A Song. An Image. A Tear

“Sometimes,” said Pooh, “the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.”

~~ Winnie the Pooh

I am a fan of talent shows. I don’t mean the kind we used to see on the Miss America Contest from Atlantic City. Bert Parks standing off to the side and singing “There She Is, Miss America” would make the whole event worthwhile to me. No, I’m talking about the County Fairs, School Events…perhaps even an open-mike night at a small Irish Pub. The talent is usually young people…a new dance routine learned at Maggie’s Dancing Studio down on Main Street. I’m envious of those who can stand up before a bleacher full of strangers (and some family). The thirteen year old girl on the school stage singing “Am I Blue?” or a nine year old singing “Both Sides Now“. Whatever is lacking in true talent is made up for in pure guts. I could never do it.

But I digress.

Every so often I spend a few minutes surfing Facebook for clips of Steve Martin’s first time on The Tonight Show, or an ‘official’ music video of Bob Dylan’s latest release. This is my time to catch up and upgrade my cultural literacy.

Several weeks ago I happened upon a collection of postings from America’s Got Talent. It was here that I first heard a pre-pubescent yodeler from Iowa or a darkly frightful young woman illusionist from Indonesia. But I paused on a segment featuring a ten year old autistic boy (who is also blind!). His foster father held his hand and did the introduction while the boy rocked back and forth, holding his cane. His name is Christopher Duffley. The clip is eight years old but I had never seen it before. The dad said the boy would be singing “I Want To See You“. I googled the song and found a tune by that name written and preformed by Boz Scaggs. I’m not totally certain it’s the same song…but it’s a moot point. The point is that I was very moved by what I was watching. The boy’s first faltering notes. His unease apparent.

(I have a vested interested in this topic. My daughter, Erin, teaches a couple of autistic boys in Orting, WA. And my grandson is approximately the same age as the boy on stage.)

But he gave up the cane, grabbed the mike and sang. The live music behind him on stage adjusted the pace and tempo to fit the child’s tiny voice.

But such bravery.

I felt a warm tear rolling down my cheek.

And, as fathers sometimes do, I saw my own son (now thirty-five years old) as that boy. I tried to climb into the father’s head. I couldn’t.

I could not do much of anything but watch, watch until the next tear fell.

[Note: For further information on autism, go to the link below:]


Talent Night at the County Fair: July, 2014


An I-beam blocked our view from our first choice of seats.  We went back down and back up.  Great view!  A mud horse track separated the half-filled grandstand from the stage.  The stage was named for the Waste Removal Company that takes the trash from most of the homes of Clinton Co., NY.

It had rained earlier in the afternoon, but the sky was clearing nicely.  The west wind began to turn slightly chilly…enough to force me to dig for my fleece vest.  A fleece vest!?  In mid-July?  This was the North Country.  On the wall of the backstage were billboards from Pepsi and Budweiser.  Beyond the stage I could see the Green Mountains of Vermont.  In between, unseen, was Lake Champlain.

On stage the dozen contestants sat on folding chairs.  I could barely make them out in the dim lighting.  I could see a guitar act was in my future, though.  With any luck, maybe a Dylan song.  I squinted to see the young woman holding the guitar between her knees.  Nope.  Even her parents are too young to know who Dylan is.

The two emcees were ‘personalities’ from the local TV station.  One was the news anchor and the other was the weekend weatherman.  I wondered how much he made to tell us that it was cold, is cold and will be cold until Saturday afternoon…when it will be a little less cold.

First up was the 12-year-old and under group.  Six girls.  The backup music was provided by two guys at a sound table under a brown canvas tarp mid-way across the horse track.  A rainbow appeared above the stage.

I got as comfortable as I could and began to listen to these young girls sing (one did an Irish Step Dance).  Then they were followed by the adults.

I let the music fill the old wooden stands.  I heard the voices sing songs I mostly didn’t know.  I listened to the occasional lines:

“Let it be…”

“Before he cheats…”

“Sway with me…”

“Rain blowing in your face…”

“Surround me when the night gets cold…”

The voices were tentative, shy, strong, weak, off-key, quiet and loud.  But like all music, good and not so good, it transported me.  I left my body on the bench and my mind began to soar.

I soared over the rows of fresh-cut hay of the field beyond the horse track, up and over Plattsburgh, across Lake Champlain, over the Green Mountains, passed the rainbow that had appeared in the clouds overhead, toward New Hampshire, Boston and the Atlantic Ocean.  I was vaguely aware of the shy voices of the little girls, the strong “give-me-your-best-shot” confidence of the adult women, the strong baritones of the men, the gentle folk song on the guitar.

This was young untested talent.  Virgin talent.  Bold talent.  And some of it was nearly free of talent…but it came from twelve people who had the stuffing to get up in front of their friends and family and neighbors and try.  They tried with their hearts because they wanted someone, anyone to listen to what they felt they had.  This was their moment in the blue lights.  This was their chance to prove to themselves that whatever it is they want, they were going to try to get it.

The first little girl who sang, came in last.  She walked down the ramp of the stage and slowly across the dirt horse track…the widest horse track she had walked across in her eight or nine years on earth.

She was wiping her cheeks.  My heart broke.

“Please God,” I said to myself. “Don’t let her think she failed, is a failure, will be a failure…is not now or ever going to be good enough.”

She’s lying in her bed now, thinking about how she came in last.  What will she do in the morning?

“Please God, give her the strength to get out of bed and begin singing again.”

Me?  I’m sitting at my laptop trying to describe to you how she sent me out over the Ocean.

I think her creative energy was bound up with my fate.  If she had faltered in mid-song…turned around and walked away…I would have fallen into the sea.




The Carny