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I received word that my niece-in-law, Mae, had died. Even though Mae and my nephew had divorced years ago, she was still considered “family.” She was like a sister, and I loved her. My heart was broken when I learned of her passing. I made plans to attend her funeral services out of state.

On the day of her funeral, family, friends, her minister and fellow church members gathered at the funeral home for the service. When it was the time for family tributes to be given, no one got up. I knew her daughter was too distraught to speak, but I didn’t want it said that no one from her family spoke. I rose from my seat and went to the dais.

I hadn’t prepared anything to say. With a shaky voice I extended my condolences to family and friends and then related an incident in which Mae showed her love for me by offering to protect me against someone she considered dangerous. Before I could give a masked description of what Mae proposed to do, her minister and church members blurted out what they knew Mae said she would do, something against the law. They were right. Everyone laughed. They knew her well.

No one else from the family had come forward yet to speak. I decided to finish by singing a verse from a religious song that spoke to one’s life after passing. The minister and his church members knew the words to the song and joined in, but unfortunately for me, they knew the song by a different tune. Falteringly and hit-or-miss (more miss than hit), I tried to follow their tune since they were not trying to follow mine. They sang every verse. I thought it would never end. I was so relieved when the song was finally over and I could return to my seat. “Amen!”

As my say-whatever-comes-to-his-mind great-nephew drove me to the cemetery, he said, “You know, Aunt Peggy, you really can’t sing.” I looked at him and fell out laughing. “Well,” I said, “I’m sure your Aunt Mae appreciated my efforts.” His comments reminded me of some verses from the poem “When Malindy Sings,” by Paul Laurence Dunbar (African American writer who wrote in dialect and the King’s English; 1872-1906).


G’way an’ quit dat noise, Miss Lucy (Miss Peggy ?) –Put dat music book away;

What’s de use to keep on tryin’? Ef you practise twell you’re gray,

You cain’t sta’t no notes a-flyin’Lak de ones dat rants and rings

F’om de kitchen to de big woods When Malindy sings.

You ain’t got de nachel o’gans Fu’ to make de soun’ come right,

You ain’t got de tu’ns an’twistin’s Fu’ to make it sweet an’ light.

Tell you one thing now, Miss Lucy An’ I’m tellin’ you fu’ true

When hit comes to raal right singin’, ‘T ain’t no easy thing to do…”

I guess I was NOT Malindy.

Peggy Tarr

Peggy Tarr has been a columnist for the Evanston RoundTable since its founding in 1998. Born in Bruce Springsteen's hometown of Freehold, New Jersey, she graduated from Rutgers University with a degree...