CONFIDENT TO TIMID AND ALMOST BACK IN 56 SHORT YEARS
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a certain timid streak, one I’ve worked hard to overcome. However, on a vacation trip with my husband and three children in April of 1988, to the place of my birth and youth, York County, Pennsylvania, my youngest aunt told me of a time I was not in the least bit shy.
Aunt Sue invited us to dinner one night, and asked what I’d like. I promptly answered, “Chicken corn soup (a hearty Pennsylvania Dutch chowder).” We arrived to a warm welcome from her, Uncle Bob and their children and spouses. After a wonderful meal, and with our tummies full of her delicious chowder, we gathered in the living room. In front of the fireplace we all sat around, catching up on new events and fondly reminiscing about those in years past.
The subject of school came up. In a few short minutes, the story of my first venture into the spotlight unfolded, a time before I have memories. Aunt Sue’s story took place on the final day of her sixth grade year in 1951, when I would have been barely two-and-a-half. Then, she explained, students were allowed to bring a younger sibling or relative to school with them on that partial last day of school; it was a sort of introduction to school for the younger child. Since her baby brother, my Uncle Donald, was already in fourth grade, she chose me, her two-year-old niece.
She carefully recalled the story, describing me as a precocious little girl with a head full of darkest brown curly locks. Although Aunt Sue couldn’t specifically remember what I wore that day, she felt certain my mother had dressed me in a little skirt and frilly blouse, my usual attire for a special outing or occasion.
My Aunt Sue, a beautiful woman was an equally beautiful girl, popular and outgoing. I imagine I drew courage from her confidence, for I cannot fathom doing what I did otherwise. Somehow, and she didn’t recall just how it had transpired, I got up on a table in the classroom and starting singing and dancing. “Just like Shirley Temple,” she said proudly recalled. Even now, I shudder and my face reddens at the very thought.
When I was a senior in high school, my English teacher chose me to write the class poem. I was so very honored, but then horrified when told I would have to recite it from memory at Class Night, a large audience of all the seniors, their families and dates. That event that had me trembling from top of my head to the tips of my toes. I still shudder when I remember the sound of my high heels click-click-click as I walked across the auditorium floor to the spotlight. Other than that frightening episode, during high school and college years, I found safety from my fear when performing with the choir or glee club.
For as long as I can remember, solo anything in front of people is something I have desperately tried to avoid. So, when Aunt Sue recounted my entertaining her entire sixth grade class all those years ago, I was absolutely mortified. Just listening to her tell the story in front of my family gave me a red face, making me want to promptly crawl under her living room rug.
Since that evening of my bold performance’s exposure, I’ve thought about my timid streak more times than I can count. I’ve talked to friends who are professionals in the entertainment industry, asking them if they have ever felt timid when on stage acting or singing. These friends have performed on Broadway, huge concerts and made movies, so I felt somewhat better when the vast majority of them candidly admitted they lacked confidence at one time or another, or had an episode or two of stage fright at some point in their careers.
In recent years, I have somehow gathered the courage to speak in front of groups, but this bravery did not come easily. Due to the nature of my work, there have been several occasions when I read my poetry in front of groups of thirty to fifty. However, quite honestly, I did find a sort or strength or solace by standing behind the lectern. Also, I have had a few personal interviews on the radio, and felt quite at ease. I rationalized those were easy because the listeners were invisible.
I realize, and now admit, I have yet to get back to the confidence of a two-year-old, but I have made progress. In 20-20 retrospect, I’ve concluded we are not born timid or diffident. These are traits we acquire, something we learn over the years, and some of us never totally overcome. My little show back in the ‘50s was a once in a lifetime occurrence, something that happened before I had better sense. I’m happy Aunt Sue remembers it fondly, but I am equally glad I don’t have the slightest recollection of it, or else I’d still be hiding under my aunt's living room rug to this day.