Tuesday, February 7, 2012

RemembeRED: Caro Mio Ben

            I’ve been involved in theatre since the sixth grade. So I mark milestones by what show I was doing when they happen. My oldest niece was born just before Alice in Wonderland; I played Mary in Run for Your Wife when we were planning our wedding; I got pregnant when I was playing the Mayor of Munchkinland in The Wizard of Oz (don’t bother—I’ve already heard all the short jokes); and my Grandfather died while I was co-directing a production of Oklahoma!.
            “Mum and Dad are fine,” was the message my sister left. “But give me a call when you get the chance.” If Mum and Dad were fine, who wasn’t fine?
            Papa had been working in the yard, came into the house, sat down, and stopped breathing. And just like that his sweet tenor voice and kind brown eyes were gone. I sat on my piano bench, caught between disbelief and heartbreak.
            I wanted to do something. What could I do to help? My parents were on a plane back from their vacation in Italy. My grandmother was surrounded by her children. I would only be in the way. My husband held me as I cried and he would have held on for as long as I needed. But I didn’t want to stand there and cry.
            I had scheduled a pronunciation workshop to teach life-long Bostonians to sound like midwestern farmers and cowboys that night. I was late and I needed to go.
             The stage manager grabbed me when I walked in. “What’s wrong?” she said.
            Before I had kids, I was never late. “If I’m late,” I used to say, “Something awful has happened.”
            “My grandfather died,” I whispered.
            “Go home!”
            “No. This is where I need to be right now.”
            So I spent the next couple of hours drumming the “R” into the actors words.
“Say Bartlett Farm.”
“Bahtlett Fahm.”
“No, Bartlett Farm.”
“Barltett Fahm.”
“That’s better but the R needs to be in both words, Bartlett Farm.”
“Bahtlett Farm. Shoot! Sorry Vickie. Bartlett Farm.”
And on it went for the next two hours. Turning “Will Pahkah” into “Will Parker” and “cahn’t” into “can’t”. When it was over I thanked my actors. More than sympathy, more than a shoulder to cry on, I needed to immerse myself in something. It wasn’t the first time I learned that theatre is cheaper than therapy. And I’m sure it won’t be the last. 

Write on Edge: RemembeREDThis week's RemembeRED prompt for Write on Edge was to write a memoir piece in which dialects or colloquialisms feature prominently. I was really excited by this prompt since I'm from the Boston area and we have such a distinctive (and often BADLY imitated) accent. I was surprised how difficult I found coming up with a moment to use. This particular memory came to me just last night.