Sunday, June 14, 2009


Have you met my mom? She is a dynamite lady. She is so good at what she does I have yet to find an equal for her. "What's she do," you ask? Well, she is a mom. Here is a woman who's loyalty to her family is so complete, so consistent, that you never question what she'll do. With the regularity of the Sun you know when you're sick she'll be there, when you have a big event she'll be there, when your down she'll help you up. Her breads and cinnamon rolls, gladden mind and soul. Her pancakes help you start the day knowing you're loved. And if Helen of Troy's face could launch a thousand ships, Mom's banana cream pie can launch a son's car from a thousand miles away.

When I inadvertently posted a blog about my dad the day after Mothers Day, i figured I'd better get something about Mom up here around Fathers Day. This isn't a definitive look at the woman we call mother, its just a slice, a look at a tiny part of the home she made for us to incubate in.

Five boys and one girl. That's the family that Mom was dealt. I've never heard from her if she was disappointed or encouraged by the ratio. But knowing Mom, she was fine with whatever God had in store for her. Before my sister came along at number four she might have felt like a member of a fraternity. Our focus was sports, adventure, mud, building forts, digging holes--oh yeah, and fighting. We loved a good fight. I don't know how many times I sat in the wicker chairs at the far end of the kitchen for hours until I'd say sorry to someone I'd fought and I wasn't the only one to sit there.

I've heard its a woman's job to domesticate a man. I think the job is started by the mother, and finished by the wife. Some women think that means emasculate. Not Mother, but she did try to help us appreciate some of the finer things, that most young boys avoid like cooties.

I hated Hymn Sing. Each Sunday evening in the Packer household we would gather around the piano and each would pick one song from the Hymn Book. We learned very well hymn 61 one of the shortest hymns in the book. Of course every now and then someone would pick a long one like A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief just to tick everyone else off. And we never took it too serious, Mom at the piano knew that young boys would absolutely hate singing eight hymns at the same tempo some comatose wards sing them. Mom played the songs with life and exuberance. Some people would compare it to being on an illicit substance. But it worked. Somehow she got us teenage boys to sing songs like Master the Tempest in Raging, The Battle Hymn of the Republic, There is Sunshine in My Soul, and others in our best opera voices. It might have come from our tendency to turn everything into a joke.

(Sometime I'll have to write about the time we choreographed a musical number for a youth fireside, without the choir directors knowledge. Somehow she didn't kill us when we sprang it on her during the meeting.)

Mom also used Hymn Sing to help us with songs that would help us through life. She bribed us with dinner at Johnny Carino's if we memorized all seven verses to How Firm a Foundation. Its words have come to me in tough times and helped keep me on the path. When my younger brother went on his mission to England he sang Redeemer of Israel in his head on the plane ride over. That song has been a favorite at Hymn Sing for years.

During the years of doing Hymn Sing, we all somehow gained an appreciation for music, especially sacred. It came along at different times for everyone. Usually somewhere in the high school years. I think it was part of her strategy all along. She knew that by exposing us to music, even with all the push back she got, we would eventually feel the music, and realize how empowering, enlightening, and enriching music is. She could have mandated voice lessons, or forced us to sing the dirges that some think make up the whole of sacred music, but she customized it to us. Kept it lively, and threw in a reflective piece every now and then.

Now all her kids sing regularly. 5 of us have been in school choirs, high school or college, and most of us play the piano. Not bad for a family that is known throughout town for their athletic prowess. By coming through the back door, Mom soothed the savage beast, and gave us a gift to help us through life.


The PS

Here are a few of my favorite parts of Hymn Sing,

-The rules don't change. One song per person. When there's only three at home it gets over pretty quick; when the extended family comes over it can go for hours.

-Mom makes guests come in and pick a song. From stake presidents, to teenage girls bringing over cookies and cakes, if you come during Hymn Sing, expect to wait until its over to conduct your visit. President Rose our stake president came one week, he picked The Wintry Day Descending to its Close. Talk about a dirge! He might have been surprised to see we all knew it. (My dad has since instituted a rule that song can only be picked if there is snow on the ground and the sun is setting.)

-Hymn No. 342. Its one of my favorites. I probably pick it every time I'm in Idaho. Go check it out. You'll see why.

-In the Summer we have the window open. Our house in an acoustical oddity. Everything that goes on in our yard can be heard all the way down the street. Usually the neighbors hear our late night games. But in the Summer when we get the window open some of our neighbors have commented how much they enjoy the singing.

-Dead kids. The oldest teenager at home always brings in the beanbag chair, and lays like a corpse.

-We sing all the verses. You just do. Now I get irked when people don't sing the extra verses. Excuse me for a short mini-rant. But when did music in the Church become some sort of necessary evil. If you ask people to sing more than one verse in a meeting other than sacrament meeting its like you asked them to donate a kidney. Even in sacrament meeting if you want to sing the verses printed below the song, people act like you'll chase members into inactivity. Its just music. Its not some trial that if we make it though we'll receive blessings, its actually supposed to be a blessing to us.

-Knowing the hymns. There are some real jewels in the hymnbook that arn't sung very often 103 Precious Savior; Dear Redeemer is one of my favorites.

Thanks for music Mom. Without you I wouldn't have one of the biggest joys in my life.


JP said...

Fantastic post.

Some of my hymn sing thoughts:

Lead kindly light was a song a learned at hymn sing that I sang on my mission when I was homesick riding home in the dark. "the night is dark, and I am far from home/lead though me on" was my favorite line.

I remember getting a recording of our hymn sings while I was on my mission, with the "Packer version" of In Our Lovely Deseret (Hark Hark Hark!). The next sacrament our ward sang companion and I could not keep a straight face.

more than once we have been "singing" a hymn in sacrament meeting and I have said to myself that I am going to sing this one for real tonight at hymn sing.

might be the longest standing tradition of the Packer family

I think a book should be written about the hymn sings in our family

Nic said...

The most notable transmutation is Zac. He was the most vehement denier of hymn sing, and now he whips it out with all of us.