Mix Tape


My exasperated, whispered command to be quiet is the loudest sound on the cassette tape. Repeatedly.

Through the whir of the nearly 40-year-old tape, I can hear the giggles of my younger brothers fade beneath the laugh track. Marie Osmond is singing about how she’s a little bit country, and her brother Donny is responding that he’s a little bit rock’n’roll. I hear the shuffling click that signifies a commercial break, abruptly followed by the resumption of the intro music and laugh track.


tape-recorderIt’s just before 8:00 on a Friday evening in the fall of 1977, and 11-year-old me is crouched on the shag carpeting in the family room of the house on Mt. Vernon Drive. While my mom, dad, and brothers lounge comfortably on the sectional couch behind me, I zealously guard the channel and volume dials of the console color television like it’s my job. My fingers are poised over the play and record buttons of the cassette recorder. As the clock strikes eight, I press down.

I am living in a time long ago and far away, before the proliferation of remote control devices or video cassette recorders or cable television. The likelihood of a member of my family storming the TV to change the channel from ABC to one of the three other options is unlikely. But I am not taking any chances.

There are six days and 23 hours between now and when the next Donny and Marie Show episode will air. By that time, I will have memorized the script and the songs of this one—and every shushing sound I make. From the opening musical number and ice-skating routine through the corny skits to the farewell strains of “May tomorrow be a perfect day,” I will have replayed in my head the images on the screen over and over. And over.


It’s August 1984, and nearly 18-year-old me is crouched on the shag carpeting next to the stereo system in my bedroom. This state-of-the-art piece of technology allows me to play a vinyl record or an eight-track or cassette tape. It also gives me the option to record from LP to cassette without the interference of outside noise.

mix-tapeI unwrap a blank cassette and click it into the front-loading slot. I press the play and record buttons just before dropping the needle into the groove of Supertramp’s Breakfast in America LP. I hum along with “The Logical Song” and “Goodbye Stranger” as I clutch my blue ballpoint pen and painstakingly copy the playlist from the record jacket to the lined cassette cover.

A growing stack of freshly recorded tapes is piling up on the floor next to the radio/cassette “boom box” I will be taking with me for my freshman year of college. My dorm room will not be large enough to hold my growing record collection, let alone a turntable.

There is a token Donny and Marie Show tape at the bottom of the stack, beneath Prince’s Purple Rain, Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A., and Tina Turner’s Private Dancer. I will listen to that one when my roommate is not around.


It’s late June afternoon in 2006, and I have set up my laptop computer on my parents’ kitchen table, where I can enjoy the breeze wafting through the screen door. Mom is napping in her bedroom, recovering from her latest chemo treatment. Dad is on the golf course, taking a break from his nursing duties, and my brother and niece will be joining us for dinner in a little while. I am taking a break from laundry and food prep.

My iTunes library is displayed on the laptop screen, and I make a selection from the stack of compact discs from my parents’ collection—greatest hits compilations from Johnny Cash, Neil Diamond, Anne Murray, Kris Kristofferson, Helen Reddy, and Tom Jones. These are the CDs my brothers and I have given to my mom and dad for Christmas over the years, meant to replace worn vinyl LPs with their scratches and skips. This music—in addition to Supertramp, Culture Club, Billy Joel, and my extensive Osmond discography—is the soundtrack of my childhood.

I click a Carpenters disc into the CD drive of my computer and select “yes” to begin importing the tracks.

I walk over to the refrigerator, pulling out the makings for a salad. I chop cucumbers and tomatoes to the accompaniment of Karen Carpenter’s soothing voice. I shred lettuce to the melancholy strains of “Yesterday Once More.”


Amy bio YAH

Cante Flamenco

I never took formal dance lessons or music lessons. Other little girls took their dancing shoes and leotards with them to school in their backpacks for lessons right after school. I merely tried to keep up with their tap routines on the blacktop at the playground when we played “dance class.”

When I went home, I got my scarves—two or three gauzy little things that needed a good wash—from under my bed and skipped down to the living room. I put on my favorite record, a 101 Strings Orchestra 33 from my parents’ record collection, entitled The Soul of Spain. My mom, who is from the north of Spain, from Barcelona, and doesn’t care very much for southern flamenco music, laughed and watched me dance.  The thrilling melodies, the sheer drama of classics like Malaguena, La Paloma, and El Relicario enthralled me. I danced my own flamenco all the way through elementary school.


In college, I studied Spanish literature. I learned to read (very slowly and with a dictionary under my hand) Old Castilian and Golden Age Spanish, and I immersed myself in the rich and prolific mix of Arabic and Jewish and Christian folklore and songs, the texts that inform modern Andalusian culture. In a later class I read parts of Federico Garcia Lorca’s Romancero gitano, a book of poetry capturing the essence of nineteenth and early twentieth century gypsy culture. The romantic verses electrified my imagination. My favorite movie at the time was Carlos Saura’s documentary Flamenco, a series of performances of different categories—or palos—of flamenco music, song, and dance, of which there are over fifty.

I spent my last semester of college at the University of Granada in southern Spain. I took a flamenco dance class and every opportunity to explore gypsy culture. Gypsies—Roma people—face a difficult problem in Spain. They are both reviled and revered—reviled for what many consider to be the unscrupulous lifestyle of swindlers, and revered for their artistic endeavors and accomplishments as musicians and dancers, practicing and renewing an ancient musical form.flamenco-1046485_960_720

Early on, my friend Melissa and I went to a tablao de flamenco, a cabaret performance in a dark, humid little bar in Seville. The singers and dancers and guitar players sat facing us on folding chairs in a semicircle, forming a miniature stage in front of them. The women wore traditional polka-dotted red and green dresses with sturdy-heeled shoes, heavily kohled eyes, and fringed shawls. The men all wore loose, double-breasted suits and had long, shaggy hair. The guitarists began to play, setting the rhythm by alternately tapping the soundboard and plucking the strings. The singers clapped in a series of complicated syncopations with the guitar, and a man stood up to perform the song.

The cante flamenco is the saddest, most mournful sound I have ever heard. The voice of the Gitano is one of despair and longing, of lost love and brokenness leading to death. The songs are lyrically simple, but the interpretation is not. In fact, a singer is freed by the power of his own interpretation. And when that happens, his fellow musicians cheer and cry out because the pain of his song radiates outward and pierces them.

Melissa turned to me and asked, “Why are they shouting and clapping? That’s so weird and interruptive for another performer to do. They’re literally cutting him off in the middle of his song.”

“Yeah,” I said. I did not know how to deal with the ache in my own heart as I watched the singer. I resorted to a sort of xenophobic explanation: “I think it’s ok, because it’s part of their culture to do that.”

Melissa looked unconvinced.


In the months afterward, I walked through the public parks of Granada, where there were performers in abundance. I looked for groups of Roma practicing palmas, the rhythmic clapping so essential to flamenco. Five, ten, or fifteen of them would set up a complex clapping rhythm and keep it up for a half hour at a time. One would lift his voice and sing about aloneness or a dead sweetheart. I sat nearby with a book, pretending to read but soaking up every bit of the energy of the performance.


When I was little, the dance was my favorite. Now it has become the song—the poetry. I listen to The Soul of Spain for sentimental reasons, but it no longer holds the same resonance. It is too polished, too symphonic. I prefer the harsh, energetic vocalizations of the singers who enter through song into the passion and pain of the Gypsy who is at the center—but always at the margins of Spanish culture.

I close my eyes and open my ears to a fandango de Huelva:

Mis lágrimas voy echando

En un vaso de cristal

Ahora las hecho en el suelo

Porque de tanto llora

el vaso lo tengo lleno


My tears were falling

Into a glass

But now my tears fall to the floor

Because I’ve cried so much

The glass is full

Elena bio YAH

Open Windows

“Do you want to go back to bed?!? DO YOU WANT TO GO BACK TO BED?!?”

“Yes!” I grumbly murmured as I rolled over in bed and turned my back to the open window letting in the cool 5 a.m. August-air.

photo-1447154705288-7175737fb73cI was a couple weeks into my new apartment near Philadelphia. By now I was used to the 6 a.m. physical training drills as platoons of teenagers from the military college across the street marched to their practice field about 100 yards from my window. Five a.m. was new though. Someone must have done something wrong.

I knew my body well enough to know my night was over. I slid out of bed, trying to be quiet in case my roommate had managed to sleep through the earlier-than-normal P.T. routine. She’d be up early enough when they marched back to campus singing their cadence song in an hour or so.

I wandered into the kitchen to start the coffee and curled into the soft cushions of our couch, staring out the window into the front yard of the apartment complex until I heard the young cadets marching home again.

Leased from a local military college, my graduate school housing was a 1930s era apartment. Its wood floors were charming, and the sweetest floral pattern was etched into the bathroom mirror. The 1930s was the era of the fuse box which meant no air-conditioning and no window unit. So, we left our windows open.

Aside from the hot-July months when I had to escape to wander the mall all day lest I roast, I didn’t really mind it so much. I’m a couple years removed from that apartment now, and I rather miss needing to have my windows open. The always-conditioned cool air of Georgia summers seem rather stuffy in comparison.

Much of my graduate school classes focused on peace and non-violence. The irony that I was living on a military campus where teenagers marched by and sang about war on a daily basis was not lost on me.

The apartment buildings was surrounded by the military college and their football field, the parking lot for a large church (that was also a school), and a golf course. The golf course was mostly quiet.  

On Friday evenings in the fall, the football field filled up with high school sports. A marching band walked past my window, drumline in full performance. For every touchdown that the home team cadets made, a cannon blast pierced the air.

The cadets began the daily symphony early every morning and by 9:00 am there were sounds coming in from every direction. Children’s laughter from the church’s playground bounced across the mostly empty parking lot straight into our windows. On the other side of the road the bells of the college chapel began to ring on the hour at 9 a.m. and went until 5 p.m. Sometimes the bells counted the hour, sometimes they played a hymn.

On days when I had no classes these became familiar time-keepers, keeping me focused and paced as I read book after book after book after book. You don’t need any sort of advanced intelligence to attend grad school. You just need lots of time to read.

More often than not, I read past the end of the daily bells and was still working when one lone bugle broke through the dark night sky and played Taps. It’s the sound for lights out. I know it most from movies where it’s played at military funerals. And so my night often ended on a somber note. Not that I minded, I’ve always had an odd love for sad movies or songs or books. 

Every once in awhile there was a special evening conclusion to my daily concert. On clear nights, after the sun had set, there would be the faintest sound of bagpipes. I’d close my book and sit and listen to the peaceful tune as the crickets outside joined the song. This final piece of the day’s symphony would often go on for hours.

Throughout all of this – we grew skilled in making our own noise. Loud family dinners of neighbors and friends were rich with full-bellied laughter. We hooked a projector and speaker up to a laptop and watched movies or the latest episode of Sherlock in a volume that was probably too loud for the neighbors who didn’t join us. One summer, we streamed the World Cup games from the laptop and loudly cheered on the home teams among our group: Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, and USA. Some nights we quietly listened to each other and shared our stories (to the soundtrack of bagpipes when we were lucky).

The golf course across the street had one noisy night a year – July 3rd – when they put on a fireworks show. The first year it surprised me and I ran to the window when my living room lit up bright red after a loud explosion. I had a perfect view from the second floor window. My last summer in that apartment the July 3rd show was rained out.

A few weeks later my roommate and I packed our cars and moving trucks full. All that was left in the apartment was the dorm-issued furniture and a small overnight bag. We were leaving bright and early the next morning.

As we prepared for bed, we heard a crack and boom and saw the flash of light outside. We moved one of the beds directly in front of the window, and sat next to each other as we leaned in towards the screen, listening and watching in delight as our neighborhood gave us a grand, thunderous, farewell.



Nicole bio YAH


Waking Up

I am three, and I’m waking up from my afternoon nap in the right way: Slowly. Contentedly. In my own time and space.

I’m in no hurry to open my eyes. The bedroom is dim from the pulled curtains, anyway, and I’ve memorized every sight I would see from my place on the bottom bunk.

6259167128_a64b881939_bAn airplane flies overhead. In our house, below a well-traveled flight path to the airport, it’s a sound as common as a truck roaring by on our busy inner-city street. Whenever the house is quiet and I’m quiet, it seems there’s the sound of a plane somewhere in the sky.

The window is open in the bedroom I share with my brother, who, at almost-six, is too old for naps. I can hear the neighborhood kids playing outside. Laughter and shrieking, then protests, complaints.

Now the sound of a hose as more water is added to the plastic wading pool in the yard next door. I can picture the blue pool, the grass clippings floating on the glistening water.

There’s the voice of the bossiest girl, who is not the oldest but is the most sure of what she wants and how to get it. Just the tone of her voice conjures a snapshot of her hands on her hips, one hip jutted out to the side.  

My eyes are awake now, primed by scenes my ears have fashioned. I get up, my pigtails lopsided from their time on the pillow, and leave my bottom bunk to follow the sound of humming to my mother.

*    *    *    *    *

We lived on the ground floor of the house on Walnut Street until I was five. It was my first home. There are photographs to inform my visual sense of that place, but I can’t really claim them as memories. What I truly remember, from deep in some audio file my mind, are sounds.

Like the sound of my mom humming.

Our living space was small, making it easy for sounds to travel from one room to the next. My mom loves silence, but sometimes I think she loves it because it’s like a blank canvas—an open space for her to hum or whistle into as she folds laundry or chops vegetables. In the house on Walnut Street, her humming was my homing beacon as I navigated the waters between independence and security.

Sometimes upon waking from a nap I could hear my grandmother’s musical voice coming from the kitchen—a one-way, joyful conversation that meant an “audio letter” had arrived in that day’s mail. With my grandparents far away in California and long distance phone rates too costly for either household’s budget, my mom and grandma regularly recorded newsy updates on small, table-top cassette players. The tapes were mailed back and forth in padded manila envelopes.

If Mom was recording a letter to Grandma rather than listening to one, she would announce my appearance into the small microphone, inviting me to talk. “Oh, here’s Krissy! She just woke up from her nap. Krissy, say hi to Grandma and Grandpa! Tell them what kind of cookies we baked this morning.”

My dad’s arrival home each evening was inevitably announced through the stereo speakers: the pop-and-crackle of the needle touching an album. When Dad was home, there was always music playing. Aaron Copeland, Miles Davis, Stephen Sondheim, Bela Bartok, the Beatles, Peter, Paul & Mary—their electrifying, silky, surprising, earthy, and complex notes were the soundtrack of my childhood (the volume always a bit too high for my mom’s taste).

During warmer months, the sounds in our home mingled with the sounds of the world outside. In 1970s Michigan, no one had air conditioning—certainly not those of us renting old houses divided into duplexes in the city’s core. We opened windows, turned on noisy box fans, and spent as much time as possible playing outside with water, or sitting on shady stoops. Private lives were aired to the neighborhood: Everyone’s music and arguments, their clattering pots and pans and crying babies, were heard alongside the passing boom of car stereos, loud mufflers, and barking dogs.

After being tucked into my bottom bunk each night, the sounds of Walnut Street played on, each sound telling me a story. Some were as comforting and present as the hum of my mom’s sewing machine on the kitchen table; others were as mysterious and distant as another plane in the night sky, its seats filled with strangers traveling who knows where. 

*    *    *    *    *

Kristin bio YAH

Safe and Sound

Packing tape rips, the sound raging through the telephone wire, threatening to undo my best attempts not to yell in order to be heard.

“Will you please stop for a minute?” I whisper in a saccharine tone. (I read somewhere if one lowers her voice during a conflict, the other person will listen better.) Tom keeps on clinking and ripping. I imagine his shoulders hunched over a desk, counting hundreds of buffalo nickels. My heart softens. “Call me tomorrow!” I yell. “I love you!”

I’ve been married to a traveling man for thirty years. Like a peddler whose wares hang on hooks from a wagon, Tom’s road-1208298_1280wares are coins which he buys and sells from his briefcase, filling it during the day. When he is racking up miles on asphalt, his office is a hotel room. Every evening he organizes and boxes the day’s purchases for shipping to customers. When he checks in in the evening, I try not to be annoyed by clinks of silver dollar on silver dollar as they drop into plastic holders. After all, he’s settled in, safe and sound.

 *   *   *   *

When he was away working, in the early years of our marriage, before we had internet, cell phones, or caller ID, but we had two small children, I listened for the phone to ring, carrying his voice to me. Call times varied according to where he was: I’m at the Red Roof Inn in Fargo. Our back and forth:

How was your day?

And how was your day?

What did the kids do today?

Taekwondo, homework, and oh, I put a drop of soap on Kendall’s tongue because he called Barbara a penis. Of course, she probably taunted him.

When Tom heard my laughter on the other end, he relaxed. Alexander Graham Bell’s invention helped keep our marriage together in our early child-rearing days, creating moments of intimacy in the ordinary when we were miles apart.

*   *   *   *

It’s 12;30 a.m. on a Saturday night. Tom is out-of-town. I am wide awake in bed, fanning the bodice of my cotton nightgown, trying to recover from a hot, humid day. Add a layer of anxiety from mothering two teenagers; I begin a conversation with myself.

Did I tell Barbara to call me when she leaves her friend’s house…

Cautious and compliant, Barbara will drive home, glancing through her rear-view window to be sure no stranger is following her, but I still want to hear “I’m on my way home.” Sometimes she positions herself in a taekwondo pose and pops a high kick reminding me that she almost earned a black belt.

The quick chirp of Barbara’s car alarm pierces the night. She closes the side door with a gentle nudge. Floorboards creak. The kitchen water faucet turns on, then off. I know she will open the refrigerator door looking for a snack to satisfy her tummy before a good night’s sleep. Her feet tread quiet and quick up the stairs to her room.

My inner monologue turns to Kendall.

Did I remember to pray: God watch over my boy—as if God would not keep Kendall safe if I forgot? Did I tell him to follow the speed limit?

A train whistles in the distance, and I worry that Kendall will pull too close to the tracks, and the train will derail.

Boom ba Boom ba Boom ba. I hear and almost feel Kendall approaching our driveway, heavy bass blaring—beautiful music to a mother’s ears. I inhale and exhale like an expectant mother in a Lamaze class. He needs to turn that thing down when he enters our neighborhood.

Our side door opens. Hinges squeak. Slam.

My man-child lumbers down the hallway with his size 14 sneakers slapping the floor. A looming presence stops at my bedroom door: “Mama, I’m home. Are you awake?”

“Yes, I’m awake.”

*   *   *   *

“I am 56 years old. I am not an old woman,” I say to Tom. “You bought me a safe car, and I can wield this cane like an old woman fighting off a purse snatcher.”

He worries about me. I have physical challenges, and he likes to be my knight in shining armor, but I insist that I have to do as much as I am able.

“Please text me or call me when you get home,” he says with concern, “and I’ll text you when I get settled at my hotel.”

I meet my sister for dinner, something we rarely do. Our menus remain untouched on the table while we begin chatting, catching up, talking over one another, finally stopping to give the server our orders. Diners at the table next to us smile when I choke on laughter as my sister and I reminisce about old boyfriends: the good, the bald, and the portly. Struggling to recover my manners, I avoid eye contact with my sister lest high-pitched giggles conquer me again.

We are the last to leave the restaurant, carrying our conversation out the door.

“We closed the place down,” I say with a merry grin. “Let’s promise one another to do this more often.”

The evening has flown by. I pull out my phone and text Tom.

Home soon. Love L

Back home, I settle under a quilt, with a full belly and heavy eyes. Grown and gone, my children are never far from my mind, but I don’t worry as much when I’m not expecting them to come home.

Instead of listening for a key in the lock or booming bass paving our driveway, my ears and heart are more open to God’s voice. He and I have a history together, and those nights I waited up, wondering, worrying, God heard, God answered.

My phone on the nightstand vibrates and scoots, awakening me from the edge of sleep. I knock my glasses off the nightstand, grope blindly for the phone, and bring it close to my eyes.

I’m in for the night

Safe and sound  Love T keys-233368_1280



Lisa bio YAH


The Sound of Breath, Hard to Come By

There is the sound of a child who is not breathing well, the sound of inflamed airways, the sound of air-gulping. She comes into our room in the middle of the night, and my wife and I both sit up in bed.

“Abra, are you okay?” I ask, and she nods, because everything is always okay in Abra-land, even when things are not okay. But her eyes are open too-wide, and there is a little panic there, hidden in the blue.

“My breathing,” she says, opening her mouth and pulling in air, and we scramble for medicine, for the inhaler, and for the calming oils. There is the sound of her coughing, and the sound of her swallowing her medicine. There is the popping sound her inhaler makes, the misting psht, the ten long breaths.

We have been down this road before. There is a new bed on the floor beside ours. There is the sound of quiet breathing, then the sound of sleep.

* * * * *

We decide to flee the city for a few days, and we pack up the truck with food and a tent and sleeping bags. We drive south and get to the cabin that used to be our house, and we remember those quiet days in the forest. We take trip after trip into the woods, carrying our things like mountain climbers attending to base camp. Lucy helps me set up the tent while the boys make a few more treks and Maile and Abra collect firewood.

IMG_1414It is cold and the wind rushes through the trees like a giant shushing us, reminding us this is holy ground. It was the house where we found our footing again after a long trip, the house where Maile miscarried a baby. It is the place where we were snowed in for three days, where Maile and I shoveled two feet of snow off the deck to keep it from collapsing.

We sit around the fire and my parents and two of my sisters surprise us by showing up and we laugh and eat s’mores and shift around the fire like the hands on a clock, avoiding the smoke. I remember the sounds of this place: dogs barking; a four-wheeler racing through the woods; a chainsaw starting up. But all of these sounds are muffled by distance, and if you’re not careful, you’ll miss them. They are, each of them, little messages from a different isolation.

My parents and sisters leave us as the sun is setting, as the cold rushes in over the hills. We quickly clean up the campsite and retreat to our warm sleeping bags in the tent, hoods up, eyes peeking out. Our son Leo crawls all over us, and our daughter Lucy reads Harry Potter to us. Her voice is like the voice of the last storyteller, clear and clean. When she reads, the faraway voices fade to almost nothing.

When we turn off the light, we can hear the wind, always the wind, rustling the soft spring leaves.

* * * * *

The sound of a cough wakes me up, and I hear labored breathing in the tent.

“Abra,” I hiss. “Abra.”

She rolls over and looks at me, and in the dim lantern light I can see her eyes are watery and tired.

“My breathing,” she says in a quiet, sleepy voice. I exit my sleeping bag, enter the cold air of the tent. I search through the bag, throwing out clothes, flashlights, a box of matches. I find the plastic bag that holds her medicine, her inhaler.

She holds the mask up to her face and !pop! goes the inhaler and then she takes in a deep breath, two deep breaths, three deep breaths, all the way up to ten, and (she knows the rhythm now, knows it without being reminded) !Pop! again, and again breathing up to ten. She takes a small dose of medicine. She crawls back into her sleeping bag, and I do the same.

I lie there for quite some time, staring up at the silhouette of leaves on the tent roof, placed there by the moon. Everything is still and Abra’s breathing calms and then the wind rushes through the trees again, thrashing the leaves around, reminding me to be still again, to listen.