In addition to working on some very big interviews that will be posted in the coming weeks, I wrote a seasonal ETA story that I hope you all will enjoy. I called on my own observations to create characters that I hope you will find relatable to your own ETA experiences. The story centres on ETA Steve Williams, a fictitious character, who is based on several ETAs whom I have had the pleasure of meeting. Maybe you will detect the real ETAs behind the character. If you read Woman’s Weekly magazine, you will recognize the style in which the story is written. Nothing too complicated; it is a simple romance that anyone who has been in love will appreciate. It most certainly will appeal to ETA fans. I am not sure, but I think it may be the first of its kind: An ETA Romance Story.
Wishing everyone all the joy this wonderful time of year brings.
Merry Christmas and Season’s Greetings from everyone at SIDEBURNS Magazine
Little Sister (Don’t You)
An ETA Christmas Romance Story by Carolyn MacArthur
“Ellie, can you turn your music down! Enough with the Elvis songs! We will be seeing an Elvis impersonator in an hour!” Claudia was not thrilled with the prospect of sitting through two hours of someone trying to impersonate a long dead rock 'n' roll idol. She bought the tickets for the local concert, Elvis at Home for Christmas, as a birthday gift for her younger sister.
“Steve Williams is an ETA--an Elvis Tribute Artist. Steve pays tribute to Elvis. None of the ETAs try to impersonate the one and only King of Rock and Roll. They honour the memory of Elvis.” Ellie relished the opportunity to educate her big sister on the topic. She hoped, in fact, that by the end of the evening, Claudia would share her love of all things Elvis.
“Sorry! ETA Steve Williams. I stand corrected.” Claudia was amused by her sister’s loyalty to the artist, whom, until a live performance at a local fall fair, Ellie had only seen on YouTube. It was a puzzle to Claudia how her younger sister developed such a passion for Elvis Presley music at all considering their parents had a distaste for any music that wasn’t at least 200 years old. The only reference to Elvis in their house, were two 1960’s used VHS movies, Girl Happy and Viva Las Vegas that their gran had slipped into their house years ago when she babysat. Claudia smiled as she thought back to those early days when she, as Ann Margaret, and Ellie as Shelley Fabares, would play the movies over and over, and act, sing and dance the hours away. But those happy days were long gone.
Claudia loved her career as a classical pianist. Her only regret was that concert engagements meant extensive travel, and evenings with her younger sister, such as tonight’s special outing, were becoming rarer and rarer. The last time they were together was three years ago when Ellie travelled to the city to see Claudia play with a renowned orchestra. It was an ordeal for small town Ellie to make the trek, but she did it in the name of sisterly love. She knew that Claudia felt the same way about coming home for her birthday; and while Ellie considered spending the evening together as a very special gift, she was overwhelmed with joy when she opened her birthday card and saw the two tickets.
“I am ready,” Ellie announced, still glowing with excitement. “Wait until you see him, Claudia. He is unbelievable!”
“Then, let’s hit the road!” Claudia responded with an enthusiasm that surprised even her.
The theatre looked very festive with the red, green, and white decorations. The seats that Claudia had purchased were great. Ellie was thrilled to be sitting so close to the stage. Claudia, recalling her own recitals at this very theatre, found herself relaxing into the evening’s promise of seasonal entertainment.
With the lights lowered, Steve Williams walked onto the stage to the cheers of the hometown crowd. Ellie thought she heard Claudia gasp when the spotlight hit Steve’s handsome face. He was the living embodiment of the Elvis Claudia remembered from the movies of her childhood.
During intermission, Claudia unwillingly admitted to Ellie that she was right. Steve didn’t impersonate Elvis Presley: with every note, every song, and every move, he paid tribute to Elvis.
“So you like him,” Ellie asked rhetorically.
“Yes. He is very good,” Claudia responded.
“Very good? He is excellent! Trust me, I have listened to a lot of ETAs these past few months, and Steve is the best!” Ellie was a little annoyed that Claudia just wasn’t getting it.
“He is excellent. Are you happy now, birthday girl? Consider this conciliation a little extra present!” Both sisters laughed at Claudia’s facetious comment.
“I will be, once we meet him after the show,” Ellie quickly added hoping to ride the tide of the moment.
“Wait a minute! I didn’t agree to a meet-and-greet session.”
“It won’t take long. And I want him to sign my birthday card. What are you afraid of…you might like the experience? Besides, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for you to mingle with some small town people for a change.”
Claudia wanted to maintain her composure and conceal that her feelings were hurt, but in the heat of the moment she blurted out, “So you see me as some uptight cosmopolitan who thinks she is too sophisticated to stand in line waiting to meet a tribute artist. Is that what you think?”
“I just meant…” Ellie’s explanation was interrupted by the flickering lights that signalled intermission was over.
In silence, the sisters walked back to their seats. The second half of the concert was even better than the first. Songs about love, home, and Christmas touched both Claudia and Ellie in a way that softened both their hearts. They knew they could never stay angry at each other.
Claudia was the first to speak after the two standing ovations were over. “We better get in line now. There are so many people here who will want to talk to Steve.” Looking at her phone, Claudia added, “Besides there is still an hour left of your birth-day celebrations.”
The line moved slowly towards Steve, who was sitting at a table signing autographs. As they inched closer, they overheard Steve’s conversations with his fans. Something in his voice sounded vaguely familiar to Claudia. It wasn’t the same powerful voice she had just heard singing like Elvis during the concert. It was a voice calling from her past…a warm, friendly, familiar voice.
Ellie approached the table first. As expected, she gushed about being a big fan, and asked Steve if he would sign her card. “Happy Birthday to Ellie Fanshaw, love Steve Williams,” Ellie instructed.
“Ellie Fanshaw. I remember an Eloise Fanshaw at Prescott High years ago. Her older sister, Claudia, was in my Science class,” Steve casually mentioned as he signed Ellie’s card.
“Claudia is my sister! She is here with me tonight,” Ellie added excitedly as she waved Claudia closer.
Claudia, somewhat timidly, approached the table. As she looked into Steve’s eyes, she saw beyond the eyeliner and black mascara. The startling revelation that she was looking into to the eyes of her high school crush left her speechless. She hadn’t seen him since graduation, and he had changed so much she would never have recognized him on stage. But up close, in the light of the lobby, she could clearly see it was him. Already knowing the answer, Claudia asked, “Steve Williams? William Stevens? Bill, is it really you?”
Bill, always the gentleman, rose from his chair. He took Claudia’s hand and leaned in for a kiss. “Claudia. It has been such a very long time. How have you been?” he asked sincerely. “Yes, it is me. I changed my name to Steve Williams when I became a professional ETA. But at home, I am still just plain old Bill.”
Claudia marvelled at the transformation from the shy guy with the curly, blonde hair that she once knew, to the tall, dark, handsome, confident man with the black hair and Elvis sideburns who vocally just moved mountains on stage as ETA Steve Williams.
“I guess I do look a little different than I did the last time you saw me,” Bill joked. “I come home once a year to put on my Elvis Christmas show to help raise funds for the clinic. I would like to do more for them, but my schedule is pretty tight. At least this year I was able to squeeze in an extra appearance at the fall fair. It was a chance to catch up with the locals. I don’t get to see many familiar faces when I travel internationally, so it is always great coming home.”
“I can’t believe how much things have changed for you since leaving the farm, Bill.” Claudia wanted to say something much more profound, but her thoughts were addled. Bill was so handsome in his white jumpsuit that her usual rational thinking was impaired. She was picturing him as he looked now, but twenty years ago during their tender moments together. Feeling her cheeks redden, she silently prayed, “Please let him say something soon!”
“You haven’t changed a bit,” Bill continued, sensing that Claudia needed rescuing. “Do you come home to Maryhill very often?”
Thinking of her earlier set-to with Ellie, Claudia shifted her gaze. Bill, it seemed, had found the balance that she was missing in her life. “I don’t get home as much as I should,” Claudia confessed; but then added confidently, “I think that is all going to change.” Bill squeezed her hand in a way that let her know he understood.
There was little time to discuss the details of the years ensuing since they graduated from high school. There were so many unanswered questions. Both wondered why they hadn’t kept in touch over the years since they were so close prior to Claudia leaving for university. They wanted to talk more, but the waiting lineup of fans was growing restless. Bill reached into a box of Elvis scarves, and with a marker he wrote his number on a scarf and placed it around Claudia’s neck. Ellie sighed, knowing how this moment was going to change her sister’s life.
Claudia and Ellie walked to their car, sharing in the joy of the evening-- one knowing, and the other beginning to understand the magic that ETAs bring to their fans. For some, an ETA concert is all about reliving memories; for others, like Claudia, it is about building memories.
On the ride home, an Elvis Christmas song came on the radio.