When I was ten years old, I was desperate to audition for a kids’ variety show that was part of an afternoon cartoon program I watched in Atlanta. I think it was called The Good Time Gang. I had no idea what my audition piece would be, but it was gonna be a real showstopper.

At the time, my college-aged neighbor had been sharing her old books and plays with me and I voraciously read them front to back. Books were (and are) treasures. I felt rich! Consequently, this is how I became a proud owner of all the Garfield comic books and the entire Nancy Drew series.

Inspired by one of my newly acquired plays, I decided on my audition piece. Mom drove me to Perimeter Mall, where the TV show was holding auditions. I registered and stood in line behind other kids who planned to wow the judges with mad baton twirling, dancing, and cheerleading skills. I stood quietly, holding a suitcase and a little footstool my grandpa made, awaiting my turn.

Finally, I was up! I walked to the mall’s makeshift stage, sat on my stool, and began young Frankie’s monologue from Carson McCullers’ The Member of the Wedding. In it, she emotionally expressed that if she can’t leave town with her newly married brother and his bride, she would “… hop a train and go to New York. Or hitch rides to Hollywood …” Whatever the case, she was outta there. Frankie tried to sound fierce, but her heart was aching at the thought of losing her brother. When I finished my audition, I took a bow, grabbed my props, and left the “stage.” My dramatic monologue was a major departure from the giddy tap routines and trumpet solos, but I felt proud that I’d committed to something that spoke to me and followed through to the audition.

I didn’t make the cut, but I smile when I think about little me in the middle of a mall in 1980, pouring my heart out to a panel of cartoon show judges. It was one of my first reminders that I could try something my soul desired, even if it was considered “weird” or unusual. Even if it was an overly dramatic monologue in a sea of baton twirlers. That experience made a huge impact on my young life. I’m still feeling its effects today.

I hadn’t thought of this memory in a long time, but this post took me back and gave me what I needed today. Thanks, Carson McCullers. Thanks to my generous neighbor Gwen. Thanks to my mom, who never questioned any of my passions. And thanks to every adult who passes along the joy of books to young people.