A lasting memory of a moment in the spotlight
Pammie Perry was the kind of girl who probably applied lipstick while sliding through the birth canal. She was as shallow as a kiddie pool and as practical as ruffles on a catfish. She was a serial Beauty Pageant stalker who seemed better suited to Toddlers and Tiaras than Scarritt College and the ministry of Christian Education. And, in one of the most perplexing pairings of personalities in history, she was my roommate.
Scarritt College was small and people easily recognized our differences. I was the straight-shooter, straight-A, no-money country girl on scholarship. City-born Pammie had a rich Dad who paid her bills and provided a hefty allowance. She drove a brand new convertible. I drove a six-year-old dirty Pinto.
Our differences were never more obvious than the night Pammie woke me a little before 3 a.m. She sobbed, “I’m not happy here. What should I do? I want God to give me an answer now.”
I understood that feeling, so I tried to be compassionate, “Tell me what exactly is on your mind.”
She wiped her nose and confessed, “I can’t decide whether God wants me to be . . . a minister or . . . a cocktail waitress!”
I’m not often speechless, but that shut my mouth. When I recovered, I said the first thing that came to mind.
“Well, Pammie, why don’t you go into the ministry . . . but serve Communion on the rocks?”
“Cathy, you NEVER take me seriously!”
“Hold on. How can I take you seriously when you say something like that?”
Her career crisis passed three days later when Pammie decided God was calling her to Hollywood. Nashville was abuzz with the filming of the major motion picture Coal Miner’s Daughter. Everyone was invited to the Nashville Civic Center to be the audience for the scene in which Loretta Lynn has a breakdown on stage.
Pammie had bigger things in mind. A talent scout would be scouring the audience to select ONE person for a speaking role in the movie. Out of the thousands packing the civic center, Pammie knew she would be the chosen.
The crowd was herded upward to the treacherous regions of the nosebleed section. After an hour, I spotted empty seats on the main floor, directly in front of the stage where Sissy Spacek was filming her Oscar-winning performance. I even glimpsed the ruggedly handsome Tommy Lee Jones!
“Let’s take one of those empty seats.”
TNT wouldn’t have wedged Pammie from her seat. She was waiting on that talent scout.
“The odds of your being in this movie are fifty gazillion to one. Down there we can watch the filming.”
“I’m staying,” she was adamant. “Tonight I will be discovered.”
“Look at all these people. It just won’t happen.”
Leaving her, I climbed down the stairs and took the best seat in the house. I struck up a conversation and flirted with a camera man when he wasn’t filming. While filming, he asked me to hold a Sprite he was drinking.
Moments later, the camera man said, “Cathy, look very serious.”
“What?” I asked.
Without realizing, I was recorded. Though the odds were fifty gazillion to one, I made it through cutting and editing. If you watch the movie, you will see me – straight hair and a black shirt – watching sadly when Sissy/Loretta breaks down on stage.
I forgot about the filming until, almost a year later, a man in a class at Vanderbilt University told me, “I saw your movie.”
He insisted I was in Coal Miner’s Daughter.
Did I defy the odds? Was I really in that movie? What was I doing? I felt nauseous.
That weekend I had a date who wanted to see Coal Miner’s Daughter. I stayed quiet about my possible appearance and almost forgot it until the familiar scene began. Suddenly, I saw ME. My date freaked out!
Pammie freaked out, too, and accused me of ruining her chance to go to Hollywood. I reminded her that she refused to sit with me. Worse, Pammie didn’t get her speaking part. Forget logic. She was inconsolable.
I worried that the trauma would drive her straight into a career as a cocktail waitress.
As for me, I didn’t pursue a Hollywood career. The film was a fluke and a good story, but I went on to receive my Master’s Degree in Christian Education.
As a Christian and a Christian Educator, I’ve reflected on how that camera was looking at me even though I didn’t know it. Luckily, I behaved myself while the camera rolled. But what if I had been sticking out my tongue, talking angrily, or worse? Though it was only a second, that moment is on film for all time.
I don’t anticipate any future movie roles. But there will be moments when people are watching me for a second, a day, or a weekend.
In those moments, let me show grace. And mercy. Faith amid trials and thanksgiving for blessings I do not deserve. Help me display compassion and love for all of God’s children. Above all, I pray my life reflects God who lives within me – not for cameras or awards or glory – but because God is more than worthy of my best.