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Cummings: Song For Dad

06/13/12 5:55PM By Dede Cummings
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(Host) This Father's Day writer, book designer and commentator Dede Cummings will be thinking about her own Dad - and a family tradition that involved singing a song.

(Cummings) Hearing a random song on the radio from an old Broadway musical the other day, reminded me of a scene from my family album of memories: there we were, the five Cummings girls, all lined up on a hot summer night; the oldest three in our muumuus, the two baby girls in their tops and frilled bottoms. No slippers, only bare feet, toughened by early summer's running. All lined up, in order of age, by our mother, with her kerchief, dark tan, and Lily Pulitzer dress, overseen by Dad in his loafers, cold beer in hand and a lit cigarette balanced on an ashtray.

Our guests for the evening were the Chattertons, relatives who also happened to be our next-door neighbors. Uncle Allie had a trick in which he took the shirt off another man's back without removing the man's suit jacket. This became a legend to patrons at Theater-By-The-Sea where years later a waitress would run in exclaiming, "A man just pulled a button down shirt off a guy at the bar without removing his jacket!" To which I, fellow waitress, calmly replied, "That's my uncle!"

Most likely, our babysitter Anita, whose boyfriend wore a Brando t-shirt and rode a motorcycle, would be looking down the lane in anticipation of his arrival.

Dad had requested a song and we would sing it just for him, a man surrounded by women: sisters, mother, wife, and daughters, his own father having long ago departed due to a bout with the bottle and the crash of ‘29.

The Cummings girls with grandmother, Catherine Ellis.
Mom directed us - her own mother Catherine having had a modest musical career. Catherine had learned to play the "piano" on a piece of cardboard because her father had been run over by a trolley so her family didn't have much furniture to speak of - much less a real piano, but she went on to play at the Copley piano bar.

Our mother would fuss over us, a little uneven line of five girls born in seven years; she'd smooth our hair, hum a pitch note under her breath, and proudly say, "Okay girls." The song was "Hey Look Me Over," from the musical "Wildcat" with Lucille Ball as a feisty Texas oil prospector. And as he flipped hamburgers on the grill for dinner, our father sang along. It was his favorite, and we always nailed it.

Our father egged us on, swinging his spatula like a conductor. My younger sister, Ann, sang in an end-of-the-music-line, drama queen way. I would scrunch my brow and scowl over the lyric, "Hey pass the plate boys, mortgage up to here," imagining that it somehow referred to nasty boys being better than my smart singing sisters!

After the applause died down, and my mother went to "freshen her lipstick," we'd line up again, this time holding up white paper plates, with our upturned faces like radiant little globes.

We'd collect hamburgers from Dad, who was still singing and doing a tap dance by the grill. "Hey look out world," we sang together, "here I come."

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