Excerpt from A Basket Brigade Christmas
Zona Evans cringed.
She wasn’t the only one.
The singing voice of Gertie Collins caused heads to turn, shoulders to rise, and eyes to squint. Three children
who were too young to know that one did not cross Mrs. Collins if you wanted to enjoy peace in your lifetime,
did what their elders wished they could, covered their ears, and made the faces they usually saved for their
mama’s lima beans or brussels sprouts. Thankfully for all the adults present at the Decatur Auditorium, one child
led the others on an exodus out of the building, saving themselves—and all present—from the singer’s wrath.
If Mrs. Collins would have noticed. Which she couldn’t have because of her habit of closing her eyes when she
sang. The blissful look upon her face indicated she thought her notes Divine—with a capital D.
As the director of the auditions for the Christmas musicale, Zona knew it was her responsibility to end the torture.
But she also knew tact was needed to sustain the aforementioned peace. She raised a hand, then realizing the
singer couldn’t see it, raised her voice. “Would you open your eyes when you sing please?”
The torture paused when Mrs. Collins stopped singing. She looked at Zona. “What?”
“A singer connects with their audience through their voice and their eyes.”
“Oh. All right.”
She began again from the beginning, which made Zona kick herself for delaying the end of the song.
And Mrs. Collins did keep her eyes open for the first phrase. Then they closed yet again and she sang on, immersed
in her own private fantasy world.
Before she began the second verse, Zona interrupted. “Thank you, Mrs. Collins.”
The older woman stopped in mid-aria, and blinked. “I can sing more.”
I’m sure you can. “I’ve heard enough.” Zona knew she should have couched her words, but sometimes cryptic
honesty had its place. “Thank you. I’ll let you know if you’re chosen for a part.”
Mrs. Collins strode to the edge of the stage and dug her fists into her ample hips. With her smallish head and
largish middle she looked very much like a two-handled sugar bowl. “Why wouldn’t I get a part? I was always
assigned the lead back in Springfield.”
Zona wasn’t sure what to say. Perhaps the people in Springfield had a smaller talent pool than she had in Decatur?
Had was the key word. With many of the men off to fight the Confederates, Zona’s choices had slimmed.
But slimmed enough to let Mrs. Collins sing a solo in the musicale?
Zona read the eyes of the other auditionees, awaiting her response. Pleading. Don’t let her have a solo.
“You can be assured I always appreciate talent, Mrs. Collins.” Zona was tempted to say more, but decided
against it. “Thank you.” She turned to the next singer on the list. “Richard? Your turn.”
Mrs. Collins flounced off the stage, letting her hoop skirt assault Richard’s side as she whipped past.
Zona smiled at the boy, needing the sound of his lovely voice to erase the memory of Mrs. Collins’s song.
“How are you today, Richard?”
He bit his lower lip. “I’m not sure.”
She was taken aback because Richard was a cheery boy, eager to use his voice in whatever capacity Zona chose.
She already had him pegged to sing “O Holy Night” as a solo.
“Go ahead, son,” Zona said. “Whenever you’re ready.”
He moved to the front edge of the stage, taking the place vacated by Mrs. Collins. But instead of her huff he
appeared humble. He squatted and spoke softly for her ears alone. “My voice is acting up, Miss Evans. I’m not sure
you’ll want to use me this year.”
“Balderdash. You have a lovely voice.”
In that moment Zona saw him with new eyes. He’d grown six inches in the last year, which probably meant. . .
She gave him another encouraging smile. “Let me be the judge.”
He stood, took a step back, cleared his throat, and began to sing “It Came upon a Midnight Clear.” By the
second note, with its jump of an awkward sixth, Zona fears were confirmed. Richard’s voice cracked.
Zona heard giggles behind her to the right, and flashed the three female offenders a look that silenced them.
She turned back to Richard, hiding her own distress in order to ease his. “You’ve become a man. That’s
something to be celebrated. Your voice will settle down, and when it does, you know you are most welcome
on this stage. This year. . .perhaps you could help with the set design?”
He looked to the far corners of the auditorium, as if searching for something. Then he said, “Actually, I’m
going to join the army with my brother. I want to go fight.”
Zona shuddered. “You are not eighteen yet, Richard. They won’t let you fight.”
“I’ve heard of some boys saying they was eighteen and getting in.”
The idea of true boys fighting in a war made her cringe.
“And if that don’t work, then I’ll be a drummer boy. I’m going with Timothy. We want to go together.”
Mrs. Collins spoke up. “I’m sure that won’t please your mother, young man.”
“No, ma’am, it won’t. But Pa says he’s proud of us.”
The sound level of the auditorium rose as people shared their opinions with each other. The thought of this sweet
boy putting himself in danger made Zona want to take a train to Washington and tell President Lincoln enough was
As if he would listen.
“Sorry, Miss Evans,” Richard said. “Will you wish me well?”
Zona met him on the stage and pulled him into an embrace. “Of course I do. And I’ll pray for your safety.”
“Timothy’s too please.”
Unfortunately Zona’s prayer list for local boys was far too long.
Copyright 2015 Nancy Moser