My parents swear they weren’t hippies. I only sort of believe them. I mean, I know they weren’t growing out their pit hair and having love ins or smoking dope (right guys? Right?!). But there was some Afro-ish hair and the music. Mom tried to keep it on the down low, bristling at any mention of any really cool bands from that time. Then we’d go and visit Nana Mickey who told us the truth about Dad loooooving Jimi Hendrix and the Stones. When we got old enough to peruse the record collection at home on our own, we found slipped between Dolly Parton and Kenny Rodgers and John Denver the likes of Dylan, Cat Steven’s, Simon and Garfunkel and Peter, Paul and Mary. I know on the scale of hardcore-ness, these fall low in the ranks but still.

My mom sings “If I Had a Hammer” any time anyone is doing anything remotely handy and, by default, I do,too. To be fair, I don’t know if she really likes that song or not but, in the last 24 hours, I have become an expert on the song and I say- in my professional opinion- it is out right, dirty, stinking, hippy.

How I know this is irrelevant to this story. The fact that I have listened to the song over 3 dozen times is the important part. The kids tried out for 5th and Broadway, Cathedral’s annual musical review. This a first and a Very. Big. Deal. We have gone to the production (some years have even helped out. . . .) for as long as we have been parishioners. The kids always enjoy it and love seeing their friends and priests up on the stage singing and dancing. However, when we would suggest that maybe they could do it too, the answer has always been no. We haven’t pushed it. I just figured that if they wanted to do something, they would do it. With auditions looming, I nonchalantly asked if anyone would like to try out this year. Everyone yelled an enthusiastic yes RIGHT AWAY. This was quickly followed by wailing from Ellie because,

“I want to sing but you said nooooooooooooo!” after her siblings told her she was too young. She practiced anyway. And that was how I came to be an expert on “If I Had a Hammer.” that was the audition song and we had about 16 hours to get them to learn it, be comfortable and then sing it in a recognizable way. Let me tell you, if I had a hammer, I would knock whoever came up with THAT idea right on the head.


There was a good deal of hype leading up to the event this morning. Tess decked herself out in her princess gear and requested her hair be curled. I think she was of the mind that if she lookedthe part, it was in the bag. A smart cookie, that one. We sang the song nonstop as we drove Jac to the church for a meeting and again on the way home. As we made our way back for the audition, we sang and sang and sang some more.

“Mom!” Tess yelled excitedly, “I like it when we sing in here! We sound like we’re singing on a bus when we sing all together! Let’s do it again!” if we weren’t so busy singing, I would have laughed at the beautiful irony of her observation.

I am, it turns out, NOT a stage mother. I was nearly sick imagining having to sing by myself to a stranger. I worried that one or ALL of them would freeze. Jac, in his kindness, offered to take charge of the actual audition process while I cringed and paced in a side hallway. The choir director lined them up on the stage and instructed them to sing the song -accapella!- “just like you learned it!” there was an interminable pause. I might have broke into a sweat. And then, THEN. . .

“If I had a hammow!” Ellie belted it out, on key and everything. Giggling nervously her siblings quietly joined in and I started to breathe again. Three times they sang through the first verse and Philip didn’t freak out when the director taught them some “moves” and told them to do them for her. In my book, that falls under success.

Now we wait for cast lists and rehearsals and such. The kids have not stopped singing that silly song all day or speculating what they will sing.

You’d better believe that whatever they are given to sing, they will do it “all over this la-and.”

In sort of related news, in searching for a pre-MTV video of said song, I ran across this little gem.



My mom, I kid you not, has the same exact skirt Joni Mitchell is wearing. She always claimed it was for cultural purposes but she never was clear about which culture she was talking about. Now I know, Mom. Now I know.