Aunt Dolly's Hat
Aunt Dolly's Hat
Three things I was sure of as a child: My family loved me. The sun would come up tomorrow. I had a wonderful voice.I figured that was unquestionably true because I participated at the top of my lungs in all the family sing-alongs, and no one ever stopped me. So I was delighted when my second-grade teacher announced her plans for a musical pageant at Christmas.
"Singing," said Sister Kathleen to our class, "is one of the most important ways you can tell God how much you love him." She said she would cast singers according to ability. All 26 of us students raised our hands in eager anticipation.
"Those who feel confident about a solo role, form a line to the right of the piano," Sister said. "If you feel more comfortable as a chorus member, stand to the left."
I was first on the solo line before Sister reached the piano. She showed me a list of tunes, and I picked a family favorite, "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling." Sister played, and I sang with all the emotion a seven-year-old could muster. "Thank you, Jacquelyn," Sister said, interrupting. "Next, please." I'd barely sung a dozen lines. Some of the kids snickered as I returned to my seat. What had I done wrong?
One by one the solo roles were filled. The rest of us were put into the chorus audition line. Sister listened to each student, then arranged us into small groups of similar voices. I was left alone.
While the other children studied their music, Sister Kathleen motioned me to her desk. She looked kindly at me.
"Jacquelyn, have you heard the expression tone-deaf?"
I shook my head.
"It means what you think you are singing is different from the music." Sister patted my hand. "It's nothing to be ashamed of, dear. You will still be in the pageant. You will be a lip-syncher. You may mouth the words, but no sound must be uttered. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
I understood, all right. I was so ashamed, I didn't go home after school. I took the bus straight to Aunt Dolly's house. She had an answer for everything.Independently single in an era when most women wed, she'd gone on safari, shook hands with President Eisenhower, kissed Clark Gable on the cheek, and planned to visit every country in the world. More than anyone else, she would understand that my world had been turned upside down by this terrible revelation.
Aunt Dolly served me cookies and milk. "What will I do?" I sobbed. "If I don't sing, God will think I don't love him."
Aunt Dolly dunked her cookie in my milk. She drummed her fingers on the kitchen table as her brow creased in thought. Finally her eyes grew wide. "I've got it!" she said. "I will wear my hat!"
Her hat? How can a hat help me with being tone-deaf? Aunt Dolly leveled her brown eyes on my face. Her voice dropped. "Jacquelyn, I'm about to reveal a bit of secret information about angels, but first you must swear that you will never tell a soul."
"I swear," I whispered.
Aunt Dolly took my hand in hers. "When I was in Rome, praying in St. Peter's," she said, "I overheard a conversation in the next pew. It seems that other tone-deaf people also have concerns about God not understanding their silence in song. They were told, in the strictest confidence, of course, that a simple piece of aluminum foil is the answer."
"I don't understand."
"You mouth the words," she said. "Your silent words reflect off the foil. Angels capture the words and put them in special pouches they carry up to God."
As fantastic as it seemed, I could picture angels doing this. Absolute faith shone in Aunt Dolly's face. I knew she could see the angels too.
"The result," she said, "is that God hears your beautiful voice, singing in his praise along with your classmates."
"Where will I hide the foil?"
"My hat!" said Aunt Dolly. "I'll hide it in my hat. I'll sit in the front row. As for Sister Kathleen and your parents? Not a single word to them."
My entire family attended the pageant. I gave what Aunt Dolly called "an Oscar-winning performance." With my eyes firmly on her hat, the fact that none present could hear my voice didn't matter. My silent singing was for God's ears alone.
Four years ago Aunt Dolly died at the age of 90. When the nieces and nephews gathered to reminisce about her, we discovered something many of us had in common. Her angelic hat.A stutterer made it through a dreaded speech by concentrating on the hat. The family klutz didn't knock anyone over during his high school commencement march because he kept his eyes glued to the hat. Even the most timid of us took part in school plays, spelling bees and talent shows because Aunt Dolly sat in the front row wearing her hat.Her surefire faith that God's angels are here to help us overcome life's stumbling blocks enabled us kids to do things we thought were impossible.
Even now at times, when my world is turned upside down, I think of Aunt Dolly and remember that my childhood beliefs still hold true. My family loves me. The sun will come up tomorrow. And for one unforgettable Christmas pageant, I had a wonderful voice. I guess just about anything is possible when angels are on our side.