Written in 2008

I was the National Anthem singer for my university. If there was a sport to be played, you’d see me singing the anthem before every game. Our school has an NCAA Divison I ice hockey team, so it was inevitable that we would eventually play a Canadian school, although I thought it highly unlikely. After all, our university was in Alabama! No Canadian team would ever travel to Alabama.

Well, the inevitable happened. January 1992. Seneca College came to play. I learned about it several months in advance and kept telling myself I needed to learn the Canadian anthem. Finally, the week of the game, I dragged myself to the University library to check out a record that contained Canadian folk songs, including the national anthem. I took it home and listened to it over and over and over and over until I had it memorized. I wrote the words down. I returned the record to the library. I felt confident that I would nail it.

The day of the first game arrived. I couldn’t find the words anywhere. I rushed to the library, but wouldn’t you know it, someone checked out the record of Canadian folk songs! Who knew that Canadian folk songs were so popular in the Deep South? I went to the public library. No Canadian folk songs or national anthem in sight. I wracked my brain and managed to remember the beginning and end of the song. I could not remember the middle. The clock was inching closer to game time.

I became desperate and hunted down the first Canadian I could think of: our goalie. He had always been very nice to me. I found him stretching in the hallway outside the locker room. When I asked him to help me with the words, he scrunched up his face, deep in thought. Then, together, we went through it.

By the time I took the ice to sing, I felt confident that I had it nailed. Until I started to sing. I knew right away that the words I’d been given were not right. They didn’t fit the cadence of the song. But, in show business, they say, never let them see you sweat. I knew I didn’t have the right words, but I sang them as though they had always been part of Canadian history. I sailed through the American anthem and rushed off the ice. As usual, I was greeted by enthusiastic fans as I made my way to my seat. One woman gushed, “I’ve never heard the Canadian anthem sung like that before!” I grinned at her wryly and replied, “And you’ll never hear it like that again!”

After the game, I took quite the ribbing from the players. Several scolded me for seeking advice from our goalie.

“Didn’t you know that goalies don’t know shit?” one player scoffed. “Everyone knows that! It’s a proven fact!” (This I highly doubt. Our goalie not only was an excellent player, he actually finished school and I believe went on to pursue a higher degree).

The player who was mocking the goalie leaned in. “You should have come to me!”
I looked him square in the eye and asked, “So YOU know the words to the Canadian anthem?”

He looked taken aback. “Of course not!” he spluttered. “But I would have just told you I didn’t know! I wouldn’t have made shit up!”

Later that night, the goalie came to find me. He apologized, sheepishly explaining that he’d wanted to help me so badly, he hadn’t had the heart to tell me he didn’t know the words to his own national anthem.

I forgave him, and made sure I had the correct words when I sang the next night, and every night after that.

So, if you’re at a sporting event that I’m singing at, you may see me scribbling madly on a scrap of paper. It’s my superstitious ritual. I write the words to each anthem on a scrap of paper about 5 minutes before I sing.

And as much as you’d like to say hi, let me finish my ritual.

Trust me, you’ll enjoy my performance much better if you do.

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