We met her 16 years ago at her kindergarten birthday party. Back then, she was Little Girl With Shirley Temple Curls. Because my own kindergarten daughter was shy, I volunteered to stay and help out at the birthday party, which is how I got to know with her mother, who was divorced and raising two kids on her own. Her mother and I became friends. We'd linger to chat when we'd drop a child off at one house or the other. We saw each other at school functions, we'd talk on the phone about parenting issues, we'd pull our carts over in the grocery store to chat. Little Girl With Curls and my daughter stayed friends all through elementary school.
Little Girl With Curls had a dramatic voice and an adult way of talking. She was mature for her age: she had to be. Her mother had a chronic illness. And in the fall of sixth grade, her mother died.
Girl With Curls moved a few blocks away to live with her grandmother. She wasn't alone. She had aunts and uncles and an older sister. She had neighbors and friends. I can remember when she came trick-or-treating with us that first Halloween; at many houses, people came out to hug her and ask how she was doing. She was an extra in my household, her outgoing nature a contrast to my shy kids. When she came to camp with us, she fit right in with the family. She was not at all shy about singing solos at the campfire.
By high school, Girl With Curls had become Young Woman with Terrific Singing Voice. Her dramatic personality shone in musicals and at choir concerts. She and my daughter graduated from high school together, and then both went to Snowstorm University. They will both graduate this May.
Last night, my daughter and I walked across snowy sidewalks to a castle-like building with an auditorium filled with carved wood and took seats for Young Singing Woman's senior voice recital. She walked out slowly, to the applause of family and friends, looking beautiful in a sparkling floor-length green dress that looked like something that Cinderella might wear to a ball. I listened in awe as she sang — song after song — for a full hour.
She sang pieces composed by Mozart, Schubert, Mendelssohn, and Vivaldi. She stood on the stage, alone, poised and serious, and did things with her voice that I didn't know were possible. Then for the second half, she sang songs that were in English, including one I recognized from a Broadway musical. I thought her rendition of "Someone to Watch Over Me" was especially touching. Her performance was amazing.
I couldn't help but think, the whole time, how proud her mother would have been.