A few years ago my husband and I visited my brothers at their restaurant in Branson, Missouri. Branson celebrated this time of year lavishly: lights, nativities, and Christmas shows out the kazoo. We went to several shows, but the highlight was Tony Orlando’s. I’d long been a fan of his. My favorite song was “Say, Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose.” You have to admire someone who sings so cheerfully about a wife and mother who runs away to discover her inner burlesque queen.
Now, Branson prides itself on down-home patriotism. Every musical show, without exception, asks the veterans in the audience to stand up. I always rise, usually the only woman to do so. People need to see that women are also part of the Armed Forces. Tony Orlando took the veterans appreciation stuff to a new height. First he asked the World War II vets to stand for applause, then to sit back down. Ditto Korean War vets, Vietnam War. He inched his way through the decades. I began to wonder if he had a Cold War category. Finally, he came to Desert Storm, the first war with Iraq. I didn’t serve in the desert; I didn’t fight. In the Air Force, it’s the minority called pilots who are our warriors, but all Air Force members are an essential part of the combat force—or so we were always told. So I stood up.
At first he didn’t see anyone, even though the lights in the auditorium were on and I was just five rows away from the stage. “I guess we don’t have any—oh, wait.” He had spotted me. “Down here. Thank you, sir, for your service.”
Sir! Okay, I had short hair and wore black jeans and a black jacket, but still . . . Underneath the mannish jacket, I had on a girly pink sweater with a frilly pink and white scarf. I pulled my jacket open and ran my hand, with its polished nails, up and down my front to point out my pinkness.
Tony Orlando got it. “I’m sorry. It’s a woman. Thank you especially, ma’am, for your service.” Later, after he’d gone through the second Iraq war and Afghanistan, he had all the veterans rise together for another round of applause. He started to move on, then stopped. “You know, I got a real kick out of this lady down here,” pointing to me. “When I called her sir, she pulled open her jacket and did this.” Here he thrust his chest out and with both hands pointed to imaginary boobs.
The audience roared. The prude in me started to protest wildly, No, I didn’t do that! That’s not me! But wasn’t it funnier his way? Didn’t I wish that’s what I’d done? Then I realized that Tony Orlando had locked the image in for the whole auditorium, so I decided to take credit for it.
When I saw my brothers the next day, the word had reached them that I had “flashed” Tony Orlando. I demurred but not strongly. I realized I had a bit of Gypsy Rose in me. Maybe we all do. So as you celebrate the holiday(s) of your choice this wonderful season, pray for sweet Gypsy Rose to come on home—if she’s ready. Merry Christmas.