The location of the singing contest set the standard for redneck community. If you ever wanted to join Garth Brooks in one of his low places, just walk on in and sit yourself down at one of the red-checked tablecloths, and a waitress will be with you shortly to take your order for a plastic tub of beer. Need to know the varieties of the adult beverages we serve? Just glance at the neon signs along the plyboard walls advertising every brewery known to man. The only part of the scene that didn’t ring true for a honky-tonk tableau was the congregation of young children darting around the dance floor in support of their favorite vocalist. I mean, the clock said 7PM on a Saturday night, but just what if a Southern Baptist church had arrived twelve hours too early? Next thing you’d know, an irate group of WMU ladies would be flipping over beer tables in honor of Jesus’ famous synagogue scene right before they sanctified those yellow buckets with fried chicken.
We found a few remaining tables in front of the stage with enough seats to accommodate Callie’s fan club. We still had an hour to kill before the shindig started, and when a waitress brought a paper menu the size of a bookmark to the table, I jumped at the chance to undo my earlier sin of missing supper. Before Mom showed up on my doorstep, I had managed to cram in three fried shrimp and half a hush puppy from take out, but three crustaceans does not a hearty supper make, so I ordered a BLT with alacrity and then played musical chairs with friends and family until we got situated. My chair afforded me a great view of the stage from one side and a clear shot of the front door from the other. I needed to keep a sharp eye out for my friend Lauren who was joining me for solidarity.
“I don’t know if I’m going to be able to stand the anticipation for another hour,” my sister said, dragging a chair next to mine. “I’m a nervous wreck as it is.”
“She’s going to be amazing,” I replied, ignoring the fact that I felt like heaving up my toenail polish just to obtain some relief. Who said you had to birth a child in order to delve into the fields of fret and worry? My niece said she was feeling nervous, but her composed exterior and beautiful smile made a mockery of her statement.
I checked my phone in case Lauren needed last-minute directions and saw the ominous words No Signal at the top of the screen. Well, it was official. We’d crossed the line into Deliverance territory. If any of the contestants brought a banjo up on the stage, I was out of there. With my iPhone now relegated to coaster status, I knew Lauren would have to rely on the kindness of strangers if she got lost on her journey into the wilds of the South. But at 7:45 I saw her clear the door, and I went to extract her from the couple hundred people milling around.
As we made our way to the chairs, she took in the mass of humanity around her. Jeans were the attire of choice, but the rest of the patrons could be summarized with four words: tattoos and tank tops, neither gender specific. My sister and I shoved our two chairs together so Lauren could sit with our group. The neighboring table actually had a seat available, but when the 350 pound man with the greying mullet and wife beater shirt told me it was taken, I decided to take him at his word and just slide my rump over to make room for Lauren. We’re small people, but I did find myself straddling the fault line with a party in each camp. I thought it was a small sacrifice to make for my Callie.
Lauren, a professional violist and member of our local orchestra, watched a small herd of women in matching fluorescent green t-shirts and cowboy boots saunter by with bottles of Bud Lite in their hands. “You know, this is a different clientele than we normally bring in for symphony.”
“Really? You don’t say.” We laughed and she spotted a musician headed backstage carrying a blue case.
“Oh, that’s a violin! I wonder what he’s playing?”
“No telling, but down here we call that thing a fiddle.”
She turned and said, “I’m really happy you invited me to this. I grew up in South Carolina, but this is far more Deep South than I’ve ever seen.”
“Yep. You’re in the heartland now.”
Our conversation was interrupted by the MC who took the stage. It was time for the showdown.
© 2013 – Traci Carver