Young love and yodeling *

Not to get too romance novel on you, dear reader, but today’s column is about a love affair.

I feel it is time to air the dirty laundry and share with the world the tangled triangle on the outskirts of which I have been a spectator. I have been as riveted on the edge of my seat as my mother was watching All My Children back in the 70’s when Susan Lucci was still in her first decade as Erica Kane.

Like the soap opera, this tale is full of intrigue and romance. Unlike the soap opera, it centers around my son, Jacob.

I remember the beginnings of this saga well…

I had just begun my employ with Fee/Hedrick entertainment and, as part of my initiation into the company, I was granted the opportunity to see each show so I would know our product.  An additional perk was that I got to bring along the family.

Being the bluegrass aficionado that I am, I chose the Hatfield and McCoy Dinner Show as the first venue.  Upon arriving, we entered the theater and were seated immediately next to the stage on the Hatfield side.  Within minutes, an event still spoken of routinely in our home occurred.  Cicada Maple Hatfield, in all her fiery-haired splendor and bubbly personality, entered the stage with her guitar in tow, preparing to wow the crowd with her singing and yodeling talents.  I saw Jacob look up and lock his eyes on Cicada as if he had just seen Medusa and couldn’t break his gaze to save his life. I could almost hear the opening lines of the Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations as Jacob quickly succumbed to a significant crush.

During the show, Cicada knuckle bumped Jacob once, winked at him twice, and made eye contact more than a few times. She did the same with numerous other children and adults within range, but Jacob was oblivious to these transgressions.  I am fairly certain that he was also oblivious to the fact that anyone else was on stage during the entire show.

When the show ended, we exited the theater to find the cast waiting in the lobby to greet the audience and sign autographs. Jacob marched straight for Cicada, halted directly in front of her, and immediately began a pose-down that would put Schwarzenegger to shame on his best, pre-gubernatorial day.  I’m completely serious. He did not utter a single “hello,” “hi,” or “how are ya’” but just rushed up to her and began grunting like a caveman as he flexed his biceps for her to adore.

And adore them she did.  Not missing a beat, Cicada, who is known as Kata Hay outside of her prominent Hatfield role, immediately reached out to touch his biceps and swooned over his masculinity, frequently calling on others to “look at the muscles on that boy.”

Having autism, Jacob can be very peculiar at times, and this was one of them, but Kata instinctively knew her audience. She expertly countered his every action flawlessly, even as I attempted to walk him through a conversational interaction somewhat more appropriate than a simple pose-down.

It was truly a defining moment in Jacob’s life, and I cannot bring myself to help Jacob understand that Cicada was technically still performing even while in the lobby.

Since then, Jacob has seen Cicada nine times live on-stage, numerous times about town, and even more frequently on YouTube. He has also dealt with the harsh reality that, in real life, Cicada has a husband, which I broke to him as gently as possible one day.  Spanky Hatfield, aka Robbie Helton, is quite talented himself and performs on-stage with Cicada, playing upright bass (and a mean bit of trash can) with unparalleled enthusiasm every night.

At each visit, Jacob has continued his unique interactions, all to Cicada’s apparent delight.  He is frequently torn between his desire to be discovered in the audience by her and his desire to rush up to her and scream “look, it’s me!”  He typically chooses the former.  He also refuses to accept that her name is not actually Cicada, so she remains known by that pseudonym to this day.  Likewise, her husband will always be Spanky.  Jacob has cheered her on to yodel faster, embraced himself as he watched the surprise custom-made video she did to celebrate his 13th birthday, and proudly worn her European tour T-shirt with her face planted squarely on his chest.

During our last visit to the show, Spanky and Cicada both gave Jacob a shout-out from the stage and referred to him directly as their friend.  As a father, I am so thankful for the kindness this special couple has shown my special son.  Jacob is thrilled by each interaction, and having matured a bit in his understanding of the situation, he has become quite content with what has grown into a true friendship for all three.

That said, each milestone in his life will probably continue to be greeted with the equivalent of “Dad, does Cicada know I got my yellow belt? And I’m a teenager now?”  Robbie may play the upright bass in the show, but for Jacob, he is stuck at second-fiddle.  Regardless, I am pretty sure Jake will still break out in another unrequested pose-down purely for Cicada’s benefit at some point in the future.  It’s just in his blood, it seems.

If you enjoyed this column and would like to see more, click here.

© Michael L. Collins

*Originally published under the same name in the October 8, 2014 edition of The Mountain Press

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