Long ago in the county of Cobb, all well-bred young ladies were given piano lessons. Granny and her three sisters were no exception – nor were my mother Wilma and her six sisters.
Some were more talented than others, and my great aunt Willy was truly blessed.
As far as I know, Aunt Willy played the piano at the Acworth First Baptist Church her entire adult life. They had no pipe organ.
Uncle Gan Awtrey [aunt Hazel’s husband] led the music for the church services.
I spent many weekends with my Aunt Hazel and Uncle Gan, especially after I received my driver’s license and could use my parents’ car to drive from Atlanta to Acworth. The only rule Hazel and Gan had for me was that I was required to sing a solo at the Sunday morning church service. The congregation knew me and were very kind. I loved singing for them.
My only problem was that, at times, I ran completely out of breath. I’d been studying voice since I was 12 years old, and I knew how to breathe properly. The issue was that Aunt Willy nearly always chose the hymn she wanted me to sing.
Aunt Willy didn’t care for very formal music that required her to play it the way it was written. She played kind of like Liberace, with lots of flourishes. Aunt Willy liked to run up and down the keyboard during long words like “salvation” and I couldn’t breathe in the middle of a word [a huge no no] so I had to just stand there and hold the note, until she went on to the next one.
Sometimes I was forced to breathe in the middle of a word – or keel over in a dead faint!
The church had no air conditioning, so I seldom wore stockings during the hot summers. I always sat on the front row of the choir loft, and nobody saw my legs or feet.
One Sunday morning as I started to sing my solo, which was quite serious, I noticed everyone giving me great big smiles. My dad was there that day and he looked like he was going to bust out laughing. “The Old Rugged Cross” had never been so enthusiastically received.
After I finished singing, I sat down and discovered that the curtain around the choir loft had been rearranged, and was now about 12 inches from the floor. I had stepped out of my high heels and was happily wriggling my bright red toenails as I sang.
I spent many happy times with Aunt Hazel and Uncle Gan, and Aunt Willy always kept me on my toes in church!