an engineer.” Because of my glorious mom – who also made a path for herself, in spite of her wet-blanket teenaged daughters standing in her way.

Happy birthday, Mom. Thank you for your enthusiasm, your support, your can-do spirit, your magnificent heart, your relentless positivity, your undying love, and your willingness to call random famous people in their hotel rooms, just so they will sing me a song. I love you more than I can ever say.

11 thoughts on “Happy Birthday, Mom!

  1. This is marvelous, and what the St. Paul Pioneer Press’s Bulletin Board would call a “Joy of Juxtaposition.”

    “I’ve been a sucker ever since I was a baby.” I’ve loved that song since shortly after Peggy Seeger first sang it in 1972. Last night, I saw that an animation of the song was a favorite video of Brennen Leigh, a singer in Austin, Texas. So I got to sing along with it again.

    Your mom has excellent taste and admirable chutzpah.

  2. Whether his voice was being heard in support of the labor movement in the 40’s, for civil rights since the 50’s, or on behalf of environmental causes since the 60’s, Seeger’s actions have always mirrored his concerns. He is quick to note, in fact, that he became a full-time folk singer almost inadvertently, with music simply meshing with—rather than dictating—his lifestyle. Although his parents were both professional musicians, Pete intended to work in journalism, but soon discovered after dropping out of Harvard, in 1938, to knock on the doors of the publishing world—that there were no jobs to be had, so he turned to his musical talents in an effort to earn his way.

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