The smiling MC waits politely for the applause to die down as the silver-haired ventriloquist and his large-mouthed Goofy dummy exit stage right behind him.
“Weren’t they just wonderful folks?” He asks, coaxing another short round of applause from the mixed audience that ranges in age from seniors to youngsters.
“Looks like all the performers brought their families out tonight,” I whisper to Andy. I take a deep breath, let out a tense sigh, and continue whispering:
“I can just picture Mom awaiting her turn behind the curtain. She’ll be a nervous wreck! You should have seen her last night as she practised her song for the hundredth time. It didn’t matter how many times I told her she was great and the audience was going to love her, I could almost hear her heart pounding.”
“Do you think she got any sleep?”
“Well, she said she felt like a zombie this morning, and though I didn’t have the heart to say it, she looked a bit like one too. And her voice was so croaky, as if she’d been smoking all night. I know she’s worried she’ll sound hoarse or start coughing in the middle of the song or something.”
“Ssshhh…” Andy whispers. “I think he’s about to introduce her.”
“Got your i-Phone ready?” I whisper back, my tension mounting.
Watching the stage for her appearance, Andy nods,
I check my iPhone for the umpteenth time. Yup. I’m so ready to record Mom’s stage debut in The Golden Age of Variety Show that my hands are shaking in anticipation. What the…? But, after all the years she has ferried me around from one audition or contest to another and stayed up late at night with me while I rehearsed the same song over and over, after all the years she’s sat in the audience, smiling from ear to ear, even letting out a overly loud “Whoo-hoo” when I finished my performance, and for all the tears she’s cried with me seeing my distress over my voice cracking on the “million-dollar note” everyone waits for…for all those times that she’s been the wind beneath my wings, tonight it’s my turn to give all that love and support back to her.
This time, the audience isn’t here for me. I get to be the sidekick, staying out of the limelight. Now it’s my turn to feel nervous for her instead of the other way around. This tension inside me must be what she’s always felt for me: that tightness in the chest; the difficulty taking a deep breath. I am so scared for her, but so ready to watch her light up the stage. This time, it’s mom’s turn to shine.
I’m so caught up in worry that this goes perfectly for her…she’ll be devastated if it doesn’t…that I don’t even hear the MC say her name. And there she is, entering the stage using what’s supposed to be the saunter we practised in the living room. Only I know she is terrified of missing that very quiet starting note. Oh here she goes, right on cue. Way to go, mom!
“Oh the shark, Babe, has such teeth dear…” she sings.
Bobby Darin’s karaoke version of that old classic, “Mack the Knife”, comes through the theatre speakers, and silently through the fist I’m holding near my mouth as if it were a mic. I’m instinctively trying to remind her to keep her mic close to her lips. What’s become second nature for me after 20 years of performing is anything but familiar to her. Can she even see me, her sidekick, coaching her from the front row, or are the stage lights blinding her? Ah, she’s looking directly at me and raising the mic closer to her mouth. Good, Mom. Keep it there.
I feel tears starting at the back of my eyes: I’m so proud of her for doing this. She looks so cute in her black pants and matching sleeveless jacket with a white long sleeved shirt. She insisted on long sleeves so her “flabby” arms wouldn’t show. I told her no-one would be looking at her arms because they’d be enjoying her performance too much to notice her arms. That’s the trick she always used to encourage me when I was conscious of my tummy sticking out under a slinky black sheath:
“Angie, when you sing, the audience is so caught up in your song and your beautiful voice, no-one cares two hoots about your tummy.”
Now, those insistent happy tears are starting to blur my vision as I watch her hold her little black top hat to make sure it doesn’t fall off as she moves across the stage. We practised that maneuver in the living room too because that silly hat kept sliding from her short, silky grey hair every time she turned or moved. My nerves have constricted my throat to the point I’m shallow breathing. I wipe the tears away hurriedly as Andy whispers to me:
“She’s doing great. She sounds really good.”
Gosh, even Andy’s excited for his 66-year-old mother-in-law. I love that. All of us were taken by surprise when Mom first mentioned she might audition for this “golden oldies show” as Dad calls it. He can never remember the exact name.
“You’re kidding, Mary?” Dad had said to her. “When did you ever perform in front of an audience?”
I’d rushed to remind him before Mom regretted her decision that she sings,
“…whenever I take her out to karaoke on Saturday nights Dad! That’s when. You’ve come out with us occasionally too, remember? Have you already forgotten that great duet of “Won’t you come home, Bill Bailey” that she and I did about 6 months back? The crowd loved us!”
“Well, okay. That’s a karaoke crowd. But your Mother up on a big theatre stage by herself? She’ll be crapping herself with nerves, right Mary?”
“Wrong Dad,” I think now as I glance over at him on the other side of Andy. “Mom’s got this!”
Dad has his Nikon camera with the big close-up lens pointed at Mom. I wonder what he’s thinking about her. Is he as proud of her at this moment as I am? Or is he too busy making sure his focus, the angles he’s choosing and the lighting are the best he can get so she can watch his video later? Can he hear how well she’s singing? Even I, who rehearsed this number with her over and over, can hardly believe how awesome her deep, slightly husky voice sounds through that microphone.
I wipe away happy tears again. She’s getting near the end of the song, and though my heart rate is slowing down a little, I can hardly contain myself. I’m overjoyed. She has done so well. A full week of practising stage movements, vocal delivery, projection and even keeping that stupid hat in place has paid off. If she was nervous, she hid it well. Better than I did. I was nervous enough for both of us.
Oh my goodness! She’s done. The audience is clapping and cheering. Dad is on his feet shouting “Bravo!”. Andy is walking up to the stage with his iPhone trained on Mom as she takes a little bow. And shaking with excitement, I’m on my feet yelling “Woot woot” as the tears of joy I’ve been trying to hold back burst forth from a heart full of love and pride.
Just before “mama-mack-the-knife” turns to exit stage right, she looks straight at me, her now not-so-silent sidekick, and gives me the biggest grin. Smiling from ear to ear, I wink back at her, and giving her an A-ok sign, I mouth “Love you!” She blows a kiss back to me, and then she sends a last little wave to the audience, a wave that, knowing my Mom, says only one thing:
“You ain’t seen the last of me yet, folks. I’ll be back again next year!”