Yesterday, I read an interesting account of a family in Australia who thought they were on a family excursion and somehow ended up at a transvestite strip show. It was a hilarious account by fellow blogger, Dianne Gray. She is a terrific writer and her blogs are so entertaining. At the end of the tale, she served up a challenge to her writing audience to share an embarrassing tale.
As much as I wanted to respond, I couldn’t. I have no embarrassing moment to share. What a pity. Not one. I’m still thinking about my WHOLE life and have come up with nothing to share with Dianne. I haven’t even walked into the Men’s bathroom by accident. Boy, am I dull. Needless to say, I’m disappointed I couldn’t participate in her contest. But then we all have our talents and shortcomings, don’t we?
In lieu of being a complete and utter failure in the “embarrassed world,” I do have a tale about something that happened to me which was quite unexpected. It wasn’t embarrassing, but it did put some excitement into my life. Here’s the story:
THE BIG FAVOR
Sarah fought to open the glass door in the driving wind.“Mom! You’re late!”
“I got here as soon as I could” I said as I shook my umbrella and wiped the cold rain from my face. “Traffic was crawling because of the downpour; it was so bad I couldn’t see the road. And this field house is in the middle of nowhere! Don’t tell me I’m late!” I cranked.
“Calm down, Mom. It’s Okay. I’m glad you’re here. Thank you SO MUCH for coming.” My sweet little blond child with the bright blue eyes, who could always melt my heart was dressed in a sport’s bra, a vest, and a pair of skin-tight, aqua blue,snakeskin pants. Her face was covered with heavy stage make-up, and she had a serious expression.
“You’re welcome.” I said as I shook off the raindrops and let the image of her settle into my brain.
She took my wet coat and hung it up on a “hall tree” that was on the adjacent wall. With her face to the wall she said, “Mom, I need a really big favor.”
“What?” I shivered.
She turned and looked at me, “I need a favor.”
“You already said that.” I thought just being here was favor enough. When she asked me to come to her first professional wrestling tag team debut , I thought consenting to support her was favor enough. I always tried to support my children in their endeavors, but I can’t say that professional wrestling is something I enjoy. “What do you need, sweetheart? What the favor?”
“I promised Jim Bob that you’d sing The Star Spangled Banner tonight.”
“You did what?”
“I told him what a great voice you have and. . .”
I cut her off, “Who the hell is ‘Jim Bob’?”
“The promoter.” She turned on the charm.
“Sarah, you can’t be serious! ! I haven’t sung in front of an audience since high school. You know the church choir has been my only gig for 20 years. Why would you promise such a thing without asking me first?” Since she was in kindergarten, she had a habit of volunteering me for things I didn’t want to do.
“Because I knew you’d say ‘no.’ This way, you gotta do it.”
“I do not.” I crossed my arms in front of my chest. I could be as stubborn as she could.
“Mom—please.” She looked at me with pouty lips. It was the same look she used when she was three years old and wanted to keep the stray cat that had wondered into our backyard. “You can do this, Mom. You need to do this. Why are you so scared all of the time?”
“I’m not scared.” I paused. “I’m wet.”
“Bull. I want you to shine and show everybody how wonderful you can sing. Here’s your big chance, Mom. Don’t wimp out. Aren’t you always telling me that I should ‘Just do it?’”
“Well, I guess . . .”
“Then, practice what you preach!” She brushed my wet bangs from my forehead. “I’ve got a hair dryer in my dressing room and plenty of make-up. I’ll have you looking like a movie star in a couple of minutes!” She ran down the hallway with her blond ponytail swinging behind her.
I shook my head. How can I get out of this? Maybe I should tell her I have a sore throat?
Before I could devise a plan to get out of this situation, she was back with a fishing tackle box. “I got everything we need. Come with me.”
I sighed, hung my head and trudged after her. When did our mother/daughter roles get reversed?
Sarah sat me down in front of a mirror that was surrounded by round light bulbs. “This is going to be so great, Mom,” she cooed as she worked. “You’re going to knock ’em dead!”
I remained silent. Somehow my stomach was stuck in my throat.
“Stop looking like you just lost your best friend. You’re terrific! You just don’t know it. Hell, you can do this in your sleep!”
“Sarah, this isn’t fair. I feel railroaded. I promised I’d come and see you wrestle; I didn’t promise to sing. And besides, I think I’m coming down with a little cold. My throat is a little scratchy.”
“Right—and my dog ate my homework! Stop it, Mom!” She shut off the blow dryer, and I watched her reflection in the lighted mirror. She put her hands on her hips and said, “I’m not letting you wimp out on this. I’ve got throat lozenges, and Tylenol and Advil and any other thing you might need. What’s the big deal, anyway? You just step up into the ring, open your mouth and . . .”
I gasped. “The ring? You didn’t say anything about the ring!”
“Of course, the ring. Where do you think you were going to stand? In the corner?” She laughed.
All of a sudden I felt like a Christian waiting to face the lions in the Colosseum.
“Stop being a fraidy cat. There’s nobody in the building who can do what you do. Jim Bob thought starting the matches with the National Anthem would give us more class—like the big time, you know?” She smiled into the mirror. “If you need a reason for doing this, just remember all the people who lost their lives in the Twin Towers last month.” She combed out a snarl in my hair that jerked my head backward. “Honestly, Mom, have a little confidence in yourself.” Her pep talk sounded strangely familiar. It was the same one I used to give her when she was in grade school and needed coaxing to face a spelling test.
She blasted me with the hair dryer once again, and I disappeared under a bale of my own wild hair. She combed it smooth with the precision of a professional hairdresser and then went to work on my make-up. “There. Perfect. What do you think?” She stood behind me and smiled into the mirror again. “Oh, I know you’re going to be so great!” She purred.
I stared at my bright red lipstick and blue eye shadow. “Don’t you think this is a little much?”
“It’s gotta be more than you’re used to, Mom. Stage makeup is heavier. Trust me.” She commanded and grabbed my hand. She led me into a pole barn building. The floor had been covered with sheets of plywood and it felt like I was floating. “Sarah, why does the floor feel so funny?”
“Don’t worry Mom. The plywood covers the sand. There was volleyball here last night. They use this field house for lots of different stuff.”
Several hundred folding chairs were placed in neat rows surrounding a 17 x 17 foot boxing ring with red ropes. There was an old-fashioned spotlight off to the left.
“Wait right here.” Sarah ran across the room.
I did as I was told.
In a couple of minutes, Sarah was back with a heavy-set man wearing an ill-fitting, cheap, wrinkled navy blue suit. His tie was orange with Harley Davidson Motor Cycles on it. “Mom, I’d like you to meet Jim Bob.”
The man smiled and extended his hand. “Glad to meet you, Holly’s Momma. Your sweet little daughter has told me all about you.”
I was thrown by the fact that he called Sarah “Holly,” until I remembered she told me that her stage name was “Holly Wood.” I shook his hand and gave him a weak smile.
“You’re as pretty as your daughter, Holly’s Momma. Don’t look like you just lost your little doggy. Stage fright is something everybody has. Don’t worry. The crowd is usually friendly.” He laughed from his belly. “Aw, don’t worry, dahlin’, I’m just kiddin’. . .”
Sure he was. “Will an organ be accompanying me?” I asked
He looked surprised. “No.”
“A recording, then?”I asked.
“Hell, no. You’ll be singing all alone.” He tapped his forehead and then drawled, “Accapeller I think they call it.”
Oh god. I gulped.
“Well, gotta go.” Jim Bob scurried away with a waddle, but before he left the complex , he said. “I’ll announce you and then you just march right into the ring and sing your song. Got it?”
I shook my head and glared at Holly. I was sure there was steam coming out of my ears.
“All righty then.” Jim Bob left the building.
I stared at Sarah. That stupid jerk hadn’t even bothered to ask my name. Was she going to introduce me as “Holly Wood’s Momma?”
Holly put her arm around my shoulders. “Mom—Everything will go fine.” She led me to a seat in the front row. “Just sit here until it’s time. I gotta go back to the dressing room. “You’ll be great.” She blew me a kiss as she ran away.
Fifteen minutes went by and then the field house lights dimmed and the spotlight shone on Jim Bob’s bald head. “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. So glad that you braved the bad weather and came out for the great show we have for you tonight. But, before we get to it, though, we have a special treat for all of you. Holly Wood’s Momma is here to sing The Star Spangled Banner for us! Everybody please stand and don’t forgit to take off your hats.”
The crowd chattered in low whispers, as the spotlight went off of Jim Bob and picked up a procession of barrel-chested wrestlers entering the field house. Two of them carried a huge American flag high above their heads. They stepped into the ring as the rest of the wrestling troupe followed them and stood like adults in Halloween costumes along the ropes. Sarah entered last. She grabbed my hand and pulled me up the steps and then between the ropes. I stood in the center of the ring and felt the old spotlight shining on me in the darkness. Sarah smiled and put her two thumbs up.
When I looked out into the crowd, the audience stared back at me like children facing an unpleasant chore. They shifted their weight from one foot to the other, and there was a hum of voices that was like an undercurrent of discontent. I saw more chains, leather and body piercings in that room than I ever saw in one place. But as I studied the audience, I decided Sarah was right. It was a good bet that their bar of excellence in national anthem singing was probably set pretty low. So, I put my hand over my heart, closed my eyes and took a deep breath.
“Ooh, say can you see? By the dawn’s early light.” I sang the first notes in a hushed tone. “What so proudly we hail . . .” With each phrase, I increased the volume slightly and the crowd quieted. “Whose broad stripes and bright stars . . .” I opened my eyes and saw men put their hands over their hearts. “O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming.” I paused and took a good breath. Then with full volume I sang belted out the high tones clear and bright. “And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air.” By now, the only sound in the hall was my voice. “Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.” I felt pride and confidence swell in my chest and prepared for the finish. “Oh say does that Star Spangled Banner yet wave, o’er the land of the FREE–” To my delight the final high note rang like a clear, country church bell. The sweet tone sailed to the rafters and reverberated for several seconds, and then I took one last deep breath and sang the final notes with reverence. “And the home of the brave.”
For several seconds there was dead silence. No one spoke. No one even breathed. Like spontaneous combustion, one of the largest wrestlers pounded his huge hands together in a steady beat. I noticed a tear in his eye. The man next to him and then the man next to him joined in the clapping. A few more seconds later the entire audience applauded and cheered. My body was so alive, and I could have stayed in that moment for the rest of my life.
The wrestlers in the ring surrounded me and I was buried in muscles. “Just fabulous, Momma.” One of them growled. “You really got some pipes!”
Jim Bob rushed over. “Holly’s Momma—that was the best Star Spangled Banner I ever heard! Hell that was even better than Clint Black at the Super Bowl! ” He pumped my hand and then added, “And you work for free!
Sarah hugged me. “Mom, that was totally awesome. I knew you could do it!”
“Okay, but when you get to the “Big Time,” I get to sing at Madison Square Garden.” I screamed over the fray.
“You’ve got it, Mom. I’m so proud of you.” She hugged me and kissed my cheek., then escorted me to my seat in the front row. Fans came over saying I was great and thanked me for singing for them. One even wanted me to autograph his program. I took their compliments with smiles and handshakes.
As much as I didn’t want to admit it, Sarah was right. I was born to sing, and I loved the spotlight. Through years of marriage and motherhood, I had forgotten how much. I had buried my childhood dream of singing on Broadway. But that one moment of silence after I completed the final note of our nation’s anthem, I remembered that old dream, and it felt good to know I still had “it.”
And yes, Dianne and everyone else, this is a true story.