Most often, living with dad was like living with a mentor. He wasn't just our father -- he was also our friend, our fishing buddy, our art teacher, our clown, and most of all a great Italian tenor. He sang like Enrico Caruso as well as anyone, including Mario Lanza. Pagliacci was his favorite, or at least the one I remember the most. We didn't have air conditioning back then, and with windows wide open, the neighborhood was his audience. No complaints though, only smiles on faces as they listened to the music that filled the air. Just follow the only male voice in our home to wherever it led you, and there was our dad smiling. Our lessons of music seemed to have no limitations. On evenings after dinner, when we would be cleaning up the dishes together, songs filled the air, rising well above the clanging of the pots and pans. We would be in our after school clothes (couldn't get our school uniforms dirty.) I can recall how "Norman Rockwell" we looked back then, three girls washing dishes with their father. Dad wore a white tee shirt and work pants.

Carole, who was around sixteen, had on the tightest sweater in her closet and Capri pants. Her interests, much to dads despair, were boys, boys, boys. And the boy's interests -- of course, Carole. She was a knockout for a teenager and it was going to be all dad could handle to watch over her. Dad had an undeniable devotion to us that was well evidenced in all he did in our time together. Martha had just entered her teen years, but that didn't faze her, she was a free spirited tomboy; only interested in playing softball and hitting the neighborhood public tennis courts with her girlfriends as often as dad would allow. And me, well I recall being around ten years old; those were my formative years, right! I remember exploring all life offered without limitations, because that was what dad encouraged us to do – just be home by nine o’clock. And, I was doing it quietly. The combination of Carole and Martha both being teens was more than enough to keep a father busy without any added help from a third little woman.

My aim was to stay in the background, out of the way, and out of shouting range when one of their antics pushed him to his limits. He was a forgiving father though, so it wasn't long before we were all laughing and singing together once more. Those years seemed to be for singing operettas, mostly Rodgers and Hammerstein, since they were the favorites of the time. Our exposure to music was not limited to any one period or classification though. On the Victrola, dad would play Nelson Eddie and Rise Stevens' rendition of "The Chocolate Soldier." Then there was Beatrice Kay, with her throaty, dance-hall voice, and Kay Kaiser, as well; who made wacky sound effects accompanied by music -- a man well before his time, for entertainment. After fresh showers or baths, as bedtime approached, Strauss Waltzes filled the evening air in our home. It was delightful to nod off to dreamland, listening to imaginative waltzes that more than likely enhanced our nightly visions. Music was a family thing. My grandfather Messina played in John Philip Sousa 's band for a while and we proudly displayed the only picture we had of grandpapa to evidence his venture.

Papa took us to free summer concerts in the parks and in later years, to the Muni. My first experience with classical music was when he once escorted us to a young people’s concert at the old Kiel Auditorium. That experience has stayed long and lovingly, lingering in my memories. It was the day I found my soul and began to recognize the passion that stirs within me from listening to music of all sorts echoing through the air. My grandma Adele, played the piano well, and with her large family of thirteen, they had their own family orchestra going. Those who couldn't play; sang -- no one was left out and no one was unimportant. Each ones contribution made the family an undivided community from which nourishing moments produced growth and sharing.

While the musical instruments were not new and shinny, they worked their magic well. Among them were: the piano, a couple of small organs, several accordions, and one swingin' sax. Oh yes, dad carried a harmonica around in his pocket, just in case, and pulled it out on several occasions when we were traveling or visiting others where no instruments were present. That harmonica worked wonders on summer evenings on the porch.

Since grandma's piano was the familiar gathering spot, it was fitting that pictures of her children adorned the top of the piano and grew to hold many grandchildren and great-grandchildren as well, in years to come. Though some went far away, having their pictures about when singing during family gatherings brought their presence back to the safety of her home to enjoy the moments we all shared.

Dad kept with tradition, and when the time was right, Carole and Martha both got accordions; and me, well at sixteen, he bought me a brand new piano. How he could afford it, I don't know, but I'm sure it was purchased with a lot of love. Music lessons followed. For me, the lessons were eventually discontinued. My first teacher, a nun, was transferred from the parish. My second teacher left town abruptly. And after my third teacher's departure, dad decided that it was just going to be me and my piano from there on. I liked that thought. Without daily structured lessons, I could do whatever I wanted -- great. I taught myself -- now don't get the wrong idea -- I'm not a great pianist. Those structured lessons might have helped.

But I do love playing and tinkering at the keys. It has become an extension of myself and allows me to express what words cannot. Many a time, when no one's around, of course, I cozy up to the piano and let my fingers tell the keys what I'm feeling. It's a very private thing shared only with myself and Source; a very private moment. It's not my music that makes it grand, but the sharing it with Source. Isn't it amazing how, as we grow older and reflect on our parents contributions to our lives, the contributions just keep rippling out and growing more and more!

Author's Bio: 

Michele Christina Camilla Messina Long.

I'm a simple person. I was born to Enrico Jerome Messina and Camilla Margaret Deken at 12:20 p.m. on Sunday May 7, 1950, at Saint Anthony’s Hospital in the city of St. Louis, Missouri. In 1956, just six short years later mom passed on. Dad, restless without her, moved us a lot; some boxes just didn’t get unpacked. He sent us to Catholic schools. We lived in clean, safe neighborhoods and walked to wherever. High school years were spent in this order: Freshman: St. Anthony’s; Sophomore: Cleveland High School; Junior: Afton High School; and Senior year at Roosevelt High School where I graduated in 1968.Upon graduation, I received a job offer from the FBI, but turned it down to remain in St. Louis. In 1971 I went Hawaii on vacation for the first time without family.

February 17, 1973 I married John Charles Long, on an unusually cold day mixed with sunshine and snow. By summer it seemed we ate all the hot dogs in St. Louis; saved enough money to buy our home at 1531 Shoppers Lane, in Crestwood, MO and lived there for the next twenty years. On March 12, 1974 Jason Michael Long was born to us. He was a month overdue, had a full head of hair, and all the features and characteristics of a one-month-old child. He went immediately on cereal and we couldn’t keep him fed! We were clumsy first parents but everything we did, we did with love. On April 18, 1977 Gina Maria Long was born to us. She was so tiny compared to Jason and she squeaked when she breathed. The nurse said it was all right and would stop in time, and it did! It was the year we had our Green – Go Van. Jason and J.C. came to the hospital together to bring home Gina and me. Jason loved his little sister from the beginning. We listened to a Johnny Horton eight track on the way home from the hospital and sang the songs together. When we got home, Jason sat on the sofa and we placed Gina in his arms so he could hold her. Ah! A Precious Moment!

After 20 years of marriage, in 1993 I gave John his freedom through the legalities of divorce. December 15, 1988, after a stroke, my dad passed on at 71. In 1995, John was informed that he had contracted leukemia and we reconciled. Two weeks later he died.

In December of 1998, after 30 years working at one financial company, I and a few others in our division found ourselves without employment suddenly when our boss died and new management took over. I became a self-employed consultant. One assignment was on the Y2k team for Busch Entertainment. It offered an insight into the workings of amusement parks; gave me the opportunity to travel and meet new friends. Surprisingly, I found myself inches away from Baby Shamu when it did its first trick in training!

In December of 1999, I joined Morgan Stanley, and witnessed 911 from one insider’s point of view. In August of 2002 I left to pursue a new career helping people and using my Reiki gift. It wasn’t the right time, the right place, or the right job. In December 2002, finding myself without a permanent job description, I began creating floral arrangements; consulting; and working on my web site.

After being invited to a Torah study group and sharing my first Passover, realizing that I was a Jewish soul all along; on January 24, 2003 I became a Jew, taking “Simcha (Joy)” as my new Jewish name. My writings in my book “Visions” reflect aspects of the Jewish faith long before I knew that there was a connection. Friends tell me “they thought I always was Jewish!” I can question life without whispering now. This is the most comfortable I have felt ever about my faith and my path through life and back to God.

As you read “Visions,” please keep in mind that it was written long before I had any formal introduction to Judaism although there are threads of similarities, possibly from my prior Catholic background, since there are similarities and the Catholic faith branched off from the Jewish faith. New works found in my book: “Oy!” have been written since I became a “Jew by Choice.”