Aretha and Me: Neighbors for Eternity

I have reason to believe we'll meet again, because her father and siblings are entombed in the same Detroit cemetery where the Shrake family burial plot is.

I couldn't believe Aretha Franklin was even shorter than I am. But the famous, more often than not, are surprisingly short. We have more to prove, maybe.

We shorties, I mean.

She was also nowhere near as big around as you may think. Granted, this was in 1994, but even back then she looked awfully large when you saw her on TV--not so in person.

I grew up living a mile or two away from her, but had never met her. Until one day when I spotted her in the bookstore where I was working. I warned my coworkers to back off: This is _my_ customer.

I helped her look for a book. We walked around checking for it in different sections of the store. I was thinking, nervously, This is Aretha Franklin you're waiting on! But I didn't let on that I recognized her.

We chatted about how much I got paid, because she said her son had applied to work at the bookstore. In our chat, she displayed the wry sense of humor that I had seen from her in the _The Blues Brothers._ She has a half-proud little half-smile like people have who know that they're funny.

Or who know that they are a music legend of the first order.

We never found the book she wanted. She had a stack of newspapers and cookbooks she had selected earlier, though, and so I was ringing those up.

She paid with traveler's checks. Finally acknowledging I knew who she was, I said, "Since you're signing all those checks..." and slipped under her pen a postcard we sold that had her photo on it.

How weird that must be for her and other famous people, to walk around a store where they sell your image (and CDs, and books about you, etc.). She questioned me suspiciously about where the card came from, and whether we had the right to sell it. But she gave me the autograph with one of those little smiles.

She didn't want her receipt, which was long, but I shoved it into her hand anyway. Wish I had kept it. It would be fun to know exactly what she bought 15 years ago.

That was my one brush with the Queen of Soul. But I have reason to believe we'll meet again, because her father and siblings are entombed in the same Detroit cemetery where the Shrake family burial plot is.

For several reasons, I didn't yet realize this fact in 1994. But I wouldn't have said anything about it anyway. You are not allowed to mention her father around her -- it still makes her cry. I'm the same way about my grandma.

So, maybe we'll bump into each other again some year when I'm home for the holidays, since my family and I always drive over and put a wreath down for Grandma and Grandpa.

Now that I think of it, Aretha and I will both have our final resting places there, too.


I originally told the story of meeting and waiting on Aretha Franklin, in a longer form, onstage in Washington DC. Here's an expanded transcript:


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