Tidbit: A Star Is Born
Nashville, Tennessee, 1957
I was born the smallest of the litter. Even as a pup I had to fight to survive. While my brothers and sisters grew up to be fast and strong and to jump high, I grew up to be a beggar. While my brothers and sisters grew up handsome and sleek, I grew up ugly. I was a pitiful young thing, but even pitiful young things can have remarkable experiences in life—moments that change a life from pitiful to significant. This is one.
I took to the streets young, living beside Dumpsters or hanging out at the back doors of restaurants. I lived hand-to-mouth. I made the rounds in Nashville each morning, hoping the trash had been carelessly emptied behind the restaurants or that someone had not finished a Big Mac. I had no home. I lived a dangerous life, avoiding kicks and yells.
One day as I made my usual rounds, I heard a noise coming from the back door of a building. It was a wonderful sound. A rhythmic boom boom. A soft gliding sound. A plunking and a twanging, all harmoniously rolled together. A sound that for the first time made me feel like I was home. I parked myself at that door, the back door to the Grand Ole Opry.
People coming in and out of the Opry are good people. They began to notice me, but instead of kicking and yelling at me, they were kind. They brought me snacks and patted my head.
I watched every night as a parade of boots went through that door. Lizard-skin boots, ostrich, elephant-skin—every color of the rainbow. There were amazing costumes in shiny patterns, tall wide hats. They were fancy people, but they were kind. Someone gave me a blanket one day. Once, I got a whole pork chop.
Then one day I got something I thought I never would have in this world. A woman in a sequined dress with light blue boots bent down to give me a napkin full of small pieces of steak. But that wasn’t it. She patted my head and said, “Here you go, Tidbit.” Tidbit! I had a name. I had a home. I longed for a master, and above all I longed to go inside. I wondered would she take me inside? “Come on, Dolly,” someone called. And she was gone.
I listened every day to the music. The boom boom was a bass. The gliding sound, a fiddle. The plunk, a banjo; the twang, a guitar. Best of all were the voices. When I listened to the voices, my tail would thump. Then my body would twitch, then my nose would begin to rise up, and if the music was just right and just wonderful enough: AOOOOOOOO! A sound worked up from the back of my throat to the bottom of my belly and let loose a long, mournful howl.
Alone behind the Opry, I learned to sing.
Sometimes the people would gather at the back door with their instruments. They would play together, working out a little piece of music to perfection, or just making the music for the joy of it. I sat quietly on my blanket and listened. A man named Charles made the fiddle sing. The banjo jumped in the hands of Scruggs. A man named Porter had the glitteriest coat of all.
One time a different man came. A man with the blackest boots and tallest hat that I had ever seen. A man with the lowest, smoothest voice that I had ever heard. A man dressed all in black. He sang about trains and prisons and someone called Mama. He sang in the voice of pain and sorrow and too many nights out on the blanket. And my tail began to thump, my body to twitch, my nose to point up, up, and AOOOOOOOO. I joined his song.
“Hey, Johnny, you got some company,” the fiddle player said. Everyone laughed, but the music went on. Johnny and I sang one song after another. Then the fiddle player looked at me and said the words that would change my life, “Let’s take Tidbit on the Opry.”
Everyone stopped and looked down at me. I waited until I could stand it no more, then AOOOOOOOO. That did it. They all laughed, and the man in black picked me up.
“Ten minutes!” someone called from the door, and in we went. I had never been inside before. It was beautiful and warm. Then the fiddle player tied a red bandanna around my neck, and we walked onto the stage. I sat beside the black boots and looked out.
I had never seen so many people before. Cameras flashed, people clapped. I got so nervous I almost wet the stage, but I stood tight and—boom boom—the bass began. The gliding fiddle joined in. Plunk and twang, and Johnny was singing about Mama.
I listened at first, too stunned to do anything. But then I was swept away by the sounds. My tail did not move at first, but as he sang on, my tail started thumping, my body started twitching, and my nose rose.
I no longer saw the crowds or the cameras.
I was lost in the music, singing with Johnny.
I was home.
When the music ended, there was quiet at first, then it all broke loose. I looked out and saw the people. They were cheering, and clapping, and jumping up and down. For that moment and forever after, my life was different.
If you saw me now, you might think that my life hadn’t changed much. I’m still pretty sad to look at, but I am not so hopeless after all. I wear my bandanna and ride in the bus with Johnny, right up in the front seat. Every once in a while, when it’s a slow night on stage, Johnny picks me up and says, “Sing one, Tidbit,” and my tail begins to thump, then my body begins to twitch, and I lift up my nose and join right in, AOOOOOOOO!