“Sister Songs,” April 20, 2021

At sunset, a breeze blew in from the coast and swirled up the valley, ruffling feathers on a jay that was perched on the fence, and knocking on the door of a room in my heart where I store my favorite memories.

It’s a big room. Getting crowded. More so every day.

I heard the breeze before I felt it. It was whispering secrets in the oaks and cottonwoods that grow along the river and make this valley such a place of peace.

I closed my eyes to listen. And somehow, in my mind’s ear, the whispers became a song:

“Gonna take a sentimental journey/Gonna set my heart at ease/Gonna take a sentimental journey/To renew old memories.”

It was an old hit from the ‘40s, even older than I am. It sounded like the Andrews Sisters. My mother loved them the way I love Aretha Franklin. Who doesn’t love music that feeds your soul and makes you feel just a little more alive?
But it wasn’t the Andrews Sisters that I heard singing it.

My grandparents’ nine daughters were well and truly known as the Wilde Girls.

“Wilde is their name,” my granddad would say with a grin, “not their reputations.”

Preacher Wilde was proud of his daughters, especially when they sang in church. They started as little girls, forming a quartet they called the Cheerful Chimers (Wilde Girls seemed a bit much for church.) It featured the older sisters, with younger ones included at times.

But as the girls grew older, their interests began to stray, as their mother liked to say, “from h-y-m-n-s to h-i-m-s.”
Pretty soon, they quit singing for church, and began singing “sister songs” on the radio.

Preacher Wilde missed their singing in church. But he always said they were as good as, if not better than, the Andrews or McGuire or Lennon Sisters.

It was just a local station, only one song a week. But still, it was something. They were bound for stardom. Everybody said so. However, the radio station was so small it held only four girls. They began to argue over who would sing, what to sing and even what to wear, which made no sense, as it was only radio.

Finally, they quit singing for the radio and sang only for themselves and for the people they loved. I felt blessed to be one of those people. In winter they sang in the kitchen fixing supper or doing dishes. In summer they sang on the porch, slapping mosquitoes and tapping their toes, with moonlight in their eyes. When they sang, they never argued or gossiped or wished to be somewhere else. Their voices became one and so did they.

I wish you could’ve heard them.

They’re all gone now, my mother and her sisters. Most of them left this world more than twenty years ago. They lie buried with my grandparents in a family plot on hill with a lovely view of the BI-LO parking lot.

I think of them often and hear them singing at times, when the wind comes up the valley and whispers secrets in my ear. Some days, if I’m alone, I like to sing along with them. I sing a harmony that’s all my own, but it blends pretty well with theirs. We sing mostly sister songs, like “Sentimental Journey.” I know every verse of it by heart. But I’ll gladly sing anything the Wilde Girls want to sing, from “Amazing Grace” to “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.”

Sometimes they let me do a little Aretha Franklin. And they do a knock-out job on backup.

I wish you could hear us

No matter what we sing, it always feeds my soul and makes me feel just a little more alive.

You might think it’s all in my head, and in some ways, you’d be right.

But honestly? It’s not in my head. It’s all stored in a room in my heart.


  1. Roberta Reppert says

    Hi Sharon
    I just had the pleasure of reading your column in my daily newspaper The Reading Eagle from Reading Pennsylvania. The article was just lovely. I too think about the past when sitting outside and the wind blows a beautiful memory past that makes me think of younger days and family memories. I myself am one of five daughters but a total of eight with three brothers. Three siblings have past and my Mother past at 101 three and a half years ago my father in 1978. We didn’t sing together but we all were in the church choir at some time. But it was your article that had beautiful memories come flashing back of years going by particularly of my Mothers singing like The old rugged cross, Amazing Grace, Brighten the corner and so on. So I thank you for the read as I am smiling thinking of days gone by. Thank you and God Bless

  2. Barbara Stokes says

    Your column “Sister Songs” in today’s Gettysburg (PA) Times touched my heart and soul. Singing, especially with others, and most especially with women who share their hearts and souls in song is also one of my greatest memories and joys as a former music teacher and circle dance group facilitator. I love to sing, and the old favorite songs you mentioned are some of my favorites, too. “For heights and depths no words can reach, music is the soul’s own speech.” Bless you. Keep writing! Keep singing!

  3. Marie Hartranft says

    Beautiful. Your right, I wished I could have heard them. Enjoy those beautiful memories and keep on singing! Thanks for writing stories that touch the heart and stirs up emotions of long ago times

  4. Shirley Southerland says

    Your columns are full of priceless, tender thoughts and memories. I cut them out it and mail them to a friend whose local newspaper doesn’t carry your columns. So many times, as I read you, I want to compliment you in expressing my own thoughts so well. Today’s Winston Salem Journal printed “Sentimental Journey Of Song And Heart.” That took me on a “Sentimental Journey.” Want to join me in singing that? I remember your Aunts’ songs. I’m close to 87 and just realized, this past year, that I fell in love with love from listening to the beautiful love songs of the 40s and 50s; as real, beautiful love avoided my two marriages ending in divorces!! I would join you any day, trying to sing the beautiful old songs. As a 13 year old, I played the piano accompanying local little sisters, singing on a radio program for all the kids confined to their own house and yard because of the polio epidemic…just as we all have been during this COVID 19 epidemic. Your writings are as beautiful as the most beautiful, happy songs! Thank you.

  5. My uncle sung Sentimental Journey as he decided to join the Navy. It was the start of many journeys he took.

  6. Gail Tancreto says

    Such beautiful memories! My sister and I sang in a school talent show once and were introduced as the “Wilson sisters “. But even though we aren’t singers together now we are forever tied in our hearts. Thanks again for sweet memories.

  7. My husband of 62 years has dementia and is in a Memory Care unit of a senior living center.I spend 3 hours with him every day and we always sing. I can start any of our old favorite songs and he can always sing it with me word for word. One of his favorites is “You Are My Sunshine” and “Zippity Do Dah,” Many hymns, but especially “The Old Rugged Cross.” Isn’t it amazing what their minds retain?

  8. Sheila Thompson says

    My Dad was not a singer. He didn’t sing off key-he just sang real loud.
    Anytime our church song leader (no…we don’t gave a praise group yet…) calls out the hymn number for “My Wonderful Lord”,
    I hear my Dad belt out “All the talents I have I have laid at Thy Feet”. Sweet memories of him singing just a little too loud come flooding back. He was worshiping his Savior. I wish you could have heard him.
    Thanks for the reminder.

  9. Shirley Thacker says

    Oh, the wind blowing around my pine trees blow hymn sung by sweet family and church members from long ago. Still fills my heart and soul.

  10. Beth Gambrell says

    Oh, yes. A song brings back memories of every kind. Keep on singing!!🧡💜

  11. Sweet memories. Can’t take that away. ENJOY & keep on singimg.

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