How do your knees know when to shake, I wonder. There seems to be some kind of wiring from the brain to the body that sets off knee shaking in tense moments. The first time my knees shook was in a church league basketball game in the seventh grade. It was the first game of the season, and I had played almost a half without any knee trembling. The shaking started when I stepped to the free throw line.
There was never any knee quivering during practices with that Calvary Baptist Church team when I shot free throws or on all those Saturdays when I played with neighborhood kids on the rickety goal by the baseball field. But this first game of organized basketball was different. There was a huge crowd there. Maybe about 50 people. Most of them were parents of players. They got quiet, and their eyes were glued to me as I stepped up for the shot. I’m glad that chant of “air ball, air ball” when players miss shots these days had not been invented then, because my shot never even touched the rim or backboard, let alone the net. It was an air ball. Both of my sons have entertained as musicians for years.
One of Randy’s first public performances was at the old Captain’s Galley Restaurant in Natchitoches. His knees quavered. His younger brother Rick had wobbly knees when he played with a band at a Natchitoches festival for the first time. They both shook the problem, so to speak, at an early age. My grandson Evan got over his knee trembling when he was even younger. He performs as a musician too, but his first time on stage was as a juggler. I have juggled for years and taught him to do it when he was seven. As for why I juggle, Regina says it’s because I can never sit still and do nothing. She dreads the thought of me retiring someday. By the time Evan was in fourth grade, he was a good juggler and had taught one of his friends to juggle. They entered the school talent contest. Evan’s knees trembled at the beginning, but they won first place. Surveys show that public speaking is Americans’ greatest fear. I experienced that in my early teens when we had Bible drills at church. The preacher would call out a Bible verse, and the first kid to find it would read it aloud. My knees quivered when I read one, and I didn’t try to find any more. But I survived it, and serving as an after dinner speaker and master of ceremonies at hundreds of events across the state for 40 years or so has been one of my greatest pleasures. A group of nurses asked me to talk at their Christmas party one year in Monroe. It was cold and raining, and I was late getting there. A fellow with an umbrella and flashlight asked if I was the speaker. I said I was, and he directed me to a reserved parking spot. He led me to the head table in the hotel ballroom just as they were serving steaks and stuffed potatoes. We chatted about the weather and sports during the dinner for about 200 couples.
As we were finishing dessert, he said he would introduce me but had not gotten any biographical information. He asked what area of insurance I had specialized in over the years. I think my exact response was, “Say what?” I asked if this was a nurses’ association Christmas party. He said it was a holiday banquet for insurance agents but that there was a big dinner in another ballroom at the hotel. I apologized for eating their steak and headed to the other party. The lady running that dinner was relieved to see me. I did my 20 minutes of jokes, stories and anecdotes and noticed that the insurance guy was at the back door. When I sat down, he came up and asked if I would give the same talk at the insurance banquet. They had gotten a message that their speaker was sidetracked by bad weather. I spoke and got a bigger check from the insurance folks than from the nurses. The only other time I remember my knees shaking was when I got Elvis Presley’s autograph at the Louisiana Hayride in the 1950s.
He was the first big star I ever met. A pretty girl at my school said she would do anything for his autograph. I gave it to her and found out she was not telling the truth. It didn’t bother me much that my knees were shaking that night, because Elvis’s knees shook the whole time he was singing.