Aesthetically, my first onstage appearance was certainly the best of my life so far. Four years old, wearing a buttercup yellow dotted-swiss dress handmade by Nanny, sporting white shoes, golden hair hanging in fat curls set off by a bow the size of a kitten--smiles broke out in every pew in the Myrtle Street Methodist Church at the sight.
It was all downhill from there.
The imposing, staid church was at least as handsomely adorned as I was, with its powerful pipe organ on one side of the plaform and its partner opposite, a grand piano gleaming like a dream of black licorice. Eight huge stained glass windows preached silent sermons from the walls.
As for my sermon, I haven't a clue why I was up there alone before the long-suffering Methodists. The only other known witness (my brother Gerry, age 8) was
otherwise occupied, pulling faces at Mrs. Pfaff, who sat hunched on the organ bench, her plain looks and poor, deformed spine making her a target for cruel sinners like Gerry. I've never even bothered to ask him what I was doing onstage.
In any case, in the middle of my public debut, whatever the heck it was about, I dropped the shiny penny I had been given to put in the collection plate later in the service. I looked at the audience and said loudly, "You'll hafta wait a minute." Then I got down on all fours, fanny to the front, displaying the ruffled panties Nanny had made to match the yellow dress. Although Mother had surely supervised my preparation for the performance, Dad was definitely and always in charge of family finances, and I understood that finding the penny was Priority Number One.
After I located it and again faced the congregation, the glare from Mother's cold blue eyes would have stopped any engine the DL&W Railroad could mount. (Gramps was an engineer on the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Wyoming, a lovely poem of a name, much more fun to say than its rival, the Erie.) Looking at Mother's livid face, I got the idea that I would be safer on the stage than back in our pew.
Perhaps that was my innoculation against stage fright. If so, it apparently worked.