Every time I make a new friend who's a Taylor Hicks fan, they want to know 'my story.' Since I wasn't involved in the voting during his season on American Idol and I tell anyone who will listen that I don't even like the show, they want to know how I became aware of him.
Well, here you go. You may want to refill that coffee cup, because this story is a long one. (That's why I rarely tell it.)
2006 had been a rough year. In March, my mother-in-law wound up in the emergency room, complaining of excruciating pain in her right leg. Turns out she had blocked arteries and would have to undergo bypass surgery.
She lived about 3 hrs from us, but I made the trip down after the surgery was over to spend a few days with her. (She had other family who lived near her). She seemed to be doing fine, but about a week after I returned home we got a call that she was back in the hospital.
The bypass failed and the only recourse was to amputate the leg below the knee. Her toes were already turning purple. The foot was dying.
This was a woman who had been working full time, driving and living on her own. She accepted the news surprisingly well. She was looking forward to getting a prosthetic leg and getting on with her life.
My husband and I took turns driving down to see her because our kids had obligations back home. I was the first to see her without the bottom half of her leg. She was sitting in a wheelchair in her hospital room with an enormous bandage wrapped around her knee. It looked like a big cotton-y ball where the knee would be. And below it...empty space.
An orderly came in just then to help her into bed. After she was settled, laying down and covered up, she asked me to please get the blanket off of the leg that had been operated on because the weight of it was causing her pain. I did just that. She winced and asked me to please get it off the foot, too. She pointed to the empty space. I told her, "I don't understand. You want me to move the blanket off of the foot that isn't there?" She nodded yes and after I flipped it back away from the invisible foot, her face relaxed. Freaky.
Her physical rehab kept being interrupted by infections. And then another amputation. The rest of the leg had to come off. She had been living in hospitals and nursing homes for months now. My husband and I continued our twice monthly visits, during which we took care of whatever maintenance had to be done at her house. It was a difficult schedule and we fell behind on a few things around our own house.
Every Sunday before I left her house to return home, I walked through her rooms, cleaning as I went along. I put fresh sheets on her bed and made sure her left slipper was within reach on the floor. She still planned to return to her own house. The man next door lived alone in a wheelchair, she reasoned. "Why can't I?"
But then in November we got a call that she had had a stroke and was on her way to the hospital. Before my husband made it to his car to leave his office, he got another call that she had died.
We were told that as she was being wheeled out of the nursing home, she seemed happy. She called goodbye to all the nurses and said, "Be sure to tell my kids I'm going home!"
I hate that the last time she saw her house was the night she left to go to the emergency room. I hate that I couldn't make it happen when she said to me, "Just take me home and let nature take it's course." And I hate that she died alone in some hospital.
So it was with these events still fresh in my mind that I happened to catch that gray-haired guy from American Idol on TV. He was singing, "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas..." Lovely. Slow and clear. But then he got a kind of sparkle in his eye, a sly smile and the tempo changed. It was jazzy, bouncy and hot. I realized I was smiling for the first time in a long time.
I got online, googled "Taylor Hicks" and was directed to graycharles.com. I wanted to know if he had a CD out yet. I learned the release date for the CD and that he would be touring the CD in 2007.
During those sad months I escaped from my life by learning more about this Taylor guy. I listened to tracks of his original songs, read newspaper articles and watched his interviews- all supplied by this surprisingly cool group of fans I met through graycharles.com. We shared information and we waited for the tour dates to be announced.
In the meantime, I started planning a trip to Florida to see my family. My Uncle was celebrating his 70th birthday and I had agreed to fly over from Houston. Everyone thought it would be good for me to get away. Mom wrote in an e-mail that she was flying down from NY for the party. We decided to meet at the airport and rent a car together.
The party was planned for February 23rd, in a town not too far from Tampa. When the first dates of Taylor's tour were announced, I had to read them twice. He was doing a show in Tampa the DAY before my Uncle's party! Do you think God takes the time to make things like that happen? Maybe my mother-in-law had a hand in it.
My Mom told me I absolutely had to fly to Tampa a day early to go to that show. When I checked for concert tickets, I found it was already sold out. But luckily, someone from graycharles had an extra ticket in the fourth row! I mailed her a check and she sent me the ticket. It was all falling into place.
Mom and I met at the airport and drove to the hotel. We decided to walk around town a bit and see if we could find the theater. It was only a few blocks away, so I was all set for the concert that night.
As we stood at a light, waiting to cross the street back to our hotel, I noticed a large bus parked at the entrance. I said to my Mom, "That can't be Taylor's tour bus, could it?" Crossing the street and walking around to the other side of the bus, we saw about five people getting luggage out of the storage area. One of them was Taylor.
He was wearing a thick gray sweater, a scarf, a hat and sunglasses, but I knew it was him. He hopped back on the bus and the door closed. We decided to wait to take his picture as he walked into the hotel. As we loitered, a hotel employee told us to move to the side to "respect his privacy." Fine, you little hotel Nazi. We moved to the side.
Taylor finally came out, walked over to a man with a clipboard and signed something as we snapped photos. There were no other fans around. I was thinking, "Wow! Taylor Hicks is right there, like ten feet away from me! How cool is this?"
But then, through my camera lens, I saw him turn and walk towards me. (Holy crap! I thought, lowering my camera.) He said, "How y'all doing?" Without even saying hello, I blurted out, "Can I take a picture with you?" He said "sure", put down his backpack, turned towards my Mom's camera and slipped his arm around my waist.
I put mine around his, feeling awkward but aware that this was my chance to tell him how his voice had lifted me out of despair and that his determination was inspiring and that the way he can move people through music is a gift.
"How was the show last night?", was all I could manage. He replied, "good." Mom clicked the photo, we thanked him and he was gone.
I don't know what it means. I don't know if it even matters if you meet someone you admire. He forgot us the moment he walked away. But I'll never forget how nice he was to us.
He does indeed have a gift because here it is all this time later and even though all I've got is a mildly interesting story, the memory of that day and the show that night still makes me smile.
(I cut myself out of this photo.)