I learned that it was in my best interest to stay out of my parents' way. While my dad parked himself in front of the television with an Old Milwaukee watching "Wild Kingdom" and my mom sat at the sewing machine moonlighting as a seamstress for extra money, I disappeared into my fantasy life, a life that was full of songs, and I was the shining star.
I have always loved music. I come from a very musical family whose members are a singing and instrument-playing bunch. We may have had a dirt driveway and a ripped screen door on the front of the house, but we also had a piano. It was crammed into a little corner of our crowded den, and I spent untold hours banging out tunes from my little red beginner's piano workbook. "Up a row, to and fro, to a birthday par-ty". I remember it so well.
I spent most of my time in our backyard putting on a show for my adoring, imaginary audience. I would sing as loud as my eight-year-old voice would carry, unaware if the neighbors were cringing and honestly not caring if they were. I had quite a large repertoire of songs that were not exactly in the same genre as "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" that my peers were perfecting. This tune by Three Dog Night was one of my favorites:
Even though I sang in the church choir and truly believed that I was the second coming of Judy Garland, it wasn't until I was in the sixth grade that I had a chance to prove how I had the pipes to be a star. It was the end of the school year and the end of our elementary career. A Field Day was planned, and the finale of the event was to be a talent show. Finally! I couldn't wait to show my friends what I had known all along - that I had the talent to be on Broadway one day.
I signed up to sing, and the choice of song was a no-brainer for me. It was a song that I sang until my throat was dry. I carefully played it on the piano until my parents sent me out of the room. It was a hit that year, 1979. It was..."The Rose" by Better Midler from the movie of the same name.
I was too young to see the film or even understand fully what the lyrics meant to her or anyone else for that matter. I just loved the plinking piano keys and the almost painful way she sang it. When I was listening to this song, I became Bette. I became a star.
The night before the talent show, my older sister carefully wove my damp hair into dozens of tiny braids for me to sleep on, and when I awoke the next morning and removed them, I saw a pint-sized, kinky-haired Bette, ready to set the world on fire.
At the end of the day, the sixth graders all piled into one classroom for the show. Unfortunately, I can't remember the talent of any other kid that day. I guess my mind was on the song. When my turn came, I walked up to the front of the class. Nervous, with the room so quiet that I could hear my heart pounding, I took a deep breath and began an a capella performance of "The Rose".
"It's the heart afraid of breaking that never learns to dance. It's the dream afraid of waking that never takes the chance. It's the one who won't be taken, who cannot seem to give, and the soul afraid of dyin' that never learns to live."
Decades have passed since that warm May afternoon, but I remember it like it was yesterday. I never left that small town. My dream of making a living with my voice was just that - a dream. I was too afraid to leave my family behind for the big city and lacked the confidence to even try. So, that was my moment, my moment in the spotlight. It wasn't Broadway but brick school house instead. Yes, I do understand the irony of lyrics that beg you to take a chance and the fear that held me back.
I didn't give up singing, though. If you're lucky, you might catch my next gig...coming from my car at a stoplight near you...