My great grandmother (lovingly dubbed ‘Mer’) sang in a trio with her sisters during the Great Depression through the 1960s. They were three petite brunettes with spunk and gumption.
When my sisters and I were little, Mer was determined we would sing too. We had music in our veins. In our blood! If she and her sisters could do it, we could do it. I remember standing around the piano with Em and Maddy, Mer’s fingers flying over the ivories, my voice struggling to reach the low notes, while simultaneously switching back and forth from melody to harmony, much to my sister’s chagrin.
Mer recorded videos of her favorite trios for us to learn from. We grew up on those tapes, learning those silly ditties by heart. And like anything in your heart, they tend to surface at the most unexpected times and put music to the moment.
“Cuanto la Gusta” was one of those. It roughly translates to “How much you like?”
How much you like? I like. A lot. I would go so far to say if there was a song for the Glasner Girls right now, this is it.
And on that note, the following is an excerpt from Sandpiper Sets Sail, the first book in my trilogy, The Seabirds… inspired by Cuanto la Gusta.”
The frenetic singing to Cuanto la Gusta started up and Edie began to sway. “You and your sisters were singers in a hip underground jazz club. You must have picked up some of the new moves. Why don’t you teach us how to swing a little? Horatio, come here! Peter, you take Piper. Lorelai, you can demonstrate with Frank.”“He can’t dance!” she snapped.
“I can too!” he retorted, taking her in his arms. “Well… I can try.”
She rolled her eyes but didn’t pull away. Frank looked triumphant.
Edie had Horatio in her arms now and was attempting a two-step. “You girls have got to help me. I really don’t know what I’m doing! But I’ve always wanted to swing with the best of them.”
Looking over at my parents, she said, “Nathan, Rosie, you two don’t get off so easy. Up and at ‘em you two. Move the feet.”
The Andrew Sisters blared out, “We gotta get goin’, where are we goin’, what are we gonna do? We’re on our way to somewhere, the three of us and you. What’ll we see there, who will be there, what’ll be the big surprise? There may be caballeros with dark and flashing eyes.”
Edie laughed, “I think this is our family song!” The trio kept crooning, and we all began to try and dance. Edie had a way about her where you simply could not argue with what she wanted.
Grace took over, showing us a modified Balboa. We all tried to follow my cousin’s instructions. It was a little complex, but I started to get it.
Anna, Willem, and Raffi moved right along with us. The joy of movement and my Aunt’s crazy antics showed radiant on their little faces. Frank swang Lorelei around like a sack of flour, which remarkably succeeded in producing a tiny smile on Lorelai’s rosebud lips.
He looked knowingly at Peter and me, “Told ya! The ice age is ending!”
Edie turned the record over, and we moved on to faster stuff. Peter and I did our best with the West Coast Shag, but Peter was distracted. Sure, he hung in there, but he kept stepping on my feet and forgetting the timing, apologizing that he just wasn’t a good dancer.
It wasn’t that though. I knew him too well. He was thinking about something. In the end, he excused himself before the song ended.
As I was about to follow Peter, my father caught my hand and pulled me in. “Come on, Agatha, conga line!” The children laughed gleefully, keeping time with the music and nearly screaming with delight.
We danced and danced, all of us whirling around that room till the needle fell off the record, and we collapsed on the floor, quite breathless. Before Edie could start another record, I made a quick exit to find Peter.
There he was, sitting alone on the stairs in the dark front hall.
Surprised by my presence, he looked up.
“Peter? What in the world is on your mind?” What was the point of beating around the bush? Ask straight questions, get straight answers.
In a bit angry of an angry tone, he spouted, “Piper, I can’t sit around this house anymore doing nothing. I’m not in school. I’ve no real work now that the fleet and crew are all with the British Navy. I feel useless.”
And restless, I thought. Like me. And Frank. Like Grace and Katrine and Lorelei. Like my parents.
“It’s late.” He stood up and gave me searching look before heading up the stairs.
“Do you want to talk about it?” I called up after him.
“There’s nothing to say.”
I watched him march up the stairs, feeling sorry for him. Feeling sorry for myself.
The words of that song stuck with me all night through my dreams. I was whirling through Europe, wondering, “What’ll we see there, who will be there, what’ll be the big surprise? There may be caballeros with dark and flashing eyes.” But in my dream, the caballeros were actually German Gestapo. And “three of us and you” were my cousins and I. We were lost in the ocean with nowhere to land. No home to go to, just adrift at sea…