Singing with Strangers

Dan Kadlec
Human Parts
Published in
9 min readJun 5

I had to stop caring before I could understand what Mom had given me.

Young woman dressed nicely standing on door steps
Audrey on her doorstep in 1940s Dutchtown

Audrey was never the nicest person in the room. You wouldn’t know that from her persistent smile and good nature. But certain core beliefs boiled beneath the surface and, in telling moments, revealed her to be shockingly judgmental.

Past the age of 35, a woman with long hair “looks like a jerk,” she once told me. My wife, Kim, has long hair. She doesn’t look like a jerk, and I’m not just saying that.

When Ellen DeGeneres came out in 1997, Audrey, who thought Ellen was hilarious, stopped watching her show. “Yep, I’m Gay” on the cover of Time wasn’t funny. Ellen was supposed to be funny.

A whole bunch of folks were going to burn for eternity, starting with John, Paul, George, and Ringo. That morning in 1969 when newspapers around the world declared Paul was dead, Audrey declared around the breakfast table that “those Beatles are all going to hell.”

It wasn’t a question, or even a premise. Audrey, my God-fearing Catholic mother, dragged us to church every Sunday. She didn’t eat meat on Friday, confessed her sins monthly, and could snap a Rosary from her purse blindfolded. There was no doubt she had the afterlife figured out. The Fab Four was simply damned for all of time. This appeared to be the price of growing long hair and repeatedly singing, “All you need is love.”

When we ate steak, Audrey took the bone and by the time she was willing to let go even the dog had lost interest.

Descended from common farmers and tradesmen who fled Hamburg after the failed German revolution of 1848, Audrey was born in “Dutchtown,” a neighborhood in South St. Louis, and raised during The Depression. She came from a plain-speaking place and time. Weekly mass referred to church services, not school shootings. Green was a color, not a movement. Woke meant you were no longer snoring. You didn’t ghost someone; you said it to their face. Given a private audience with Cher, she would have willingly shared her views on mature women with long hair. She loved nothing more than making a point.

I was 12 years old the day Audrey made a point of showing me the door. “You don’t like it here?” she…

Dan Kadlec
Human Parts

Dan is writing a memoir about his early years as a small-town journalist, when he was running with cops by day and from them by night.