My mornings simmer with voices of women whom I admire from afar: Eleanor Beardsley, Cokie Roberts, Nina Totenberg, Sylvia Poggioli. I could see their pictures online but I prefer to imagine how they look. Their tones, their accents, the humor lurking in the corners of their words — these delight me, sustain me, draw me to the stories they tell.
I come from a long line of strong women with comforting voices. My mother hand-carried the “infinity Corleys” through our tumultuous childhood, perhaps wisely, perhaps not so wisely, but surely, strongly and certainly. I hear her voice in my head still: The advice she gave me, the pain she admitted in her last months, the praise she tendered. Her voice, low, deep and round, echoes in my mind.
My cousin Kati and I once talked for twenty-four hours straight. Her then-husband Bernard, French with little or no English, heard us from other rooms — the bedroom while we sat on the living room couch; the kitchen as I washed her hair in the bathroom; the patio, when we collapsed on the bed, laughing, exhausted, simultaneously depleted and replenished. She told me later that Bernard remarked, in his native tongue, that after the first few hours, he couldn’t tell which voice belonged to Kati. We melded into the accent of our childhood St. Louis, the cousin voice, the sound of people who share DNA.
When I spend any time on the telephone with one of my St. Louis relatives, I find myself mimicking their cadence — the drawled “o” which sounds like “a” on the tongue of an eastern Missourian; the dropped “r”s, the weird way of saying quarter and concrete. The accent comforts me; like the women on my radio, the sounds seem commonplace but unique; appealing and intriguing; like awakening from amnesia in a place at once both strange and familiar.
For years, I have wanted to be Eleanor Beardsley; not because I know anything spectacular about her, but because of her voice. If I could have Eleanor Beardlsey’s voice, I would know no bounds. To utter, just once, in that gravely, sexy tone, Eleanor Beardsley, NPR news, Paris — I would lose myself in the potential of that sound.
As I start my car’s engine and turn on the radio, the voices of these women flood into the space around me. It’s a lullaby, it’s a beckoning; it’s a reminder of my potential and an invitation to speak. Join us, the voices say. Bring your voice. We’re waiting for you. Ah, the choir of women. I raise my voice to meet theirs, and I am filled with wonder.