Friday, March 2, 2012

The Rose

I grew up in a tiny, white house that sat nearly in the middle of a small, Southern town.  Both of my parents worked in the textile mill, and that provided enough money to cover our basic needs (mostly) but not much for extras.  Don't get me wrong.  I had toys and a nice Christmas and food on the table, but even from a very young age, I understood that life wasn't easy for my mother and father.  They sweated the bills.  Checks bounced and many prayers went from my mom's mouth to God's ear that we would somehow make it to the next payday with enough gas in the car and dinner on the table for our large family every night.

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...

16 comments:

  1. Many of you no doubt follow Lynda on Facebook and may have noticed how often she and I are the only ones in the room laughing, especially if I am the one who made the joke. It may help to know I grew up one block from her "tiny white house" -- I literally came home from the hospital at 2 days old to the house where my parents still live today. I was never invited to the backyard concerts, but I'm certain I bore witness to the sixth grade talent showcase. Tragically, I have no memory of it. What I do remember vividly is that Lynda was always so much cooler than the rest of us. My parents also never seemed to have quite enough money (we were even on food stamps for a while when my dad lost his job). But while the rest of us in the neighborhood muddled through, manifesting our inferiority with the goofy over-compensating awkwardness of all working-class kids, Lynda seemed to glide slightly above it all, as serenely self-possessed as any sixth grader ever could be.

    As a kid I always thought our friendship was a close proximity happy accident, but years and years later we re-connected and discovered a deep friendship and understanding that somehow grew out of our shared childhood.

    I left our hometown the first chance I had and never looked back. But if there's anything there that still holds me today, it's our friendship.

    Lynda, I'm glad you never left, and I'm glad you get my jokes.

    JK

    I missed Archer this week. Somebody said he had sex with Pam.

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    1. I'm crying at your post almost as much as I cried last night when Archer had sex with Pam.

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    2. JK, what a great post after reading Lynda's blog post....

      Thanks for sharing, both of you.

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  2. Ok seriously awesome! With a few variations this could have benn me writing. My first live singing gig was a talent show where I sang my favorite song by my favorite singer - The Rose, Bette Midler. It is great to see someone else have such a great memory of that song!!

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  3. I wondered how you dodged the music gene. I am to read that you didn't :)

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  4. Awesome post! I just discovered you through this challenge and now you are one of my new favorites! (Also my first one from the south, yeah!) One talent I would have loved to have had, but as the nuns at the Catholic school I attended would attest, I didn't have it in spades! So much so that they asked me to lip sync the songs!

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  5. I loved reading this. I can imagine sitting right next to you in your backyard, singing away with you. And as far as dreams, may I gently remind you that you reach thousands of people each day with your quirky, hilarious lovely posts? xoxo.

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  6. Man, I loved The Rose! My mother was a HUGE Better Midler fan. I grew up listening to the Divine Miss M records. <---Vinyl at it's finest. My parents were a bit liberal so I did get to watch the movie and it was explained to me that it was about Janis Joplin. I also listened to her records as a child. To this day, I LOVE Bette. I wrote a research paper about her in 8th grade. I adore her ballsy nature without the falseness that is Madonna or Gaga. She was simply, just BETTE. No excuses, no recreations, just showmanship! I think you for sharing this with me. Our love of Bette was one of FEW things my mother and I had in common. At my mother's request her "At a distance" was played at her funeral. I'm glad other people have sweet memories including her. THE ROSE is an awesome song! Even if you didn't know what it meant. My mother had a beautiful voice. She won awards at our state fair and such as a young girl. I was about 11 when I was singing aloud while listening to my walkman...my mother had to break it to me..."Jennifer, you couldn't carry a tune with a bucket. Dear Lord." LOL. This does not mean I DON'T sing. Luckily, even at 36 I don't care if others are listening. I feel BETTE (and Janis) would approve. Thank you so much for sharing!

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  7. A lovely post, a great memory of a fabulous song .. and I agree with El, I don't think you could be any more famous. :-) I know that you've still got that "pint-sized, kinky-haired Bette, ready to set the world on fire" inside you.

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  8. You are now Bette to me. I sang this song too in a concert, but never had the kinks to back it up. Beautiful.

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  9. love love love and pulling up lungs first to harmonize with you till the light turns green. . . .

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  10. I really enjoyed reading this. That was my theme song for a while , too. I also had dreams of getting out of my small town and becoming famous. So I left my small town to go to a small college 20 miles down the road. I'm still here....

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  11. By the time I was in middle school, The Rose was a bona fide choir song. By the time I became a Karaoke VJ in my twenties, The Rose was the most requested tune. I would secretly ban my customers from singing it, it was so over played...but you brought new life to The Rose just now, Lynda:) After all the 100,000X I've heard it sung (badly) I may have become kind of jaded. Good stuff:)

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  12. Such a sweet post. You had as much guts in the 6th grade as I finally mustered by the time I was in college. No, more guts. Here's to backyard and stoplight concerts! Thanks for playing along with my little challenge!

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  13. My oldest son born in 1969 says that the earliest childhood memory he has is listening to me sing along to Jeremiah...if I did nothing else when he was a baby at least I started him out right!

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