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When my son began getting serious about the young woman he would eventually marry, he would come home from dates with her, give me a little kiss and say, “You just kissed Tracy.” It became a loving little joke between us….letting me subtly know that he was getting serious about this girl. This is where my ‘close encounter’ story begins.
It was September 22, 1996.
Neil was to perform here the next night.
I went to the hotel where I thought Neil and the band might stay. I’d always wanted to greet Neil and welcome him to my town in the fashion he deserves, but the opportunity had never presented itself. I took along a friend of mine (not a Diamond fan) for moral support.
Several weeks prior to his arrival, I had commissioned a special gift to be crafted for Neil by a local, but world-renown stoneware company. It was a stoneware plate with a hand painted frog king sitting on a lily pad playing a guitar. I had seen a similar one (the original design depicted a frog with no crown) when I had visited the company’s showroom and requested little touches that would make it special and one-of-a-kind, just for Neil. On the back of the plate, they inscribed some special words to personalize it.
I knew that if I could not give the gift to him myself, Don, Neil’s Security Manager, would see that Neil got it. You never know if there will be time for chatting or if Neil will hurry right on past without a word. You might not be at the right entrance to catch a glimpse, much less a word. You might not even be at the right hotel! We waited and waited. Nothing. All afternoon, we waited. We finally gave up and went into the ladies room (couldn’t wait any longer, if you know what I mean). I was a little disappointed that I had missed him. When we came out of the ladies room, I looked out the lobby window and there was a big bus!
My heart started doing flip-flops! I gave my girlfriend my camera and told her that if she saw anything that was worth a picture to start snapping! We moved through the lobby and stood very quietly outside the entrance as we saw each member of the band come off the bus and enter the hotel. I welcomed each one of them to my one-horse town. Then there was Neil. I don’t know where I got the nerve, but I asked him, “Hi Neil, may I give you a gift from Louisville?” He smiled, walked right over to me and said, “What is it, sweetheart?” I showed him the plate and briefly explained the history of the stoneware factory and its place in the world (European Queens and Kings order stoneware from this company, etc.) Neil took the plate and looked it over very carefully. Then he held it to his chest with one hand and put his other arm around me and said, “Well, Eydie, thank you so much!” and with that, he gave me a kiss and a hug.
For the first time in my life I realized that in order to speak, you MUST have saliva. I had none—nada—zilch—my mouth was totally dry! So I looked up at him, smiled, and attempted to mutter, “That was so sweet!” But not a sound came out! Oh, the lips were moving but there was not a single sound. He smiled back as if he understood totally (maybe he’s used to this happening), and then he and Don proceeded on into the hotel.
I looked over at my friend, who had positioned herself most effectively for picture taking. There she stood, camera in tow, mesmerized, with her mouth hanging open. I walked over to her, shook her daze, and asked, “Did you get any pictures?” She said, “NO!” I asked, “Why not?” She said, “I couldn’t figure out how to work the camera!” I said, “Why didn’t you ask?” She replied, in a voice that was an octave higher than her normal voice, “I COULDN’T SPEAK!” She was as much in awe of being in the presence of Neil Diamond as anybody I’ve ever seen.
I have to tell you that I felt Neil’s whiskers on my cheek for well over an hour. It was just amazing. I don’t even remember driving home. Any encounter with Neil just seems to be such a warm, fuzzy experience, but this time was extra special. I was so grateful for having the opportunity to give him my gift from Kentucky.
When I got back home, I was still on cloud nine, smiling a smile that I could NOT get off my face. I entered the den where my husband was lying on the sofa, leaned over, kissed him and said, “You just kissed Neil Diamond!”