Patty Andrews, the last of the Andrews sisters, died today. She was almost 95. Their music is very familiar to all, swingy, jazzy, a personification of that era before I was born, the times my parents grew up in, the music they danced to. Patty, Maxene, and Laverne, who grew up in Minneapolis, not only had amazing voices which blended so seamlessly, but they were fun to watch, filled with a mischievous and hip energy. “Drinking Rum and Coca Cola,” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “Bei mir bist du schon”–just a few of their songs- defined the era, especially World War II.
Part of the reason I have always had a soft spot in my heart for them is that my mother is a twin and she and her sister had a dream that one day, like the Andrews sisters, they would become famous. They wrote poetry and songs in their teen years and beyond and performed them in their community in Toledo. At one point they had plans to leave Toledo and travel to Chicago to kickstart their careers, but they let themselves be convinced by their older sister that they were needed to help take care financially of their widowed mother. And then they each met their future husbands, and, well, you get the picture.
Yet an amazing part of my growing up was that at all the family gatherings or synagogue fundraisers or VFW celebrations, mom and her twin would get up and perform. They were vibrant, alive, irreverent. Sometimes they did their routine in yiddish. It didn’t matter that my aunt wasn’t always the best at staying on pitch. There was something so spectacular, so confident, so animated, and exuberant about them. They were attractive and sexy. They were funny and totally entertaining. They could clearly hold an audience and were rewarded with plentiful applause. As the years passed, we had to work a little harder to urge them to perform and they mostly responded positively to our pleading. And they remembered all the words and the choreography those many years later. We would request specific songs or poems. (“Be Baw Bean” was my favorite.)
My father died when I was 21. It was my senior year in college and I had planned to go to Chicago to start my life after graduating. All my aunts and uncles urged me to stay in Toledo to help my mother after my father died, but my mother insisted I go. She said that she didn’t take the opportunity to journey to Chicago, but she would make sure that I did.
My mother is now confined to a wheel chair. She has had Parkinson’s for many years. Her twin can barely walk. And the two of them don’t look like each other anymore. With Patty’s passing, I am immersed in memories of my mother’s and her twin’s vigor, fire, and passion. I see them with their irrepressible spirits, their lightning anger, their great big personalities. I see them dancing and singing and reciting their poetry by heart. They may not have made it to Chicago, but they definitely made it to the core of my being and the center of my heart.