Roll Down the Windows and Let It All Out

Mack loved to sing. She sang in the shower in the mornings before school. She sang in her bedroom while dancing on the bed. She sang to music blasting into her ears through her headphones in the backseat on car trips, oblivious to the existence of fellow travelers. She sang on the school bus on her way to out-of-town sporting events, leading her teammates in song and distracting them from the homework they should have been doing instead. But when Mack got her driver’s license, her old Jeep Wrangler became her favorite stage. She would roll down the windows, crank up the tunes, and sing with enough volume to overcome both the music and the Jeep’s rumbly engine. Mack was happy to serenade anyone within earshot. Carefree and unbothered about how people in the surrounding cars might judge her singing voice or her song choices, she would belt out her favorite tunes in Mack-crazy style.singing

I loved to listen to Mack sing. I loved how she would hum a pop tune while brushing her teeth or rap to Eminem in the grocery store. I loved pressing my ear against her bedroom door to listen to her sing and strum one of her guitars. I loved her singing with friends in the backseat of the car when I chauffeured them to the movies or to summer basketball tournaments. It was always a hoot to listen to them giggle and sing to twangy country songs like “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off” or croon like divas to Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable.” I loved it when Mack’s exuberant voice filled our loft with Broadway show tunes on weekend trips home from college. When Mack sang, I was always entertained and amused, but singing with Mack was one of my favorite pastimes with her. She had a magical ability to pull people along for a warble; and when you sang along with that kid, she carried you with her to her Mack-happy plane of existence.

Over the years, Mack and I did a lot of singing together. When were alone in the car, I shared my favorites from the 1980s, and she got me hooked on Taylor Swift and Kanye West. We would sing so loudly that we couldn’t even hear the music. In the kitchen while chopping vegetables or doing dishes at the sink, we would sing Disney songs (“A Whole New World” was one of our favorites), and every crescendo featured Mack dancing with veggies or the dishes. We sang our own stupid original songs, we sang to our pets, and our birthday serenades were the stuff of family legend.

After losing Mack, I stopped singing. During work commutes from St. Louis to Springfield, I kept the dial on NPR, not at all tempted to blast my special ‘80s mix created especially for those weekly trips. Even during two long, solo driving trips to North Carolina and Nebraska this summer, I did not pass the time with music or singing. Grief has a way of stifling your enthusiasm for the things that used to make you happy, and singing in the car was one of those things I just stopped doing. But last week, on the way home from Springfield, when I was about fifteen miles from home, I changed the dial from St. Louis Public Radio to KSHE 95. The NPR story did not have my attention, and without thinking about it I hit one of the programmed buttons on the car stereo. Just as soon as the station changed, the familiar piano introduction to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” sucked me in, and before I knew it I was tapping my foot and preparing for the introductory lyrics. I turned up the volume, and I sang the entire song at the top of my lungs…just like Mack and I always did.

After the song was over, I remembered how much I loved to sing in the car. I remembered how much Mack loved to sing in the car. And I remembered that Mack had written a music blog for her college radio station that offered her top ten list of songs to sing at the top of your lungs. It is a very good list, complete with several of the favorites that she and I shared as well as a couple of more obscure Mack-like selections. Singing with Mack was a joy to me, and singing with Mack is also a cherished memory for many of her friends. Therefore, I offer up that top-ten list, complete with internet links below, so that anyone who wishes it can sing along with Mack in spirit. And since I can now sing in the car again, I will keep all of Mack’s favorites at the ready, sing them at the top of my lungs, and let Mack transport me over and over again to her Mack-happy plane of existence.

Top Ten Songs to Scream at the Top of Your Lungs (for KTRM Radio website) by Mackenzie McDermott

There is great music with amazing lyrics, music with really awesome beats, and super artsy and unique music. What kind you enjoy is completely a matter of taste. However, there is a certain type of song that magically creates an insatiable need to roll down the windows of your car and scream every lyric, even if you only know the chorus. It might not always be the best music—sometimes it’s even pretty bad—but this is the music that unites us all.

  1. “Bohemian Rhapsody”—Queen. I have never met a single person who can hear this six-minute rock epic without bursting into song. It’s inevitable, and it’s even better when there are multiple people rocking out to it in a car so that someone can sing every part, and no one is allowed to leave. ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJ9rUzIMcZQ)
  2. “Oops I Did It Again”—Brittney Spears. Call this a “guilty pleasure” all you want, but there are two kinds of people in this word: those who admit to jamming to this whenever it comes on and liars. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CduA0TULnow)
  3. “No Scrubs”—TLC. This song is like listening to the ‘90s, and not singing along to its impossibly awesome chorus should be against every law. Roll down the windows and let it all out, because you don’t want no scrub. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FrLequ6dUdM).
  4. “Hold On”—Wilson Phillips. Here’s one that isn’t necessarily a conventionally “good” song, but when you hear it you can’t help but sing the three lines of the chorus you know and mumble along to the rest. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uIbXvaE39wM)
  5. Don’t Stop Believin’—Journey. ‘80s rock ballads will always be the perfect road trip music. With its up-beat music, super catchy lyrics, and awesome notes that everyone can totally hit (haha, Mack…not!), Don’t Stop Believin’ is an all-star screaming-in-your-car-song. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1k8craCGpgs)
  6. Sweet Caroline—Neil Diamond. The uncontrollable urge to scream BUM BUM BUMM during this song is overwhelming. It’s almost as if Neil Diamond has taken over your body and you are no longer in charge of your actions. It’s awesome. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1vhFnTjia_I)
  7. Livin’ on a Prayer—Bon Jovi. Whether it’s in the shower, a commute to work or just jamming out in your bedroom, Jon Bon Jovi knows how to make people want to jump around on their bed and sing at the top of their lungs. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lDK9QqIzhwk)
  8. Tainted Love—Soft Cell. This cover is so ‘80s that it hurts. And it hurts so good. Synthesizers and ridiculous lyrics make this song get stuck in your head in the worst possible way. You can’t help but drum along to this one. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qsMz9vIaLwQ)
  9. Bille Jean—Michael Jackson. Michael is great for so many reasons that don’t involve how much people like to sing along to his songs at the highest possible volume. Billie Jean is just one of the many of his songs that are perfect for this list and every other list ever. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zi_XLOBDo_Y)
  10. Say My Name—Destiny’s Child. Last, but certainly not least, is ‘90s girl band awesomeness. Similar to “No Scrubs,” this is a rock-out jam that makes you happy to be a woman, and you just can’t help but sing along. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sQgd6MccwZc)

And some additional links for your listening pleasure…

A Family Birthday Serenade recorded for Savannah (https://youtu.be/dy2_eVr_JrM).

“Irreplaceable”—Beyonce (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2EwViQxSJJQ)

“Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off”—Joe Nichols (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nj2700em-JQ)

“A Whole New World” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-kl4hJ4j48s)

Ok people, now go sing at the top of your lungs…It is exactly what Mack would want you to do.

For Mack, It Was ALWAYS Sunny

When Mack departed for Spain, she placed for safe keeping a pair of enormous pink sunglasses on the lime green bookcase just inside the door of her bedroom in St. Louis. These shades had been a favorite pair since middle school, but Mack determined that they lacked “dignity.” The lenses were square-ish and over-sized, and the frames were made of crappy, lightweight plastic. “I think I may have gotten these cheapos from the Dollar Tree after school in, like, eighth grade,” she said, as we were organizing her belongings to fit into the large purple suitcase that would transport her stuff on her adventure abroad. “I’m gonna take my classy shades, instead,” she giggled. “These baby’s here were like seven bucks!” “I’ll be lookin’ like a phosisticated ‘merican with these, don’t you think?” Mack then modeled a pair of green and brown, tortoise-shell shades with the attitude of a pop diva, and then she flipped them carelessly into her carry-on bag.

I left those pink sunglasses where Mack had left them until about a month ago, when I was organizing the bedroom to host Savannah. When I started to move them from the shelf to a nook on the desk across the room, I inspected them for some time. I could picture those silly sunglasses taking up Mack’s entire freckled face, and I remembered how much these and so many other pairs of cheap sunglasses were a part of her outward appearance and personality. From the time she was just a little bitty kiddo, she was always sporting a crazy pair of “stunna shades,” as she called them. As I stood there holding those awful pink sunglasses and daydreaming about my smiley girl wearing them, it occurred to me that not only had sunglasses been Mack’s signature accessory, but sunglasses were also a fitting metaphor for her sunny disposition as well. Mack wore her crazy and cheap collection of sunglasses rain or shine, indoors and outdoors. Although I had never really noticed it before, I realize now that sunglasses were an important prop for her. They portrayed her inner light and happiness as much as they shielded her sweet brown eyes from the sun.

Thinking about those sunglasses in Mack’s room that day, I determined to write about her fabulous self and her fabulous shades. Before sitting down to write, I went looking for accompanying photographs. I quickly found such a plethora of perfect photos, humorously illustrating Mack and her favorite accessory, that I decided a photo essay was the perfect approach. The following photographs do far better justice than I can do with words, so I will let my Macko do the “talking” for this one. Through the pictures she posed for behind various and wonderful pairs of her beloved shades, I think you will quickly see, that for Mack, it was always sunny!

I think these ridiculous pink and perfectly round shades were Mack’s first pair of sunglasses. For many months, she wore them everywhere…preschool, the bathtub, to bed, and to the cabin in Wisconsin. (And don’t ask me about that poncho; I have NO earthy idea!)…

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Yes, Mack really did ride her first bike in the house with her helmet AND her shades…

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Obviously, you have to be stunning in “stunna” shades during parades at minor league ball parks during celebrations for your summer basketball team…

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Shades were, apparently, necessary for the indoor high school graduation of her sister…

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Mack on the right and “sister” Maggie on the left were too cool for middle school…

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The picture here does not quite do justice to the wild shade of blue of this pair of shades but, clearly, Mack and Sierra were too cool for high school…

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Here is one pic in which Mack REALLY needed those shades, because she is with Savannah in sunny and hot Sevilla, Spain, during a family trip in 2011…

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Mack rocked the sunglasses all through college. The red shades (in the photo with “Yackie” aka Jackie) were freebies from a street music festival we attended in downtown St. Louis…

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And, finally…

The cheap “undignified” shades Mack left behind in St. Louis… 

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And the “classy” shades that traveled to Spain…

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Frisky and Macko

I had the privilege and the great fun to have two full-time comedians in my personal life: my dad and my younger daughter. Both Jim and Mack enjoyed life, made the absolute most of each day, and soaked up every ounce of sunshine that came their way. But the rarest human quality shared by this goofy pair was the ability to see humor and fun in the most unlikely of places. When these two characters found humor or manufactured their own, they both laughed from way down deep in their bellies and their souls. While their childlike demeanor sometimes had the capacity to annoy more serious members of their peer group or family circle (like me), mostly, their good cheer was welcome and infectious.

There were many, many reasons why his family and friends called my dad Frisky, because he had more energy than a classroom full of kindergarteners, always bouncing, cackling, teasing, and making a competitive game out of the most ridiculous activities. One time when we were visiting him in southern Missouri, where he had settled into quasi-retirement, he greeted my girls with one of those 100-count boxes of colorful, tubular popsicles. He immediately began encouraging Savannah and Mackenzie to consume them two or three at a time; but, of course, just eating them was not enough. At some point in our weekend visit, probably late into the night after hours and hours of playing cards and consuming horrifying quantities of Hostess Ding Dongs, Doritos, and Pepsi, he organized a tasting game out of those damn frozen treats. He sorted them out, prepared bundles of every color for each one of us, and then conducted a blind taste test. We were all charged with tasting each color—red, green, orange, yellow, and blue—and with reporting the flavor of each, while blindfolded for added drama, of course. Jim made a great deal of fanfare over the entire test, dragging it out and providing lively, running commentary, carefully recording the results and, in the end, declaring a winner. I have no memory of who won, but I can tell you that we all laughed and laughed and ate way too many popsicles. My kids always remembered that silly experience with their silly grandfather; and, I am certain, such interactions with my dad made a deep impact on my little Macko.

Unfortunately, my kids had little time to know my father, as he died too young in 2001. I adopted some of his humor, and I have a penchant for various childhood delights (like cartoons, Disneyland, merciless teasing, and popsicles), but I turned out to be far too serious by Jim Pratt standards. Therefore, I am pleased that he was able to see some of his sunny perspective and humor in Mack; and had he lived longer, he would have been happy and proud to see how much like him she would ultimately become. Because somehow, either through genetics or that short seven years that their lives overlapped, Mack got the silly, happy, laughing genes of my father. Whenever she was chuckling over stupid jokes, badly singing a ridiculous song she had composed on the fly, or compelling her family members or friends to participate with her in a Mackified handshake or a made-up game, she reminded me so much of him…those sparkling brown eyes, all those freckles and that impish sense of humor.

As I continue to reflect on Mack’s good life and celebrate her character and qualities, I have begun to see much more clearly the connections between these two important people in my life. My dad would have been seventy-one this week, and as has become my custom, I will on his birthday enjoy a Pepsi, a beverage for which his love was legendary. But this year, without Mack to share that Pepsi and swap some crazy Grandpa Jim stories, I want to tell one of Mack’s favorite tales. No doubt she enjoyed this one partly because it reflected so well on her football knowledge and her Irish luck, but also because it was one she vividly recalled and for which she possessed a tangible memento.

Jim Pratt preferred that his family members share his devotion to the NFL; but he required them to participate in the Pratt Family NFL Football Contest Pool whether they loved football or not. While he let some family members, like my mother and my husband, mostly off the hook, all others were compelled to partake. Even girly little Savannah, who made her picks based upon the likability of the team mascots, enjoyed the fun. For years, my dad would call everyone up each week and record their picks in his Pratt Book of World Records (a ragged notebook smeared with the colorful felt-tip ink he always used). Bragging rights were the only reward for being a weekly or a season winner, yet we all trash-talked and fussed as if serious money was at stake. Mack was particularly good at the trash-talking, but she backed up her sass with an impressively accurate pick record. Not at all surprising, really, because she dutifully compared team records, assessed strengths of schedule, and evaluated injury reports before making those weekly picks; and her methods yielded frequent bragging rights.

In Week 7 of the 2000 NFL season, Mack did what no other person in the history of the Pratt Family NFL Football Contest Pool had ever done. Not my dad. Not me. Not anyone. That week, four teams were idle, but twenty-eight teams played fourteen games. Mack did her homework, selected her winners, and on October 19, after the Tennessee Titans defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars on Monday Night Football, she had accurately picked every winner. My dad was over the moon. He went nuts. He believed this may have been the single best Pratt family accomplishment EVER, and he decided it deserved much more than bragging rights. So at Christmas that year at my sister’s house, he orchestrated a mini award ceremony in front of the Christmas tree. He delivered a rousing speech, attesting to Mack’s impressive skills and the unworthiness of the rest of us slugs to compete in the same league with her. And with a great deal of drama, he presented Mack with a plaque, professionally engraved, recording her astounding achievement.

Now I ask you, is it really any wonder why Mackenzie was the happy goof that she always was? I think not. No doubt Grandpa Frisky had an important role to play in that youthful spirit that made my Macko so fun and so unique.

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