Sally and her dance partner (the singer is Derek St. Holmes, original lead singer for the Ted Nugent Band)
While I was in Tennessee, Jake and I had lunch with Karen and her husband Frank. Karen is my mother's best friend and is the kind of person that everyone likes. She genuinely loves people, and they love her back. She and my mother are perfect friends. They love tea rooms and books and quilting and antique malls and Jesus. They are very similar.
But during our lunch, Karen was talking about finding new ways to be active, to keep up with her recent weight loss, and she told me something that shocked me. It rattled everything I thought I knew about her. Karen, the woman who is a second mother to me, has taken up line dancing. Line dancing. Her friend invited her to go, and she said yes. And she loves it. I told my mother this when I returned from my trip, and her jaw dropped.
Karen? My Karen?
She was surprised, too. I tried to picture Karen out there on the dance floor at her local community center, and even though it was nothing I would have expected, I was really proud of her. To let go of insecurity and fear and just get out there and dance? I loved it.
The next night, Jake and I found ourselves in Franklin, Tennessee. Jake and I had made the agreement that we would visit no chain restaurants or coffee shops while on vacation. So we considered eating dinner at Dotson's, a run-down meat and three that serves awesome fried chicken and great pies. But I had been there plenty of times before, and I wanted something new. So we searched online and found Puckett's Grocery in Leiper's Fork. It was Open Mic night, and it seemed like the perfect place to spend our last night in Tennessee. I have been to a dozens of Open Mic nights. This was unlike any Open Mic I had ever seen.
First of all, it felt like it was in the middle of nowhere. Leiper's Fork is off the beaten path. Second, Puckett's Grocery was packed. There were people lingering oustide, smoking cigarettes in the cold, misty air, standing beside the old gas pumps that may or may not have been original. It was instantly intimidating, so we chose to forego dinner at Puckett's in favor of the Country Boy restaurant across the street. We had dinner, a brief argument (all good couples do), and then headed back across the street to listen to some music.
There was not a free seat in the room, and it was dark, so Jake and I made our way through the crowd of people towards the back, which was the grocery store part of the building. We stood between grocery aisles stacked with dusty pyramids of canned tomatoes and bags of hushpuppy mix, and we listened to the music. Every now and then I would notice an older woman stand and dance around a little, completely unaware that the rest of the room was not dancing. The longer the music played, the more she danced, waving her arms in the air and shaking her hips without a thought. She was wearing a yellow polyester shirt and black pants that I am certain (maybe just hopeful) had an elastic waist. She finished off the ensemble with a pair of athletic shoes. She was awesome.
The highlight of the evening was when they called her up to sing. I learned that her name was Sally Cummings. She stood proudly and sang out "Help Me Make it Through the Night". She was not the most polished singer of the night, but she was certainly the most confident. And I knew I had to meet her. So after her song was over, I walked over to her table, and I told her honestly that I admired her spirit. She danced when she wanted to. She sang when she wanted to. She clapped wildly and yelled when she liked a song. The rest of us and our opinions didn't really matter. Sally was having a great time, and she didn't care who saw.
The few minutes I spent in conversation with her were fascinating. I learned that Sally's brother Pete (who was also there that night) had toured with Elvis and Willie and the Oak Ridge Boys. She told me that she learned long ago not to worry about what people thought about her, and she genuinely seemed appreciative of the conversation. I asked if I could take a picture with her, and she sweetly consented. The rest of the night was filled with great songs, fantastically talented musicians, and sweet Sally shaking it on the dance floor that they made by clearing out some of the front tables towards the end of the evening. And on a particularly slow song, I felt inspired, and Jake and I followed suit and headed out to do the "I don't really know how to dance but I can stand here and shuffle my feet" dance. It's the only kind of dancing that most Baptist preacher's kids know.
I have grown a lot in this area, but there are lots of things that scare me. Things that I don't do because I fear what people will think. What if I mess up? What if I fail? What if I look like an idiot? But I am thankful for little examples. For stories like Karen's and Sally's. For reminders that the opinions and stares of other people don't matter. So whatever it is you are fearing, just do that thing. The thing that scares you to death. Go ahead. Get out there and do it. Live. Dance. Run. Sing. Whatever. Shake it like Sally.
Sally singing "Help Me Make it Through the Night"
Sally and Me
Me and Pete Cummings (you can read up on him here)