By Jeanne Arnold
After treating them to lunch, my gang moaned about their lost love of making music, a memory that has been sounding within us all. Barbara and Betty play together but Joanne’s accordion lives in her attic; Mary Lou remembers playing the piano; Sharon likes her bongo drum but is tempted to learn to play our antique autoharp.
“I once played “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” I mentioned. I looked for and found my old harmonica and, by chance, played it right side up and applied my vanishing muscle memory to Mary’s tune and was instantly recruited in the band.
When we were younger, we joked about having a band and were tempted to call it The Tampon Strings Orchestra, but now that we’re older, that life cycle has disappeared so we named ourselves The Depends.
Barbara writes: Everyone came in on time for our first rehearsal, got their instruments out and jumped right in. Before you know it, we’re all playing together! WOW! Joanne on accordion was wonderful, Betty on fiddle and me on guitar. Mary Lou on percussion . . .
(Barbara engineered a foot pedal out of wood for the small drum and cymbal stand from a rummage sale and every time Mary Lou put her foot to the pedal, the stand moved an inch or more across the tile floor. We tied a leather strap to the pedal base and to the bass drum we bought. Then drum moved across the floor.)
. . . Sharon on autoharp, J. on harmonica. I set us up with 21 songs, whipped out harmonics too and we all played together on “She’s Got the Whole World in Her Hands.” That was a good time and I think all enjoyed. J. and I certainly did. We’re not very good, but we’re funny. Or we’re funny because we’re not very good.
Remembering the Women’s Kitchen Band at Wisconsin Women in the Arts weekend in Green Bay and the closing act at this art and culture woman’s weekend featured gray-haired “church ladies” having fun telling jokes and dancing across the stage, singing, playing kazoos, washboards and toys plus a piano.
“Encore. Encore.” We wouldn’t let them stop. Breathless, they encouraged us to join them on the stage to dance and were mobbed with women lining up and spilling over into the aisles. Straight women, dykes and nuns, weirdly artsy women wearing hand-crafted outfits, barefoot and sneakered teenage girls formed a line-dance that encircled the auditorium while the rest of us in the balcony stomped, clapped and sang with joy.
Our Betty arranged our first gig at a friend’s senior residence. Our successful debut with Barbara’s original theme song belted out by Sharon set us up for a 45-minute show. How bodacious!
They loved us! They tittered when Geraldine, the residence manager, introduced us and announced our band’s name.
“Gerry. Isn’t Depends a sanitary product?” asked a granny in the front row. A second chimed in, “Perhaps it’s because they depend on God.”
Our theme song answered their question.
by Barbara Lindquist
Will you still love me when I’m old and gray?/Well, that depends. Oh that depends./Will you still love me if I’ve gone astray?/Well, that depends, that depends, that depends.
Chorus: Well, that depends. That depends./That depends my darling on the depth of our love./Sure as I’m standing I know you see, “You can depend on me.”
Will we be together for all our years?/Well, that depends. Oh that depends./Will we last together through all our fears?/Well, that depends, that depends, that depends.
Will you still love me when time takes its toll?/Well, that depends. Oh that depends./Will you still love me when I’ve lost control?/Well, that depends. That depends. That depends.
So depend, I said depend. So depend my darling for you know I love you./Sure as I’m standing I know you see, “You can depend on me.”
With Barbara’s two huge Fake Books filled with thousands of songs, she picked out songs to meet each audience’s interests and scanned the internet for jokes to add so we’d be more entertaining.
“Hey Betty, why does the President want more women with PMS to fight in Iraq?”
“That’s because,” Betty shouted, “they’re mad enough to kill and they can retain water.”
“Hey Sharon, do you retain water?”
“No. I retain pizzas and beer.”
“Joanne! Did you see,” shouted Mary Lou, ”that they’re putting warning labels on alcoholic beverages telling pregnant women not to drink them?”
“You’re kidding!” sputtered Joanne. “If it weren’t for alcohol, I’d never have gotten pregnant in the first place.”
I wore a whistle on a lanyard around my neck like a referee and when we got off key or off of something else, I’d blow the whistle and we’d shrug and laugh and start over. One of the few men in an audience came up later and told me, “That’s a cute trick—very clever. Made me laugh. I wish I could have done that at times in my life.”
Geraldine came immediately to sign us up for another gig saying, “The women reacted wonderfully well. They usually just sit there like the men, but this time the men liked it too.”
The Depends played for Harmony Clubs that provided respite to caregivers of adults with Alzheimer’s, stroke and other disabilities. Volunteers prepared lunch and entertained these people for a day. We used to say we loved playing for Alzheimer groups because we could play the same song over and over, but we stopped ‘cause that wasn’t nice. The Harmony Clubs booked The Depends at many centers and we were truly grateful for making all of them smile and laugh—even dance when staff and volunteers swayed with their clients to our music.
With our creative but simple props, we draped heads with netting but when Mary Lou tossed me a fake bouquet, the audience could guess that they were going to a wedding and my “wearing” white, they could tell who was the bride.
I felt like Judy Garland singing “The bells are ringing for me and my gal . . .” and spotted an elderly gentleman in front with his head resting on his arms crossed on his walker. Could he be sleeping through our noisy mischief?
When I moved closer to him, he surprised me when he raised his head, looked me in the eye and began to sing with me “. . . to a wedding we’re going, every Suzie and Sal. They’re congregating for me and my gal . . .” in perfect pitch and lyrics to the last word.
It was a miracle. We’d touched a happy memory—for him and for me because I’ll always remember our bonding at the end of our song before he resumed his head-down pose, his folded arms resting on his walker.
Graphics by Mary Nelson
Next week—“Who do you sleep with?”
Unsung Women: the Un-known Herstory History
Submit written nominations about past or present women from Racine/Kenosha whose contributions to the wellbeing of our families, churches, schools, communities and beyond who have not or have been UNder acknowledged.
Four UNsung women nominees will be selected from January through May, 2022
The nominator is asked to provide:
• answers to Who, What, When, Where, How and Why details of your nominee’s herstory in a document or resume format.
• photographs, drawings, illustrations to enhance herstory;
• a reference person or documentation serving as evidence of proof.
Submit your nomination details to <firstname.lastname@example.org> with your name and where you may be reached.
Please do not nominate women who have already been “sung.”