Tag Archive | short story

A Very Worthwhile Project

Today I wanted to share one of my short stories that will soon be part of a collection I’ve been working on for years. I want you to  know about a dear woman who lived next door to my family while I was growing up. She was an extraordinary person who didn’t think she was anything special.

 

 

A Special Neighborhood Watch

2012 Copyright by Barbara Celeste McCloskey

 

The thump of car doors slamming came from next door when it was still dark. Next door in Mrs. Sheil’s yard, I heard unrecognizable voices. My curiosity made me jumped out of bed and peek out the curtains. What I saw was disturbing. Two police officers and Mrs. Calvino, another neighbor, were standing in the yard. Next the rescue squad arrived and parked behind the squad cars. I dressed in a panic. Something was terribly wrong.

By the time I got next door, the officers, rescue squad crew and Mrs. Calvino were inside the house. I rang the doorbell and a burly officer came to the door. He stood as tall as a basketball player. My eyes moved up from his black belt with the gun holster and bully club, to his shiny silver buttons, his badge, and finally to his head that sat on his wide shoulders. My mouth became too dry to speak.

He said in a ten-ball voice, “What do you want kid?”

I cleared my throat and my voice cracked. “Is Mrs. Sheil OK?”

“Who are you?”

“I’m Barbie from next door.”

“Go home. There’s nothing you can do here.” The cop slammed the door.

I felt like he had slapped my face. My stomach felt sick and my face got hot. I banged on the door again, this time I wouldn’t be dismissed.

The same cop answered the door. “Didn’t I tell you to go home, little girl?”

“Yes, but—

“This is no place for kids. Go home.” He slammed the door again.

I screamed, “I’m not a kid. I’m sixteen, and Mrs. Sheil is my friend. Let me in!” Not knowing what more I could do without getting into real trouble, I walked away from the house with my eyes focused on the ground; I shuffled my feet in the brown, crunchy leaves and let my tears of fear and humiliation drip down my cheeks. I walked to the sidewalk that stretched in front of Mrs. Sheil’s house and stood there like a sentry. I made up my mind I was not leaving without understanding what was going on.

I sat in dry leaves leaned up against one of the tall maples that lined our street, and memories of Mrs. Sheil flashed through my head. She had lived next door to my family for over ten years, and since I was six years old, she was always in my life.

She wasn’t like other adults. I could tell her anything, and she’d keep my confidence. She enjoyed hearing about my young life; she was curious about my friends and what was happening at school; she even helped me understand my parents. Over tea and cookies I’d hear what was interesting on “Donahue,” Mrs. Sheil’s favorite television show, and she’d listen when I told her about learning to drive and my latest boyfriend.

Heck, it was just last week when I ran to her house crying.

I yelled through her opened screen door, “Mrs. Sheil, are you home?”

I heard her jolly voice, “Of course, I’m home—my plane for Tahiti doesn’t leave for another couple of hours!” Then I heard her laugh.

I brushed the tears from my cheeks before I went into the house and tried to smile. My voice cracked when I asked, “How are things today, Mrs. Sheil?”

“For me, not bad. But you look like you need a cup of tea. Sit down.” She motioned for me to sit at the table, while she hobbled to the stove.

After she broke her hip a few years ago, she could never walk normally again because one leg ended up three inches shorter than the other one. Mrs. Sheil was supposed to use crutches, but her stubborn streak proclaimed she didn’t need “those damn things” in her tiny house. Instead, she held on to furniture, tables, chairs, and counter tops as she traveled from her bedroom, through the living room and into the kitchen.

As she scurried around the kitchen, I said, “Instead of tea today, could we please have Ovaltine?”

“An Ovaltine Day! Oh my God, this must be serious. Tell me why your eyes are leaking.”

“You’ll think I’m a baby. Sometimes when I tell you something, after I say the words out loud, it all seems so silly.”

“Have I ever made you feel silly?” She had a look of concern.

“No, that’s not what I meant. It’s just—

“Why don’t you just tell me why your pretty eyes are red and you sound like you’ve got a cold? Nothing that makes you feel like that will ever be silly to me.”

I took a deep breath and began my latest teenage drama. “I promised to babysit for my brothers on Saturday night.” I paused.

“You do that all of the time, why are you upset this time?”

“Any other night wouldn’t matter. But this Saturday—is—well—special.” I twisted my long brown hair around my fingers.

“Okay, out with it. What’s going on?”

“Wednesday, Dan, you remember the basketball player?”

“You mean the very tall Dan with the black dreamy eyes and no brains for Geometry?”

“Yeah, that’s him.” I hesitated, “Well, he asked me to go to the Homecoming dance.”

“That’s wonderful! I’m glad to see the boy finally found some brains.”

“Oh, Mrs. Sheil, sometimes— I laughed.

“Sometimes, what?”

“You’re so funny.”

The kettle whistled. She poured the boiling water into two of her favorite china tea cups and added a couple of spoonfuls of Ovaltine. She pushed one of the cups in my direction and then opened a lower cupboard where she stashed her special treats. She pulled out a plastic bag of miniature marshmallows and threw a handful into her cup. She handed the bag to me. “Forget your diet; marshmallows always help – guaranteed.” She grinned.

“I don’t want to gain back the weight I lost.”

“Oh, sweetie, don’t you know men want a woman who is strong and stout to bear children?”

“Maybe a hundred years ago. Today, in 1967, thin is in. You read the magazines. You watch Donahue on TV. You know I’m right.”

“You’re telling me that my dating days are over?” A broad smile covered the old lady’s face, and she winked. Then she smoothed her house dress over her large hips.

I laughed. Mrs. Sheil always had the magic power to make me giggle.

“So tell me about Mr. Gorgeous.”

I blushed. “When he asked me to go to the dance, my knees nearly buckled. I couldn’t believe it! My dream had come true, and my brain didn’t think. I said, “Yes” right there in the hallway after class! But after he walked away, I remembered I promised Mom and Dad I would babysit for the kids on Saturday night. What am I going to do?”

“I suppose you told your parents about this.”

“The very minute I got home from school that day, I told Mom what happened.”

“So what did she say?”

“She said to call him back and break the date. She said I made a commitment and I had to learn to take promises seriously.” Tears began forming in my eyes again. “But Mrs. Sheil, I can’t break this date. I’ve wanted to go out with Dan this entire semester and now my parents are screwing it up.”

Mrs. Sheil sat quietly. “You know, your parents don’t go out too often, and they’ve been looking forward to this special evening for weeks.”

“I know, but going to Homecoming with Dan is special, too. It’s one of the biggest dances of the year. And he’s not just any guy.”

“Your parents are counting on you, Barbie. They asked you weeks ago, didn’t they?”

“Yes, but—

“Yes, but nothing. A promise is a promise.”

“But, I thought you’d understand, Mrs. Sheil. This is so unfair!”

“Whoever said life is fair?” She looked at me with a stern face through her wire-rimmed glasses. “If life was fair, would I end up like this? Here I am, in the prime of my 80s, widowed, crippled, still beautiful and sexy and nobody wants me!”

I laughed through my tears. At that moment, I wanted to grow up to be just like her, even though I didn’t like the fact she was telling me what I didn’t want to hear.

“So, what are you going to do?”

I had resignation in my voice. “I’ll go home, call Dan and cancel the date. Maybe he’ll ask me out again some other time.”

Mrs. Sheil looked up from her tea cup and said, “Now just a minute before you do anything drastic.”

I looked at her confused. “But didn’t you just say, a promise is a promise?”

“Yes, but you always have to have a Plan B, too. If I don’t teach you anything else, remember to always have a Plan B.”

“What are you talking about?”

“A compromise.”

“Like what?”

“Well, this is what I want you to do. Go home and tell your Mom I need to see her right away. If I can convince her to let me pinch hit for you on Saturday night, you’ll be able to go to the dance with your Mr. Gorgeous.”

“You’d do that for me?” I got up and hugged her. “You’re the best, Mrs. Sheil.”

“Cinderella isn’t the only girl who has fairy godmother.” She smiled. “Before you go, there’s one more thing.”

“What?”

Mrs. Sheil had a sparkle in her eye. “You have to be home by midnight; otherwise, I’ll turn into a pumpkin and won’t make it to church on Sunday morning.”

I smiled and then put a light kiss on her cheek. “I promise.”

“And one more thing.”

“Yes.”

“Could you wash and set my hair on Saturday morning, so it looks nice for church?”

“Of course.” I kissed her other cheek and left.

Mom agreed to Mrs. Sheil’s Plan “B”, and I had the time of my life with Dan at the dance. I felt Mrs. Sheil had saved my life. But now I sat wondering what was going on inside of her tiny house.

Mrs. Sheil was closer to me than my own grandmother. She never complained even though her life had been very hard. Her only child had been born dead. She survived cancer but went through a radical mastectomy at age 35. She and her husband had lost their business when the new highway went through their property. And she was widowed at 60 and left with very little money. When she tripped and broke her hip at age 75, the neighbors rallied around her.

She called herself “The 97th Street Neighborhood Project.” And she was right. None of the neighbors wanted her to go to a nursing home, so everyone pitched in to help her stay in her house. Once a week, Mrs. Calvino dusted, vacuumed and scrubbed her floors. She also washed Mrs. Sheil’s clothes. Mr. Veenstra took care of all the heavy work around the house, like changing storm windows and screens, fixing leaky faucets and trimming bushes. Mrs. Veenstra invited Mrs. Sheil over for a meal once a week. Bob at Nearing’s Grocery Store brought her groceries after Mrs. Sheil phoned in her weekly order. My brother and I mowed her grass in summer and shoveled her sidewalk in the winter. I washed and set her hair in pin curls every Saturday. My Mom took her to town in Mrs. Sheil’s ’57 Chevy—it was so like Mrs. Sheil to have a cool car! She even said when I got my driver’s license I could drive her downtown and show her how we teenager’s “scooped the loop” on a Friday night.

Sunday was the most important day of the week to Mrs. Sheil. Mr. Calvino faithfully drove her to church. She said she needed all the help she could get to go to heaven. She’d dress up in a pretty tailored suit, fix her hair and then crown herself with a “pillbox” hat that had netting in the front that covered her face. Her purse matched her shoes, and she made sure she had a couple of bucks for the collection plate.

She carried herself with class and dignity as she limped up the main aisle to receive weekly communion. She stood as tall and straight as her 4 foot 10 inch frame could muster. She told me that she prayed every Sunday that God would grant her a happy death. She doubled her efforts for a happy death wish in her nighttime prayers. It made me uncomfortable to find out that she thought that much about dying—after all, what would we all do without her?

After sitting on the ground for over 30 minutes, my butt had gone numb. As I thought about trying to get into the house again, a car came around the corner, squealing the tires. It turned out to be Mrs. Sheil’s nephew Clarence. He ran right past me and was let into the house. Now I was really angry. He never had time for Mrs. Sheil.

A few minutes after Clarence went into the house, Mrs. Calvino and the burly cop came out. The big lug had his arm around the older woman’s shoulders, and she was drying her eyes with an embroidered handkerchief. Two rescue men came out of the house with a wheeled cot. The person lying on the cot was completely covered with a white blanket.

“I thought I told you to go home, girl.” The big stern cop said.

“Knock it off, Joe. She’s not hurting anything.” One of the rescue squad guys said.

After the men put the stretcher into the squad, the nice guy walked toward me.

“Mrs. Calvino said you were very close to Mrs. Sheil.”

“Yes.”

He said softly, “I’m very sorry to tell you this, but she died in her sleep last night.”

“Oh, no.” My throat closed and I choked.

Mrs. Calvino came over to me. “Don’t be sad, Barbara. She went to heaven on the wings of angels in her sleep . . .  Just like she always wanted.”

I wrapped my arms around myself and moaned, “Nooooo—

Mrs. Calvino took me in her arms and let me sob. “Mrs. Calvino, she was my best friend.”

“I know, sweetie. She was mine, too.”

“I never had a friend die before.” I said.

As I cried, I heard Mrs. Sheil scolding me. “Don’t be a silly goose. Crying about things you can’t change is wasting good energy.” I wiped the wetness from my face with my hand and sniffled.

Mrs. Calvino said, “We have to go to the funeral home, now. You should go home; tell your parents I will call them later with the arrangements.”

I turned to the nice rescue squad attendant. “Can I see her?” I asked.

“It won’t do any harm, Mrs. Calvino.” The rescue squad man said. “Come with me.”

After we stepped into the rescue truck, he pulled the blanket back. Mrs. Sheil’s round face was slightly gray, but she was smiling. She looked like she was sleeping, and I half expected her to sit up and say, “Just kidding.”

I bent down and whispered in her ear, “Mrs. Sheil, it’s me. Time to wake up! You’ll be late for church.”

When she didn’t open her eyes, I knew the adults had told me the truth. She was gone. I bent down and kissed her cheek. I whispered, “Mrs. Sheil, please don’t leave me. We haven’t gone for that ride down Main Street. Where’s your Plan “B” for this time?” My tears began to flow again.

Clarence got into the truck and moved beside me. He said softly, “You know, Barbie, she really loved you. Whenever I came to visit, she talked about you all of the time. I know that she’ll never forget you. But it’s time to go now.”

I searched his eyes and saw he was genuinely sad. I couldn’t speak. I nodded and jumped down from the truck. I stood frozen as I watched the squad cars and rescue truck drive away.

I wanted to stomp my feet like a two year old. How could she go? How was I ever going live without her? This wasn’t fair! Then I realized Mrs. Sheil was right. Life wasn’t fair. I prayed a short prayer that her husband Dan would greet her in heaven because she really missed him a lot, and the thought made me feel better to hope she was in his arms again.

Before I went home, I glanced around her front yard and remembered the day we planted the chestnut tree. I watched a squirrel pick up one of the nuts and run away with fat cheeks. One time Mrs. Sheil told me she planted the tree so the squirrels wouldn’t go hungry. And for one second, everything made sense to me. Mrs. Sheil had it wrong. She wasn’t our neighborhood project, we were hers. She enriched all of us, and even in death, she was still taking care of things.

A Short Submission

Someone asked me recently if I ever have written short stories. I really laughed because up until three years ago, that was all I did write. Oops, that was a lie. I did write copy for brochures and advertising, newsletters, website copy and other business-related stuff. But lately, I’ve concentrated my efforts on my novels.

The reason the subject came up was I’m applying for a grant through the help of my publisher. It’s not a huge amount of money tied to the first prize, but it would be a good start down the recognition road. I thought I’d share my submission with all of you before I mail it off today. Let me know if you think it’s a winner. Better yet, send me your own story about unconditional love.

THE LITTLE RED COAT

Copyright 2012 Barbara Celeste McCloskey

           I was officially separated from my husband by a court decree. The court commissioner gave me 72 hours to pack and move from the house I had loved for 20 years, and needless to say. I was paralyzed by the decision. Where would I begin? After all, what do you take to begin a new life?

After hours of procrastination, I decided to tackle something small. The front hall closet was perfect. As I pushed aside unworn and over-worn coats and jackets, I came upon a dust-covered plastic garment bag I had forgotten was in there. When I unzipped the bag, I discovered a long-lost friend—a little red wool coat I had worn for over 15 years.

Even though I had replaced the lining twice and sewed on the buttons more times than I wanted to count, I still kept the coat. I sat down in the rocking chair and cuddled it. And all of a sudden, I was 13 again, and memories of the day the coat and I met each other flooded back.

I was at the J. C. Penny Store with my mother shopping for a new winter coat. The sweet red frock hung like the last rose of summer between the brown tweeds and other drab winter dress coats. With its classic straight lines and large princess collar, it was the most beautiful coat I had ever seen. I tried it on and twirled in front of the three-way mirror to see how I looked at every angle. For the first time I recalled, I looked stunning and very grown up.

My mother commented, “It certainly is the best one we’ve found so far,” my mother said. “It fits you so well, and it makes you look so slim!” In my mother’s world that was a compliment.

I let my mother’s comment go. Over the summer I had lost 30 pounds and have finally gotten to the weight the charts said I should be. “It’s perfect! I love it.” I said with excitement.

Unfortunately neither of us checked the price tag before I tried it on.  When I saw my mother’s face drop, I knew it was too expensive. $35.  Even at age 13, I knew an extra $15 was a small fortune in 1965. Fifteen dollars equaled a day’s pay for my father who worked in a muffler factory. With sadness, I took the coat off, hung it back on the rack, and said, “We’ll find another one, Mom. Let’s go home.”

My mother put her arm around my shoulder and said, “I’m sorry, sweetheart.”

“Me, too.” I said as I held back my tears. Neither of us said a word all the way home.

About three days later, my father came into my bedroom after he got home from work. “Come on, let’s go,” he said.

“Go where?”

“Don’t ask questions. I want you to come with me.”

I followed him out to the car, and after we had been driving for a few minutes, he said, “Mom told me that the two of you have been winter coat shopping all summer.”

“Yeah. Last year’s coat just doesn’t fit any more.”

“She said you found a real pretty one the other day.”

“It was pretty, but too expensive, Daddy. We’re still looking.”

He turned into the J. C. Penny parking lot and said, “I want you to show it to me.”

“But Dad—“

“No buts. I want to see it.” He took my hand and led me toward the double glass doors in the front of the store. We walked up the stairs and marched to the back where the winter coats hung. My palms were sweaty and my heart pounded. What if it was gone?

As we turned down the aisle, the coat was in the same place I had left it. I wanted to think it was waiting for me to come back. I picked it off the rack and held it out for my father’s inspection.

“Put it on!” He ordered. “I can’t tell anything when it’s on the hanger.”

I wrapped the coat around my shoulders and slid my arms down the satin lining. I buttoned the three large buttons that looked like big raspberries and then turned around.

My father was smiling. “Your mother is right. She said that coat was made for you.” He had a faraway look.  “You look gorgeous, sweetheart—you’re as beautiful as your mother was on our first date. I’ll never forget the red coat she wore that night, and you look just as wonderful.”

“But Daddy, the price.”

“Don’t worry about the money. Go and tell the clerk we’ll take it.”

I couldn’t believe what had just happened. I threw my arms around his neck and kissed him right there in the center aisle of the store. “Thank you, Daddy.” This time I let the tears come.

I never understood how my father came up with the extra money to buy me that coat. Years later, my mother told me he made up the shortfall with the money he set aside to play poker once a month with his volunteer firemen friends. That year, Daddy didn’t play for several months.

Knowing this fact made the red coat even more special. Every time I slipped it on, it was like my father was giving me a hug. I’ll never forget the look in his eyes as he watched me model the coat for him. Best of all, I’ll always remember his unselfish love for me.

But now, I cried into the softness of the red coat with its ripped lining and tatter sleeves before I gave it one last hug. As I placed it in the Goodwill donations, I realized the memory of my father’s unselfish gift so many years ago was something I didn’t have to pack. It was already safe within my heart.

Rising to an Unexpected Challenge

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.