Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal


Aileen Ridings Bennett

When I was small, there were three older, bigger girls who lived with us. I wasn't particularly interested in them until they did something I liked, such as singing. The three of them gathered in the living room around the piano played by a man with red kinky hair and a bulbous nose. Liz sang tenor, Midge sang alto, while Frankie belted out lead in a strong, husky voice. Harmony was not something I understood; how three voices could make three different sounds that meshed into a beautiful melody. I tried all harmony parts - tenor, alto and lead - too high, too low, too off-key. Their singing could bring me inside from playing hopscotch, which was my forte.

Midge, tall, blonde and willowy, closed her eyes when she sang. Liz, petite with hennaed hair, leaned into Frankie when she sang, irritating her, causing her short, black hair to bounce back and forth in a "no" gesture, or maybe it was only her way of keeping time to the music.

"You're listening to WNOX, Knoxville, Tennessee," came out of the radio each Wednesday, and with it came the voices of my three sisters. Songs such as "Tuxedo Junction," "Sentimental Journey," and "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree With Anyone Else But Me" were sung in perfect harmony. I listened, undoubtedly smiling, although it wasn't something I remember as being impressive, simply those three girls who lived with us singing on the radio.

To say I idolized my three sisters, looking up to them, would be a misnomer. At that time in my life they were only older people who often told me to get lost. Being eight years younger than Liz, the youngest one, I looked at them with unseeing eyes.

When I was a teenager, they became an extension of my mother, often telling me what to do, when to do it, but mostly not to do it. They were bossy. After each of them acquired a husband and children, I became a babysitter for them, one they would or wouldn't have to pay. I learned that people who came home happy from parties paid better.

Then I became twenty. Suddenly the three older but no longer bigger girls became my sisters. They looked at me differently, or was it I who looked at them differently? They still sang and, at last, I joined Frankie with my off-key lead voice. We laughed together at me.

Just when I began enjoying their company and the feeling became mutual, I married and followed my husband to another city. I missed them. We talked on the phone, wrote letters, and visited from time to time, but I longed to be nearer to them. I came to know and cherish the bond we had finally formed as sisters.

I became older; they became older, and all too quickly, one by one, they died. The older, bigger girls who lived at our house, who fused harmony into melodious music, who bossed me and underpaid me for babysitting, who were there for me with an understanding heart, are gone.

Their voices continue to carry a sweet memory, but it has left my life off-key.


Aileen Ridings Bennett is a “dyed-in-the-wool Southerner.” Born in a small town in Tennessee, she moved to Oak Ridge, growing up in a strange and secret town and era, she proclaims. She has written a column entitled "Life, Love and Laughter." Aileen studied creative writing under Arizola Magnenat, a published author and journalist. Her first novel, The Annie Chase Story, was released in October, 2005 by Behler Publishing Company.

© Aileen Ridings Bennett

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012