Her joyful tunes could heard be throughout our home every day. We listened to them in the yard as she hung the freshly laundered sheets. She whistled on our walks along the graveled roads and into the bramble wood as we picked fat, wild blueberries. She’d break into a number along with Ole’ Blue Eyes as he sang “Strangers In The Night” on the radio, randomly while she cooked and cleaned bustling about her days. I think the only time she wasn’t whistling was when she was singing or cooing to one of the babies. She was my Mom and she whistled a lovely tune. I loved Mom’s whistling. It was part of who she was. It filled our home and our lives with love and joy and music.
And so it came as a bittersweet shock when at the self-conscious age of thirteen or so, as I readied myself for school one morning whistling away like a cardinal, my Mom proclaimed nonchalantly, “You shouldn’t whistle Nancy. It’s not ladylike.”
Speechless, I froze in my steps and looked at her. My immediate thought was, “You’ve been whistling my whole life long. How can you tell me it’s not ladylike?” But I didn’t say anything. My jaw dropped and just hung there as well as my spirits. I got myself to school but didn’t forget this new message, this new rule regarding behavior unbecoming ladies.
I considered whistling and all of this unladylike talk long and hard. I’d never been one to pander to conformity, even in childhood, always on the tomboy side of play. The only occasions on which Mom challenged me were on certain holidays and weddings when wearing a too tight, hard-to-breath-in-made-by-Grandma dress was mandated. Otherwise, I was allowed, even encouraged to just play the way you like, but always play nice. In our family, never were gender roles heavily emphasized. So now I questioned, why would something as joyful as whistling be skewed by anyone to be a negative thing? All of this silliness sounded absurd.
I doubt she’d even remember that day or her advice. For me, it was something of a defining moment. It took me the better part of my adolescence to conclude that whistling is a fine and lighthearted activity regardless of ones gender. It has taken me most of the rest of my life of random thoughts regarding the whimsical whistle to realize that it may indeed have been one of her finest gifts.
Yes, Mom perhaps whistling isn’t ladylike, but I mimicked the finest of models. In my childhood you gifted me with tools for deep thought and reasoning, abundant liberty to choose, and the courage to act upon my choices.
I whistled pure joy all the while raising my son. I whistled my way back from the brink of death.
I’m going to whistle away my days and maybe even a few nights because its been good to me. Its one of the simplest of uplifting actions I can take, ranking right up there with gratitude, meditation and prayer and I ask you, what could be better than that?
I step out into the pre-dawn morning. The sensation of celestial emboldened air, the spectacle of sparkles upon waters, the ether of blue hour skies and the reticent reach of the horizon strike me full tilt. I step a lively foot forward. A melody sneaks from beneath my consciousness and erupts in the shape of wondrous whimsy, a whistle. And I begin.
Authors Note: My Mom died suddenly in January of 1996 at the age of sixty-six. I miss her still, every day.