I was an outsider, in both pedigree and skin color, as one of the only Black students in a private boys school on Nob Hill. But singing in the choir connected me by bringing a gift inherited from my great-uncle and dad, both professional jazz musicians. I loved learning treble and bass clefs, wearing the robes and ruff I had seen on the hallowed walls of choirs past. This new world was a sanctuary from where I lived in East Oakland. And as my single mother raised two boys to give them a better life, I was adapting to a culture that did not really include me.
Thursday nights the choir spent hours working on songs for mass, the annual Christmas concerts and the occasional funeral. Each time a rotation of mothers fed us, turning rehearsal into a musical dinner party.
When it was my mom's turn, I had mixed emotions. I had a looming fear that I would be discovered as the "poor black kid from Oakland." My mom was a teacher, union worker and supportive parent but to me at 12 she was my future embarrassment.
I remember her looking at the dinner schedule and saying "Oh! I'm going to make a tuna casserole!" Tuna Casserole?! The melange of noodles, peas and carrots and 99-cent Chicken of the Sea? My face grew hot. I could not believe my life was going to end in a burning ember of choral ruffs.
The night of the dinner, my mom came early and I could see those aluminum covered casseroles sitting on the table. My heart was racing and I knew if there was a God He would knock those trays over forcing us to order pizza instead. The kids got in line and piled their plates with the flaky dish. I closed my eyes and prayed. Then, through the tinkling of plates and silverware, I heard "MMMmmm! Good casserole, Mrs. H!" followed by more hearty praise and nods of approval. I felt a wave of surprise, pride and embarrassment for doubting my mom's talent and grace.