Several years ago when I was in the television business, I was asked to be the emcee for a talent show held in a small eastern North Carolina town. The proceeds from the show were to go to benefit the local fire department. Appropriately, the show was held at the fire department where a large flat-bed trailer had been drawn up to use as a stage.
It was a warm autumn afternoon as I surveyed the list of entries that the chairman had given me. There was a wide variety of talent ranging from a yodeler to an opera singer. It looked like it would be an interesting show.
The first contestant was a little girl dressed to look like Shirley Temple. I don’t know how many of the young folks in attendance knew who Shirley Temple was but I’m sure the little girl’s mama knew and that’s what counted. After an excellent rendition of “The Good Ship Lollipop”, we had a fellow whistle his arrangement of “Listen to the Mockingbird” followed by a lady of operatic aspirations singing “How Great Thou Art” as her husband accompanied her on the saw. (Just so you’ll know, the hand saw is played by placing it between the knees of the player and stroked with a violin bow. — the saw not the knees.)
Then a little girl whose name was Reba came out to play the piano. As the firemen- stage crew rolled the old heavy, upright piano out onto the truck-bed stage, the little girl stood nervously waiting for me to introduce her. She was probably ten years old. She wore a frilly white dress with white patent leather shoes. Her red hair had been curled so tightly that she looked she was wearing a shower cap with bumps on it. She sat down to play “Moonlight Sonata”. She played a few hesitant notes then stopped and began to cry. The audience was silent, evidently feeling sorry for the little girl. I started to ask for applause and help her off stage when a gentleman came from backstage and sat down on the piano bench beside the little girl. I don’t know what he said to her but she began to play the piano again. She again began tentatively but grew more confident and the gentleman would whisper to her as she played. She finished the piece to great applause, curtsied to the audience, took the gentleman’s hand and left the stage.
Now, if this story had a Hollywood ending, the little girl would have won the contest. But she didn’t. A young man who played his fiddle arrangement of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” won.
I left the little town that afternoon and hadn’t heard from anyone there until the other day when I attended a wedding at a little country church near Wallace. The church was full and I got there a little late. As soon as I saw the minister, I thought he looked familier. At the reception, I talked to him and found out that he was the gentleman who had helped the little girl at the talent contest. I asked him what had become of the little girl. He told me she was his granddaughter and he had been her piano teacher. She had been the organist for the wedding.
The girl had already left so I didn’t get to talk to her. But as I recalled that afternoon so long ago and the scared little girl, I thought the fiddler might have won the contest but the little piano player won our hearts.