The first time I had to speak in public was in the 11th grade at East High. I’d won the senior high essay contest, and I was supposed to read it in front of an all-school assembly. I’d heard the expression “so nervous that my knees were knocking,” but I didn’t know it was real. I was so grateful that I was standing behind a lectern because my knees were shaking so badly.I’m also grateful that I got off light compared to some really famous people. Sarah Berhnardt, said to have been the finest actress of the 20th century, is said to have had such stage fright that she threw up before each performance.Helen Hayes, the First Lady of the American Stage, experienced nervousness that took the form of selective deafness. When on stage, she could not hear any audience sounds — no applause, no laughter, etc. She only heard her colleagues on stage with whom she must interact.It would be funny if not for the terror that caused it for the incredibly famous Sir Laurence Olivier. Readying himself for a performance, he was frequently found pacing backstage and muttering “you bastards!” at the audience. A paralyzing attack of stage fright late in his career forced him to give up the stage completely.Yep, I got off easily with just my shaky knees.
There was a time when my husband, Mike, declared that some of my purely accidental “mis-steps” looked a lot like episodes of I Love Lucy. Here’s one of them.
Way back when Mike & I were planning our first wedding, we were out apartment hunting. We spotted a small complex of one-story apartments and pulled into the parking lot to check it out. There was no resident manager, but there was clearly an empty unit. We peeked through the living room and kitchen windows and then discovered that the kitchen door was unlocked. We considered for about two seconds and in we went. It’s not breaking and entering if the door’s unlocked, right? It was a surprisingly small apartment. You couldn’t even open the back door if the oven door was open. On the other hand, it was freshly painted and the carpet looked new. We left it on our list of possibles, but before leaving to check out the next one on the list, I decided to use the bathroom there. Mike determined that everything was operable, so there I went. For some reason, I flipped on the doorknob lock as I closed the door behind me. As I started to exit the restroom moments later, I found that the doorknob didn’t work. It had no traction. Just turned aimlessly. Naturally, that somehow affected the lock and I couldn’t unlock the door. So now we’re trespassing AND I’m locked in the bathroom. I tried everything I could think of to get out, but nothing worked. I finally had to call out to Mike. Now it was his turn. None of his attempts worked either. The hinges were on my side, but they wouldn’t budge, and I had no tools. Last resort. Mike said to check out the window. It was above the tub and sort of high. It was horizontal and not very tall. But it would open. Mike told me to crawl out and that he’d go around the building to catch me. That was going to be easier than me getting out there.Stepping on the edge of the tub, the only next move was to step one foot on the small side of the tub’s rim and what little of my foot I could get into the built-in soap dish. I could open the window. I put all my weight on the soap dish and elevated myself a little.Mike saw the window open and called up to assure me that he was there. I told him the window was too high. “I can’t get up there!” No choices, he said.Fortunately, I was only 20 and not a weakling. I managed to pull myself up so my head, shoulders and arms were out. I was hanging from the window sill. But from there, I could see that the terrain sloped down, and the distance was much greater than I expected. I wondered if my broken neck would heal in time for the wedding.I continued to pull myself up and scoot myself farther out the window until I was half in and half out. I felt like a kid’s see-saw. But I had faith. I continued to scoot and held out my arms. Mike grabbed my arms, then my shoulders, and dragged me the rest of the way out. I did not die.My feet finally hit the ground, and we ran like hell for the car. We rented a different apartment.
I’ve reported before that Scarlett has an unusual affinity for my headbands. I mean, they don’t even fit her, for Pete’s sake! But anyway, she knows that they are kept in a particular drawer in a little chest in the bedroom. Occasionally, she (when she thinks she’s undetected) opens that drawer, digs around for the headband she wants, removes it, and then sometimes closes the drawer to hide her mischief. This time the mischief was more bold. One morning last week, I was getting dressed, and Scarlett was on the bathroom counter watching me wash my hands. She must wonder why we do that with our fur-less paws instead of cleaning them as she does. She finds it intriguing. I was through, and she moved to the corner of the counter, presumably thinking about what she was going to do next. I opened a drawer, removed the headband I keep in the bathroom, placed it on the counter, and dug around in the drawer looking for my comb. When I looked up, there was no headband and no Scarlett. Obviously an opportunity she couldn’t pass up. I have more headbands, Scarlett. I can win this game.
Once upon a time when I was in high school, my mother decided to make a quick, solo trip from Memphis down to her sister’s in Vicksburg, MS. Mother hadn’t been driving very long. She only learned when I was in about the fifth grade. For the longest time, she made me ride in the back seat because I made so many faces and gasped so much due to my terror of her driving.I don’t know where she bought that first car. It must have been cheap, and she came home with a bucket of green stamps. It seems like the car was a 1949 Kingsway Custom. Made in Canada, the engine, etc. was a Dodge and the body was a Plymouth — or the other way around. Anyway, it was a pitiful-looking oldster, but it got us around. So, off Mother went to V’burg.She was driving back to Memphis near midnight that Sunday when she got pulled over by a state trooper. She was confused because she wasn’t speeding. That car probably couldn’t speed, but the officer was very serious. License and registration handled, he told Mother to step out of the car. He walked around the car some more, looking it over. “Open the trunk,” he directed. Mother did so. I was a majorette with the band at that time, and we were collecting for a newspaper drive. The trunk was full to overflowing with stacks of old newspapers. Mother explained why. He looked around again, laughed, and sent her on her way.Took a while for Mother to figure it out — really old car, riding very low — he suspected that she was transporting moonshine. Yeah, that’s my mom.
Soft is the way he touched you in the beginning. Soft is the way he kissed you, held you and Soft is what he thought you. Soft is the way his eyes look at rest. Soft is the way he breathes and smiles and Soft is the way your happy tears slide from your eyes. Soft is the way he turned from you at the beginning of the end. Soft is how your soul began to dissolve and understand and Soft is your head for ever believing.
I’m so excited! The wonderful book review blogger and all-round lovely person, Christina Welburn Huber, has devoted one of her video reviews to my Opal and Warren County Days. I am so honored. Check it out and feel free to pass along the link. She brings many books to our attention online at Candid Christina and on her video blog. Thank you, Christina.
I’M ON YOUTUBE (again)! This video won’t win an Emmy or go viral, but it’s finally giving me the opportunity to start promoting Warren County Days, the sequel to Opal.(publisher issues now over!) If you read Opal, you’ll see what happened to characters you met there, and you’ll meet new ones. But Warren County stands alone if you haven’t read Opal. If you’ve read both, thank you and I’m honored. If not, both are available on Amazon. I think you’ll find something you like, so spread the word. And check out the YouTube video. Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close up. YOUTUBE.COMwww.youtube.com
Parents lose children to mental illness, drugs, alcohol, death, and even unwelcome distance. Sometimes it helps just to say, “Yeah, me too.” Understand a mother’s heart in this piece from my collection, Little Boy Lost.
Forged in Pain
There is a hollow place where the hurt was. And a little rain falls. It glowed once like a smelting pot Spilling over with the ache of your perfect pain.
But the burning place cooled and hardened Taking the shape of despair, Looking something like a heart,