Chapter 1

I am a man in my early sixties. I am fairly well-to-do, or at least have enough funds to do most anything I wish to. My wife passed away one year and seven months ago. She and I had a loving and happy relationship for all of our many years of marriage. We took joy in pleasing each other. Life being what it is with death at the end, we often discussed what the remaining partner would do when the other passed on.

This may sound a bit morbid, but we determined in our own minds that there is an afterlife. Our time on this earth is just too brief to have accomplished the closeness we had for each other. We felt we must have been together in a previous lifetime, and planned to meet on the other side. However, feeling that one of us would be alone, possibly for a long time, we made a pact to find other companionship. This after a decent period of mourning.

My life started anew with my sister-in-law. She is a little older than me by one or two years. At the passing of my wife, the whole family grieved with me. Actually the family grieved more than me, as I knew my wife and I were just parted until I joined her on the other side. Sure, I missed her more than words can say, but as far as being sad or depressed, I seemed to be spared this deep grief. However, I was lonely and found myself visiting around to various friends and relatives to keep occupied.

Benita, or Benny as my wife called her sister, called me one Thursday afternoon and asked me to fill in on a tour she had planned with a male friend of hers. I knew she had a male companion that often traveled with her. It really was quite a scandal when she first lost her husband, but times change, and it was fully accepted now. It seems as though her companion had a crisis of his own and couldn't go on the tour. I always thought that Benny's companion paid for their trips, but Benny claimed that she had paid for this one. She didn't want to go alone and the money for the trip was nonrefundable, so that is why she asked me.

I questioned Benny about where, when, and for how long. We would be leaving Saturday a.m., and traveling to the Ozarks for a three-day music festival. Everything was included in the cost of the trip; the meals, the motel, the bus fare and the tickets to the festival. The only thing you had to spend money on was breakfast, your personal items and any souvenirs. I asked about accommodations and she said the rooms at the motels they stayed in had either two single beds or one double. You were always given a choice. We would be gone seven days and six nights. It sounded like fun, even though I wasn't particularly fond of Benny. I did enjoy folk music and this was a chance to hear it live. I agreed to meet her at the bus station Saturday morning, after quizzing her on what I should pack.

We boarded the bus on time and after making sure everyone was present, we headed south. We had been the first to get on the bus and Benny looked at everyone else as they clambered on board. She said that this was the first time that she didn't know any of the other people. Most of the passengers were couples my age or older, except for two females and four males. We used to refer to these young people as hippies.

They had some musical instruments and wanted to get some ideas at the festival. I'd guess they were in their twenties. Benny and I were sitting on the right side of the bus where we could see the scenery. The hippies sat in the back of the bus where they could sprawl out a little. The bus driver wouldn't allow them to bring their guitars with them into the passenger compartment, but did relent to allowing some smaller instruments.

After a bit, the motion of the bus and the drone of the highway sent me into a doze. That is until Benny nudged me in the ribs saying, "Don't stare, but look back at the hippies."

I turned around as unobtrusively as I could and glanced back. I hadn't seen a sight such as met my eyes for a long time. One of the girls was sprawled out across the laps of three of the guys. Her blouse was unbuttoned and had been pulled open. Her skirt, which dragged near the floor when she came on the bus, was bunched around her waist. She lay there with a satisfied smile on her face as one of the guys massaged her breasts. Another guy had his fingers moving slowly up and down her inner legs. They apparently were just giving her some good feelings. About this time the hippies became aware of the show they were putting on, so they pulled a blanket out of a backpack and spread it over her before continuing.

Benny said disgustedly, "Isn't that awful, and right in front of everyone too! I should think she would be so embarrassed."

I laughed, "How can she be embarrassed, she has her eyes closed, so maybe she doesn't know people are looking at her. It looks to me as if it is bothering you more than her, anyway. Why don't you lay back in your seat and forget about it?" I then whispered, "You know I'm glad that it isn't the girl with the red hair that is being fondled. She is just too lovely to make a public display of herself." Benny then sat back and closed her eyes. It was cool on the bus, so I took her shawl and laid it across her knees. With slacks on, she should be quite comfortable. I sat back too and soon dozed off.

I came awake with a start although I didn't open my eyes. Benny had taken my hand and was holding it in hers. What in the world was she doing? She apparently did not want to wake me, so was moving slow. I still pretended I was asleep and just waited to see what she was up to. She didn't move my hand for a bit, then she hugged it to her breast. I opened my eyes and looked at Benny. She smiled and said, "You're right as always. What the hippies do is none of my business. Thanks for putting the shawl over me. You are always thinking of the other person. Betty was lucky to have you for a mate."

The driver of the bus asked if everyone was ready for a coffee stop. We had been riding for several hours, so of course we all wanted to. Before we got back on the bus I spoke to the driver about the hippies. I had overheard them discussing their instruments and wanting to "jam" a little. He said it wouldn't bother him, but thought it would disrupt the other passengers. I reminded him of our destination and thought it would get us ready for tomorrow's activities. He thought a minute and then said, "Have them go for it."

Things got pretty lively after we resumed our journey. The hippies horsed around, just showing off with some breakdown music, pickin' and singing. Carol, not the girl who had put on the show up back earlier, started singing some old time tunes. She had an unusually husky voice with a hillbilly twang. She knew a lot of songs made popular by the Stanley Brothers and the Louvin Brothers. She sang some by Hank Williams and Charlie Pride, ending up after an hour or so with a pair each from Alison Krause and Iris Dement. The song she said she hoped to sing in competition tomorrow was "Childhood Memories" made popular by Iris Dement. She then sang it for us, and it touched us all.

We pulled into the motel after midnight, tired, and cramped. We knew that the activities didn't start until very late in the morning, so we could sleep in. We needed that for sure! When we got to our room, we expected two single beds. However, a note on the one double bed notified us that the single beds were needed in an annex the motel had set up because of the influx for the festival. They hoped it would not inconvenience any of us. I looked at Benny. She laughed and said, "I have been waiting years to get you in bed, and now I am going to."

I said, "I don't think so. That looks like a comfortable chair in the corner. I will flip a coin to see who gets the bed and who gets the chair. You look pretty tired. Go take a shower and we will settle this problem after I get cleaned up."

Truth-to-tell, Benny didn't turn me on that much. She had never been kind to either of her siblings, so I had heard my wife Betty say. We were spending three days here, so I unpacked while she was taking her shower. At least when she finished, she had covered herself with a robe and was acting very discreet. I showered, shaved and came out into the room, finding her asleep in bed. I was not about to sleep in the chair, so crawled in next to her. I was asleep almost immediately.

At five-thirty I woke up with my kidneys screaming for relief. I rolled out of bed and headed for the bathroom. When I returned, I found that Benny had taken my side of the bed. I nudged her, and she flopped onto her back. Her pajama top had come open, exposing her breasts. It had been quite a while since I had been this close to a woman, so I was somewhat interested in the view. Then I remembered who I was looking at and how she had treated my wife. I turned the bedside lamp off and was soon asleep again.

I was dreaming, and how! I was having the most wonderful dream. My wife was my lover, and we were doing some of the things we both enjoyed. It felt so good! Then I woke up. There was Benny hugging and kissing me and fondling my privates. That made me so mad! I yelled just as I climaxed. "Benny, you damned bitch, leave me alone." I gave her a push out of bed and she burst into tears. I'll admit I treated her pretty rough, but waking and finding it wasn't my wife upset me. It was just too much! My wife, whom I had loved dearly, and then to find Benny here and not her.

"Go clean up, and stop your crying!" The disgust in my voice was pretty evident. Benny headed into the bathroom, sobbing.

I began to feel remorse at the way I had treated my sister-in-law. Her crying was really beginning to touch me. Finally I knocked on the bathroom door with a halfway apology. "Benny, why don't you come out now so I can explain why I acted the way I did?"

Benny came out with a sheepish and downcast face. She didn't act as if she had done anything wrong, just hurt that I had misconstrued what she thought would be a good deed. "Burt, you were mumbling Betty's name in your sleep. I thought you would be overjoyed at what I was doing for you. I guess I was wrong. You almost broke my arm."

"You don't know how much I miss Betty. It seemed that I was with her a little while in my dream. It was like old times. In the back of my mind, I began to realize that it wasn't happening, and someone was playing a trick on me. I was angry even before I woke up. You and I have never hit it off too well, and the last thing I thought I wanted is to get intimate with you. It was definitely a surprise. I guess it was all too much, and I am sorry I hurt you."

"Burt, I am so lonely most of the time. These last few years have been hell on me since Richard died. Maybe as the years stretch ahead of you, you will come to know how it is. I'm not unattractive, and you certainly are a handsome man. We have both lost our spouses and for me I am very lonely. I woke up in bed with you and just couldn't resist the temptation to do what I thought would make you happy."

I was listening to her, and a lot of what she said was true. "Let me think about this for a bit. We will talk about it more, I'm sure. For now, I'm starved. Let's find some breakfast." With that I stepped towards her and to show I wasn't upset anymore, I gave her a hug. We came here to have some fun. So far all we had experienced was a long and tiring journey. We had sex, kind of. It made neither one of us happy, so we set out for breakfast to see if we couldn't change the outlook on our holiday.

We left our room in a hurry, anticipating a heavy, satisfying, southern meal. When we reached the outside deck that ran around the motel, I saw Carol sitting against the wall. She was sitting on her backpack with her guitar leaning back. She was looking pretty dejected. "Carol, what's the matter? Are you sick?"

"No." No further comment.

"Where are the rest of your friends?"

"Those bastards kicked me out and took all of my money." With this she started to cry.

You already know that I'm a sucker for a crying woman. "Have you had anything to eat?" She shook her head no. "Well come along with Benny and me and have breakfast. You can tell us about it. It can't be as bad as you say." We went down to the little diner at the end of the motel, choosing a booth in the rear.

Nothing was said about Benny's or my problem. She had been looking for an intimate discussion of what had transpired between us earlier. Now she was just looking disappointed and not too happy that I had invited someone else to be with us. I just can't please her can I?

After we were served I turned to Carol and asked her what had happened. "Well, I thought things were looking up for me. The guys I came with can play pretty well. We have had some gigs, and had good reviews. I got it into my head that if I came to this festival and was heard, it might lead to more than just playing in bars and clubs. Just before we decided to come, George started hanging out with that other girl.

"I can see that she is a loser, but she puts out to all of the guys and they can't see what she is. Anyway, we were all drinking after we got here, them more than me. I really do want to compete, so they weren't too happy that I kept bugging them about drinking too much. Then she got on my case because I wouldn't join in having sex with them. She said if I didn't want sex with the guys, how about at least giving them a show with her and me performing. You probably realize that I am pretty liberal, but I draw the line at some things. Having sex with another female is where I draw the line.

"When they all ran out of beer, they wanted me to go and get more. It was late and I wouldn't. They emptied my purse and even found my mad money. Then they told me if I didn't want to party, to leave! I asked about the competition and I was told, 'to hell with performing, we came here to party.'

"I spent the rest of the night on the motel porch where you found me. I am at a loss as to what to do now. It is a good thing I am on a tour bus so I can get back home. Breakfast is the only meal I have to buy, and you said you would take care of that today. I can survive until dinner which is included in the tour package.

"I could kill those guys. They didn't know I had a small stage saved for us to perform on, with a 20 minute time slot. There is elimination competition here, with several stages. If a performer generates enough interest, they can move to another stage and perform again. I didn't think I had much chance of moving up with the group I had, but now I don't have any chance at all. Damn! My minor was in music and song writing in college. I've written a song I wanted to try out, but it won't work without some good backup. It is a long poem actually recited in several dialects from different parts of this country. The group thought I would be crazy to try it."

Carol looked tired and worn out. Benny came through with, "Why don't you go back to our room and lie down and get some rest? We planned on going out to look around. By the way, what time were you supposed to go on stage?"

"Ten after five this evening. I have to be there at five to sign in."

"Well, get some rest. We'll have lunch about two, just before the diner shuts off the noon meal. Maybe you will enjoy just watching and listening, rather than performing." She handed her the key as we ordered a coffee refill.

"Poor kid, she's having a rough time, isn't she?" This was a new side of Benny I was seeing. Most of what I had ever seen of her, she always thought of herself before others. "Too bad you can't talk to her group and get them to shape up."

"I don't think she would have them back. After all, they robbed her. She might not report them, or press charges, but I'm sure she won't have anything to do with them. I think she is well rid of the whole bunch. Let's walk around, and maybe we can think of a way to help her."

This was a nice town. Their claim to fame was this yearly music festival. Right now it was all decked out with banners and posters touting some of the well-known country entertainers who would be appearing. They would not be in any competition, but they all showed up to view the amateurs who would. We saw a lot of stars in person just walking down main street. And then there were those hopefuls that seemed to be everywhere, set up where there was room to play. They all wanted to outdo each other, mostly by being loud. Some we stopped and listened to, and others we hurried on by.

When we got down to the end of the street we found a little park. A big bulletin board telling where the various stages were and listing the names of the performers and what time they were to go on, stood in the center. We crowded up to it to see where Carol's stage was. A map showed the locations, and the number of the shuttle bus that would take you to the specific stage.

All of the stages were set up in a little valley about a half mile from town. The stages were in the form of a wheel. They ringed the valley so when you stood in the center you could see where they all were located. Trees had been planted as buffer zones between each stage to cut the sounds that otherwise would interfere. There was an enlarged aerial photograph showing the stages. Each stage had a number painted on the floor and was clearly visible from the air.

We found Carol's name and confirmed that she was to sing at ten after five. I wondered what they would do when she was a "no show."

When I looked at her name I saw a piece of paper stuck on the name preceding hers. A band was looking for a female vocalist (desperately). Their address was at the same motel as ours. I didn't think Carol's band had a reservation of their own, so it had to be a different group. I pointed this out to Benny, observing that maybe Carol could work something out with them.

We left the park and slowly walked back towards our motel. The crowds on the street had thinned out a lot. Those that were playing and singing, of course, were out in the valley. The tourists, many who had come to see the well-known stars, had gone out also. This was the day when the stage in the center wasn't used in competition. The stars vied with each other to show off their stuff, and were free to use the center stage. Up and down main street bands were getting in a little more practice and solidifying their last minute changes.

When we were approaching the motel, one band was practicing in an empty lot. Next to the sidewalk was a sign tacked to an empty guitar case. We read again where a vocalist was needed by four-thirty this afternoon. "Benny, I'm going to inquire about what they need and maybe Carol can fill the bill for them. That would solve their and Carol's problem at the same time."

I walked up to one of the players who was sitting off to one side. I squatted down and asked him how come they were looking for a singer. It seems as though their singer had broken her leg just before they packed up to come to the festival. She was in such pain that she knew she couldn't do justice to the band, so she stayed home. Even though she was a sister to one of the members, she had wanted to quit the band for some time and she thought that by not coming, the band would look even harder to find a replacement.

I explained to him about Carol not having a band to sing with. I said I didn't really know her, but had heard her sing. I thought she was pretty good, even though I didn't know much about music. I enjoyed listening to it. Bluegrass had been my favorite for many years I thought I could tell what was good, or not so good.

He stood up and walked over to the rest of his band. They discussed what I had told him. I could tell from the body language that they didn't give much credence to finding someone who would fill their needs. Time was ever so short and they had just about given up on finding a singer. The person whom I had talked to came back and asked me where this singer was. When they found out she was staying at the same motel as they were, and that was where she was now, they picked up their instruments and went back with Benny and me. I said I would bring her down to their room shortly.

Benny and I woke Carol, as she was napping, and explained what we had done. Her face lighted up and she bounced off the bed and headed into the bathroom to freshen up. I could hear Benny telling her how we had found this group, and how and why they had apparently been searching for a singer. In ten minutes I was leading her down the hall to their room.

I knocked on the door, saying when it opened, "Hi, this is the singer I was telling you about." I stepped back and let Carol precede me.

From the back of the room I heard someone exclaim, "I know her! Hi Carol."

Carol's face lit up. "Hi Jimmy."

A nice looking fellow pushed his way forward to the door where Carol was still standing. He was all smiles as he turned to the rest of his group. "Hey guys, I think our problem is solved! I've known Carol for a long time, and I know what she is all about. She was at the university the same time as I was. We studied music and often jammed together."

I broke in with, "Why don't you all get started and see if you can work up something that you can present at the competition?" With that, Benny and I left and headed back to our room. On the way we discussed what had transpired, coming to the conclusion that both Carol and her new band would probably lose in the first round of the competition. However, they would feel that they had given it their best shot, and would be happy to have performed at all.

We then took a short nap before catching the shuttle out to where the stages were set up.

When we arrived we made our way to the stage where Carol's new friends were to perform. A group was just finishing up, and we caught the last part of their number. I sure hoped that Carol's band could play better than this one, for it was almost embarrassing to listen to. We had heard Carol sing, so we knew that at least the vocal part would be better.

An MC came out onto the stage when they finished and asked for a big round of applause. This brought forth just a smattering of clapping and a couple of muted "boos."

He only paused for a few seconds, and then went on to announce that The Down Homers from Ohio would be performing next. He then explained that their vocalist had never sung with them before today, so the first number would be an instrumental. This brought out some loud groans, for the audience apparently feared they would be subjected to another inferior performance. Especially because when The Down Homers got up on the stage, it took a few extra minutes to get set up and organized.

It didn't take long to disabuse them of this fact. They broke into a fast, complicated piece, with each instrument getting in their "licks." Hey, they were good! The audience went wild before the number was half done. Now I was worried that Carol could do justice to them when she sang.

I wondered what Carol would be doing during the instrumental. Would she just stand over to the side, or would she participate in some way? She participated. As each player was about to finish his highlight at the microphone, Carol escorted the next one up and stood back doing some little steps that fully complemented the whole effect. Of course with her figure in that teal, shimmery blouse, her tight jeans, and long red hair, she had the audience in her pocket. She was no 'Dolly Parton, ' but she didn't need to be. To me, she and the band came off as pretty damned professional.

When they finished, Carol introduced herself and then each member of the band and included the fact she had never sung with them before. She would be singing some of the popular bluegrass songs, using the original arrangements for the songs sung by the artist that had made them popular.

"The first song I am going to sing, 'Talking to Your Memories, Again, ' was originally sung by Cal Smith. If I can get through that, I'll try something by Iris Dement. Jimmy, let's give it a whirl."

And she sure did get "through" it. Carol seemed to have a voice just made for a song such as this one. The sadness and loneliness hung around us and transported us up to that attic and touched that spot in each of us we usually reserved for remembering lost loved ones. She had the audience in her hand now!

Before the crowd had a chance to react when she finished, the band went right into "Childhood Memories," made popular by Iris Dement. One of the things that I like about a singer is how plainly they enunciate the words. It seems that most of the new artists try to put in all kinds of tricks with their voices so you can't understand half of the words to the songs they sing. Maybe it is so you have to buy the rendition and play it over and over for a week to finally know what the song is about. No problem here! Carol could put you in the mood and paint a picture with the words.

Those in the audience who had brought blankets and cushions to sit on were on their feet before the song ended. The MC did not have to ask for applause for this group. It was loud and sustained as the band finished up their last rendition.

He finally had to raise his hands to quiet the crowd so he could continue. "Folks, we have a bit of a problem here. The band came here without a vocalist. The lady, Carol, came here with a band that has backed out on her. This band, The Down Homers and Carol matched up somehow. She is signed up for the next slot of the competition. Do you feel you could listen to her new band and her through another round of competition, even if it is an unusual situation?"

The answer was a resounding, "Yes!"

Turning to Carol and the band he said, "Go for it."

He came down off the stage and walked to where the judge was sitting. I was standing close enough to hear the argument from the judge about this group having an unfair advantage by filling two time slots. The MC gave it right back to him by asking, "Who is signed up for the slot that just finished?"

The judge answered, "The Down Homers."

"Who is signed up for the present slot?"

The judge had to answer, "Some female singer named Carol."

The MC, then looking a little exasperated with the obtuseness of the judge, said, "And how were we to have someone on stage at this time? Granted we will look into this to see if they pulled a fast one on us. Even if we have to disqualify them, if they stay together, I'll bet within two years will make the charts somewhere! They are that good. We are here to promote young artists and their music. I think we should take a chance, as I don't believe this was planned. I will find out though if they pulled a fast one."

Me, never being hesitant to stick my nose in, stepped up and stated, "Excuse me, maybe I can help. I rode down from New England on the same bus with Carol and her band. Last night her band kicked her out of her room after getting drunk and taking all of her money. This morning, my friend and I found her on the deck crying. We took her in, fed her, listened to her story, and let her rest in our room. While we were walking around town, we spotted a note on the bulletin board from a band wanting a vocalist. I found them and kind of put them together. The only coincidence was that the lead guitarist, Jimmy, and Carol, went to the same school a couple years ago." Then I asked, "They sound pretty good together, don't they?"

The MC just looked at me. "True?"

I nodded, and went back to concentrate on what was happening on stage. And it was happening! The audience was getting larger, attracted by the applause no doubt. The stuff that the band was playing and singing was pretty basic, no gimmicks or anything. A couple of well-known headliners eased into the back of the crowd, and I saw someone that looked a lot like Ricky Scaggs join them a few minutes later.

Benny squeezed my hand, looking as happy as could be, knowing maybe she was part of something happening right now.

When their stint was over, several in the audience rushed up and told them how well they had performed and how much they enjoyed listening to the music. When the next band was announced, Carol and the band, Benny and I, drifted around watching the other artists and their performances. When the first hunger pangs hit, I suggested we return to town and have dinner. Jimmy spoke up declaring he wasn't hungry, but might get a hamburger later. The rest of the band said the same, but looked like they didn't really mean it. I knew what Carol's finances, or lack of, were. She was okay, but the others were not on our tour. Benny started to say something, but I held up my hand, giving her a shake of my head.

"Are you guys a little low on funds? If you are, let me help. We are going to be here tonight and two more days. This little vacation hasn't cost me anything so far. I am here as a guest of my sister-in-law. We are both having a great time, and I am having a better time than I could have imagined. I have plenty to pay for all the meals which will let you concentrate on your music. You are good and I want to see the best you can do."

Jimmy, who seemed to be the leader, very solemnly shook my hand saying, "Thank you, it has been a bit of a worry."

We returned to the motel, and the guys went to clean up a little, Benny and Carol going to our room. I stopped at the motel desk asking what was going on in Carol's original room. The clerk was real disgusted saying the room had just about been wrecked. He was a little worried because Carol, who had signed for the room, had not been seen. I told him what had transpired, Carol being robbed and then being kicked out. Now he was really nervous. He informed me that the police had finally been called and the occupants had been removed.

I asked what condition the room was in and if it was habitable. It was, but just barely. "Could Carol return to the room for the rest of the stay? After all she was robbed and has no place to go." I didn't let on that Benny and I had taken her under our wing. He assured me that she could, and the motel would absorb the damages if she would absolve them of any fault in the robbery. He consulted with the manager who typed up a form and said she should sign it before she would be allowed back in the room. That was settled then.

I reserved a table for a party of eight at the one good restaurant the town sported. After we were seated I assured all that they were to order anything they desired. I was pleased that alcohol wasn't a big priority with this group.

While we were waiting for our dinners, we got better acquainted. The band was from a small town in Ohio. All had been music lovers since childhood. Many of their parents played instruments, so music had always been a big part of their lives. Their singer, sister to the bass player, loved to sing, but not to travel. When the band got good enough to travel around some, it got harder and harder for her to go on and perform.

When they decided to come here, she had a panic attack. She looked on her broken leg as a gift from heaven. Her brother claimed she did it on purpose, but the rest of the gang laughed at him telling him that nobody breaks a leg to get out of something they don't want to do. I wasn't so sure, because looking back over my lifetime I had observed stranger happenings.

We finally got around to hearing Carol's story. It was pretty straightforward. She was first a poet, loving the way of expressing a story and then realizing that the cadence was best set forth in music. She then set out looking for the best genre to get the story across. She settled on folk music. But she didn't leave it there. Off to the university she went to study the poets down through time, and in the meantime picked up dialects. She then regaled us in Irish, Italian, Scottish and French. She then showed us what she could do with Cajun, Southern Hill country, New England twang, Tex-Mex, and finally the Ghetto.

And then she said if you want to really mix things up, you add some of them together, showing us a Black from the Ghetto, talking in a clipped British accent. She finished up with a Lawrence Welk from West Virginia. I was impressed, and the rest were too. She was not only smart, but extraordinarily beautiful. Tall, upright carriage, shapely form and with that fair complexion that goes with red hair.

After dinner we sat around drinking coffee. This was the first time they all had time to relax without the worries of how they would be able to go into the competition as a fully formed entity. Jimmy said he was going to roll out the first thing in the morning to check the results on the bulletin board. They hoped they would advance to the next round of competition. I had no doubt that they would. They seemed to be so well received. I related to them the conversation I had overheard between the judge and the MC. I did not tell them that I had entered into it in any way. I just said I didn't think the judge would go against the crowd and that the MC was certainly for them. I felt that they should plan what they were going to do in the next round.

That kind of broke up the party. Carol asked if she could park with us for the night. I said "no" and then produced the paper for her to sign. I said I thought it was very fair from all perspectives. The motel manager could have pushed to recover the cost of the repair, as she was the one who signed for the room. The motel manager worried that she might hold the motel responsible, if she claimed they were not policing their guests in a proper manner. She signed, gladly, and asked me to return it to the manager. I said I would and would get the room key at that time.

Benny went to our room when we returned to the motel. I stopped at the desk leaving the signed paper and picking up Carol's room key. I went down to the band's room, finding Carol, Jimmy, and the rest busy planning for tomorrow. Leaving the key, I returned to our room.

I found Benny in taking a shower. When she finished, I took one too. It was way too early to go to bed, so we just sat around discussing the day's events. We were more relaxed with each other than we had ever been. As I said before, I didn't really like Benny very much. I always felt she was too self-centered, and could have treated Betty a whole lot better.

Sitting there thinking, and missing Betty, I began to feel a little sad. I also felt a resentment that Benny was across the room and Betty was not here with me. I went along with those thoughts and a little self-pity for a bit. I have had these black moods since my loss, but they get less and less frequent as time goes on. Looking at Benny, I could see she had fixed her hair like my wife had kept hers. The family resemblance between them was striking, which made me feel all the more lonely. Then I thought, "Snap out of it, you are supposed to be here to have fun."

"Benny, are you tired? I am, so let's go to bed and turn the radio on. I'm sure we can find some country music to listen to."

I got an "Okay."

To our surprise, the first recording we heard was our Carol singing "Childhood Memories." As the program continued, we found out that the judges had put the winners of today's round of competition on the air. When the song ended, the disk jockey gave a little excerpt about each group that had won. He related pretty much what I had told the judge and the MC about how they had got together. He finished up with the comments that The Down Homers and Carol were a band to watch in tomorrow's competition.

Benny and I were excited about this, but knew it was his spiel and he said about the same thing after each band was heard. I hoped The Down Homers would come up with something good tonight and tomorrow morning to "wow" the judges when it came time for them to perform. We lay there listening, enjoying the music. I finally realized Benny had dropped off to sleep. It seemed so natural to roll over and put my arm over her and snuggle a little closer as I went to sleep myself.

I was awake again in the middle of the night. I woke with my arm still around Benny. It felt pretty natural. I got up and went to the bathroom. When I came back, I crawled in and turned facing away from her. In about five minutes, I felt her arm go around me. It was a nice feeling too. I slept again.

I heard Benny get up so I was awake when she came back. I smiled at her, saying, "Hi."

"Hi yourself. Did you sleep well?"


We lay there holding hands, kind of half in and half out of sleep, her turned towards me and me flat on my back. After a bit I turned on my side facing her. Eyes closed, and in repose, she looked a lot like my lost wife. Without thinking, I stretched over, gently kissing her on the lips.

"That was nice. Do you kiss all the women you sleep with?" I could see that she was going to keep this on a light, humorous level. That suited me fine, because yesterday had been a disaster.

"Only the ones I like." That expression surprised me, even though I was the one who uttered it. I realized I was beginning to like Benny. Then a pang of guilt hit me. What was I thinking? This was the person who had never got along with my wife.

There was nothing subtle about Benny. She took my hand and put it on her breast. I withdrew it gently saying, "Please Benny, I don't know my own feelings anymore. I feel as if I am being seduced and I haven't come to grips with it yet. I don't want to deal with this now."

She took my refusal with a smile and a change of subject. "Okay, you better think about feeding me then."

I was ready to go out before Benny, so I said, "I'm going down to see if the rest of the gang is up. I promised I would buy them breakfast."

I went down to the front desk and then knocked on the guys' door. I knew they were up because I could hear them horsing around from the hall. They looked pretty upbeat. Evidently they had done a lot of work on putting things together. They told me that Carol was a whiz to work with. Most of her ideas were sound, and she was serious about the whole group performing together. Jimmy said that he had been down to her room and found Carol up. They decided after breakfast they would find a place to practice, even if they didn't get to compete today.

While we were waiting for breakfast to be served at the diner, I turned to Carol and said, "We heard a band on the radio last night and we heard a singer named Carol singing 'Childhood Memories.' The local station was playing the judges recordings of all the bands and artists that were deemed good enough to compete today. I would say you guys are in."

Benny said, "You shouldn't have told them. What if it isn't true?"

"It's true. There is a list of the winners from yesterday posted in the lobby. The winners will have to go to the bulletin board to find out when they go on."

Carol looked at me, "How were we?" I was struck by the fact that she asked about them all, not just for herself. The fact didn't get by the band either. I think they adored her already.

"You were all great! That happens to be one of my favorite songs and I have never heard a better rendition even by the original artist. Thumbs up and high fives to all!"

Breakfast didn't last long. They were all excited and wanted to start practicing. I asked Carol what they had planned for the final competition. This was to be an original song, words and music. "I should think this would be a problem for you all, seeing that you guys have never worked together."

She looked at Jimmy, and he nodded for her to speak. "Well, it's a well-known fact that all of the melodies are out there already. There isn't any original music anymore. What is original is how the melody is put together and what instrument plays it. It is more like you are trying to come up with original sounds.

"Jimmy has a homemade tape that the band recorded. He gave it to me last night and I listened to it a few times. You know that song I told you about that I had written? With a few alterations and when each instrument comes in, it will work very well. I sang it this morning with his tape when he came in to see if I was awake. We think it will work very well if we can get in some practice time."

Jimmy spoke up, "If we don't win today it won't really matter. All we can do is give it our best. Even if we don't get to sing it tomorrow, someday you will hear it coming out of your radio."

I said, "I think some of the stages are open to practice on. At least that's what I understood. You have to find out at what time you are supposed to compete. Maybe you have been assigned a stage already. This is a well organized festival, so I bet it's already posted on the board." Carol and the band picked up and left, leaving Benny and me to enjoy another coffee.

I laughed with Benny after thinking out loud, "A little scatter-brained, but they all seem to get along pretty well. I think they will make it." She agreed.

We strolled around town after leaving the diner. There was quite a crowd around the bulletin board. Several of the people looked kind of dejected, while others acted elated. You could tell who had won yesterday, and those who struck out. Today the stages set up around the valley were to be used for practice only. The center one was to be for the competition. So six groups were in the finals, with six judges. The competition was to start today at one p.m. Three winners would be announced about six p.m. On the morrow it would start at ten a.m., finishing by eleven-thirty. The grand winner would be announced at noon.

We had a few hours to kill so we still wandered around. Benny told me a little more about her life. Some I didn't know even though I was her brother-in-law. The one thing I was hoping to find out was why she and her sister didn't get along. I had quizzed Betty on several occasions, but never got an answer. Maybe I should ask Benny, but I didn't think I would get the truth or a correct slant on any explanation she would give me, so I just left it alone.

Out of the blue Benny asked, "You knew Betty and I had a brother didn't you?"

"Yes I did. He was killed in Vietnam. Betty hardly ever mentioned him." They must have been close as the time span between them was about five years. I often thought I married into a screwed-up family. One sister disliking the other, and with a brother killed defending his country, who neither Benny nor Betty seldom talked about. "So, what's the story if there is one?"

"If Betty couldn't tell you, than I guess I don't want to go there either. Sorry I mentioned him."

I could see she was acting uncomfortable, just as Betty did when her brother's name came up. There was a secret there. She must have been looking to see if I knew any details. I couldn't see where it would concern me, so I let it go. I changed the subject.

"I saw a small Radio Shack store. I want to see if they have a spare battery for my video camera. Maybe we can tape Carol and the gang and send them a copy after we get home. Who knows, if they win and go on to become famous, our descendants will be rich with a copy of the original taping."

That's the way the rest of the morning went. We wandered around. We did check in and found out that we would have to be out of our room by ten tomorrow morning. Our bus was leaving at one sharp. I did tell the bus driver when I saw him about the hippies, and how they had been kicked out of the motel. All he said was, "I leave at one. If they aren't here, 'tough titty'!"

The Down Homers and Carol were scheduled at three this afternoon. We didn't see them around this morning, so assumed they were practicing. We took the shuttle out to the valley before two. We found them, and Carol said they hadn't had anything to eat, so Benny and I trooped over and got some snacks at the concession stand for them. We sat down and ate before drifting towards the center stage. I couldn't believe the number of instruments we had to carry. Jimmy said the extra instruments had been stored in their van.

When they found out what Carol's piece was they brought them all. The song they were going to do tomorrow in the final competition, if they won today, was a bit unusual. Jimmy said the key to the whole thing was Carol. The only instrument that she thought would have made the piece better, would have been bagpipes. However, it was a long song, so they just eliminated that stanza. Besides if they had the pipes, no one knew how to play them.

I was watching Carol. A wee smile showed on her face. I thought sometime I'll have to ask her if she knows anything about playing bagpipes.

The band that preceded us was excellent. I was able to get real close when our group (I felt Benny and I were part of Carol and the gang) replaced them. I had my video camera out and ready. I started taping while they set up. They were allowed a few minutes to tune up. As they had just finished practicing they didn't need to, so they used their time to show off a little. Each member came up to the microphone and did a little thing with their instruments. The guy with the fiddle was especially good doing a short breakdown. Carol came up and did a scale and then sang a four line ditty in an Irish brogue, all a cappella.

I couldn't believe this. They got applause and they hadn't even started yet! The MC stepped up and announced the band and wished them well. They were off! I won't bore you with the song titles. They had thirty-five minutes to perform. They had put together a repertoire of popular country songs, new and old, and did justice to all of them. I'm glad I had them on tape. Whether they won or not, it would be something I would treasure forever. Benny nudged me and said she wanted a copy of the tape.

I looked at the judges. I guess they had seen it all in the years since this festival had been here. They looked so serious, writing and conversing among themselves. However, I did see some body language, showing that they were enjoying this as much as anyone. I wasn't the only one with a camera. The local radio station was there with their equipment also. We would be sure to listen in tonight to hear any comments.

When they finished playing, the band and Carol came up and bowed to the audience and said thank you. The applause was great, but with another contestant coming right up, the MC hurried them off the stage. They had been well received anyway! As they came down off of the stage, Benny and I rushed up to congratulate them. "You've got our vote, and I think you have the judges too," I exclaimed. "What are you going to do now?"

"Rest a little and then go somewhere and practice our song for tomorrow. What are you two up to?"

"Benny and I are going to watch the rest of the competition. After all, that is what we came to the festival for, and we have been so tied up with you guys we haven't taken in as much as we would like. We do want to hear the winners announced at six tonight. Then we will go to dinner. Meet us at the restaurant at seven, and we should be celebrating, I hope."

"Okay, see you then." Carol hugged Benny, saying, "You know if it hadn't been for you two, we wouldn't even be in this at all. We want to thank you for all the support and the trouble you have taken to get us together."

Benny belittled her involvement, saying, "Burt has done most of it." Carol hugged me and the band shook my hand, and all agreed what great people we were. It made us feel real good!

We watched the different groups the rest of the afternoon, and went back to town after the last one performed. I know we were biased, but we thought our band and Carol topped them all. At six we were back in our room with the radio on. The Down Homers and Carol were winners, as we knew they should be. We were so happy when it was announced that Benny and I just naturally came together and hugged and kissed. That was nice too. Benny acted like this could go to a higher level of involvement, but I still was leery.

We listened to a song by each of the three winners. All were excellent. Tomorrow the finals had more stringent qualifications, as explained by the station announcer. First it had to be original. The groups then were judged on professionalism, execution, presentation and style. The winner would be signed to a recording contract with one of the major recording labels. It sounded like a great deal for the winner. I had heard that actually things didn't always work out. Control over all content, promotion and distribution was in the hands of the music company. Anyone being asked to sign a contract should go in realizing that they should use caution. Whatever, that was in the future and might not even happen.

Meeting at the restaurant with one of the finalists, it seemed that Benny and I were with a bunch of celebrities. Several of the passengers who were on the tour bus with us came to our table and acted as if they were great friends of Carol's. They were a little confused because they realized that Carol was with a different band. I was glad that she had abstained from the groping and sex games that her friends had participated in on the trip down. Being with them had tainted her enough.

We had a nice dinner and then we sat back over coffee and dessert discussing what they were going to do if they won. Jimmy and his band wanted Carol to join up with them. She had pretty much decided she would. She did, however, ask for some time to think it over, but would get back to them within a week.

"You are going back with us on the bus then?" I asked.

"Yes, and I was hoping you and Benny would check me out of the motel and take my stuff to the bus."

"Of course, we'd be glad to." This made us happy because Carol was such a nice person to be with. We had enjoyed giving her a hand, and we were going to miss her when she went out of our life.

The dinner party soon broke up as they wanted to get back to practicing their routine for tomorrow. On the way back to the motel we met several of the icons of the country music industry. I wasn't averse to talking to some of them and collecting an autograph or two. We ran into a small crowd, and I recognized an old-timer. He was one of my wife's favorite singers.

I joined the crowd and asked for his autograph. While he was signing, I asked him what he would advise the winners of tomorrow's competition to do to further their career. Should they sign a contract straight off, a slight negative shake of his head, or go some other route? I could see he wasn't prepared to give any advice outright. So I said maybe they should get an agent? A nod. He was scribbling madly on the menu I had copped for a souvenir from the restaurant.

He handed it back to me and had written on it how to contact him if the band I was interested in came in first or second. I had felt free to ask him, as several times I had seen in different journals and articles where he had helped struggling young artists. I thanked him and stepped back as others wanted his autograph.

We went back to the motel where I left Benny in our room. I went down to the guys' room. No one was there, so I went on to Carol's room. They were all there, still working on the song they were to perform tomorrow. I passed on the information I had gathered. I said I didn't want to influence them in any way, but thought they should look at all their options. Jimmy said, "Christ, I think we should hire you as our manager. Look how far we have come, when at one time we were just about out of it."

"It always seems to me that opportunities kept presenting themselves, so why not take advantage of them. I have been able to step back and see these things that are a help to you, so why not present them to you? You are the ones that have grabbed and run with them. So far they have paid off." I left it at that and returned to my room.

Benny and I took turns looking into my camcorder, reviewing what I had taped earlier. We agreed that our proteges were the best. However we didn't have any idea how they would come off at tomorrow's competition. I lay back on the bed, my mind drifting here and there and then I slowly slipped into oblivion.

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