My sister learned to whistle at age two.
She was precocious in other ways as well. She knew how to read by the time she started kindergarten. She demonstrated a physical dexterity I never did. She was much more talented at the piano. But it was the whistling that really got to me.
I was six when she started to whistle and I remember it clearly. She sat in her highchair at my grandparents’ house and started whistling her heart out. She could see, even at two, that she was creating quite a sensation and so she continued, louder, demonstrating her newfound talent. I was sick with envy.
I don’t think I have envied many people many times in my life, but I very much wanted to whistle when I was six. Like tying your shoes at five, it is a milestone. My dad whistled. My friends could whistle. Now my baby sister could whistle and everyone was over the moon. It was a low moment in my short life.
My grandmother, who I am sure was very well intentioned, did not make the situation better.
“Carrie, some people never learn how to whistle,” she informed me.
I suppose this was to help me understand that I had company, that there was a great world of non-whistlers out there and I would surely find companionship with the similarly inadequate. I was not comforted.
“Some people never learn how to whistle!” I remember repeating to myself many times over. I think this may have been the first time I was seriously confronted with the possibility that there might be something I desperately wanted to do that I would not be able to. I had parents who assured me that I would be able to do whatever I put my mind to and here I was, at six, already stopped at a major roadblock. It was very discouraging.
I could be imagining this, but it seems to me my sister sensed my dejection and whistled with even more virtuosity.
All this came to mind as I was in New York last week. I had just performed material from my columns at a conference. I was certainly a late arrival to this world. Most of the performers were at least twenty years younger than me, if not thirty, and I was every bit as nervous as the youngest of them—perhaps more so.
I had fifteen minutes to perform and, while it’s hard to tell with these things, I felt I did reasonably well. Afterwards, I changed out of my sparkly costume and headed back to the hotel to watch some of the other talented people perform. It was unseasonably warm in New York for January. The sky was clear and there was an unexpectedly big moon rising over the skyscrapers. I stopped, right in the middle of Broadway and stared at this giant moon.
I suddenly realized how ridiculously lucky I was. I was doing something new. I was having fun. I might or might not be embarrassing myself but—if I was—I really did not care. I started to whistle. I was walking down Broadway whistling and I didn’t care if anyone heard me. I fished my phone out of my purse and called my sister.
“Hey, Sister!” I announced without preamble, “I just wanted you to know that I couldn’t whistle at two and not even at six but I actually am a halfway decent whistler now!”
My sister laughed and I told her I loved her and I kept walking and smiling and whistling.
Till next time,
Carrie Classon’s memoir is called, “Blue Yarn.” Learn more at CarrieClasson.com.