Thursday, July 21, 2011

We were bad kids.

When my brother and I were in preschool our teacher was, Miss Harris, an older gray haired woman that we heard whispered, "was never married." At four-years-old, that meant nothing to me except no one told her what to do. She had us hammer in some nails in a board one day. I assume it was the country version of hand-eye coordination exercises. She said, "Now, go home and get your daddy's hammer and show him what you learned." My brother was five. He said, "My daddy told me if I touched his tools, he'd beat the shit out of me." Needless to say, the teacher met my mother at the car that day. It was one of many days. We were not good kids.

We were raised properly, knew right from wrong, and feared the belt of our father, who was greeted nearly every day as he stepped through the door, with, "Guess what your children did today?" We were born 10 1/2 months apart. I was the younger one, born two weeks late. No, we weren't twins, we were worse. My parents were saddled with two kids who were very intelligent and had no fear, a nearly lethal, at times, combination. We lived in the country. No other kids for miles. We had a couple of horses, a big barn, sitting among fields and a deep green forest. This is the home of my first memories, ages 2-6, most involving the moments that shape us for good or bad... on a tiny little crossroads, called Inez, NC.

They didn't have the Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder diagnosis back then. We were just "bad" kids. My mother used to tell us we were going to drive her into the state mental hospital. She would say, "They're going to put me in Cherry Hill, and you'll have to come peek at me through the bars on Sunday." I mean, what was she supposed to do with two kids, who outsmarted the baby sitter, snuck out of the house, found daddy's paint, and preceded to paint every tree of the ancient oak grove in the front yard bright white, as high as we could reach. Keep in mind we were not much more than toddlers. Our logic. We saw some trees painted like that and thought they were pretty. It was forcefully explained to us that those trees were marked as diseased so the forestry guys could cut them down. Okay, lesson learned, move on to the next.

My brother has a very high, genius IQ. He figured out what was going on the moment they brought me home. After a few weeks, when he learned to get around a bit better, my mother caught him trying to open the front door. He had me by the ankle, dragging me behind him. Mom says, I was giggling. Oblivious as usual, when he drug me into one mess or another. Mom asked him what he was doing. He looked up at her and said, "Baby go bye, bye." I am convinced that he has never lost that sentiment, as evidenced by the numerous times he almost did away with me. He once fed me an entire giant bottle of orange flavored baby aspirin. He had to get his stomach pumped too, because he couldn't tell them how many he "tasted." Poetic justice in my opinion.

There was the time he said, "Here, dip this rag in that bucket of gasoline and then run over there and throw it on the garbage pile. (Yes, we burned our garbage back then, and you know a redneck story that starts out like this is going to make you laugh.) The pile was smoldering, the rag went away in a poof, and then the flame that trailed back to the barn and the 5 gallon bucket of gas went by in slow motion, followed by an explosion. The front of the barn went up in flames along with all my dad's horse saddles and tack. The barn survived, barely. It needed extensive repairs. So did the firehouse doors, because they were padlocked with the firetruck stuck inside. The all volunteer force showed up, all except the one with the key. So the ol' boys fired up the truck and crashed through, splintered the big doors, arriving just after my mom, and the lady who used to look after us put out the flames with buckets of water and the garden hose. I don't remember the lady's name. None of them lasted very long. We were bad kids.

Let's see, I chopped my brother's ear off with a hoe, because he didn't move fast enough. We were digging a hole to China in the front yard, because we thought we could. I said move, no malice intended, but alas, he was not quick enough. Relax, they sewed it back on. We went into the woods one morning, got lost, and appeared just before sunset a couple of miles down the road to find sheriffs' cars and an entire community had been searching for us for hours. When I was 2, we thought the little ducks we got for Easter were thirsty, so we filled them up with water from the hose. Ooops, dead ducks shortly there after. We were denied access to any further Easter fowl. I plugged a wire my dad cut off a lamp into the wall socket and blew up the fuse box. We were known for our ability to escape the compound of the preschool and go visit our parents at the high school next door, where they worked.. The preschool's back fence overlooked the football field, where my dad would be coaching. No matter how many times we were spanked, we always had a good reason for climbing that tree and going "over the wall." In fact, at the time, I think we convinced ourselves that we had a good reason for everything we did. The difficulty was in getting adults to see things our way.

I will never forget my mother yelling at us, "I hope you have six just like you." I spent my early childhood vowing to never get married and have kids, because of that statement. I didn't want kids like us, anymore than she did. My brother and I went our separate ways after those early years. We were never the terrible duo after that, but I know we gave our parents fits in our own unique ways. Those first years must have been hell on them, though. I am convinced that somewhere in a dictionary, beside the word "Hellion," is a picture of two kids, heads of nearly white hair, holding hammers, wearing mischievous grins.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Don't Rain on the Kids' Parade, Why I Support the Arts In Schools

I took a break from writing and jumped on You Tube to watch a few music videos. I ended up in Show Tunes having started with Billie Holiday. You know how it is, one link to another and you're lost in video land with a cue line up you will never get through. I landed on Barbara Streisand's "Funny Girl" performance of "My Man," which I am convinced, in a former life, I sang while lying on a grand piano in a sequined gown. Suddenly I was reminded of a young woman I saw perform when she was a teenager about to blow town. Her whole life was ahead of her and the prospects were endless. She was cute and self-confident, when she stepped out on the stage during a talent show.
In the true meaning of the song, this girl, this child on the threshold of her life, this young woman took "Don't Rain on my Parade" to new heights. I was on the antique resistor light-board backstage. When she stepped forward at the key change, singing, "I'll march my band out, I'll beat my drum..." I literally walked out from the behind the curtain on the edge of the stage. People in the wings all stepped forward. This was a performance to remember. I didn't care that the audience could see me. I wasn't going to miss this. As I write this the chill bumps are forming on my arms. This girl sang the hell out of that song. By the time she reached the last refrain the house was on it's feet. There was not a doubt in a single mind in Sheep-Harney Auditorium that this girl was going to make it, no matter what she chose to do with her life. I will always treasure that memory.
Later in life, I became a drama teacher, after working in both professional and college theatre. Oklahoma City University, where I got my graduate degree, produced Miss Americas from all over the country. I worked with Kristin Chenowith while I was there. I say these things to frame what I am about to say.
I've worked with a lot of very talented people; some were famous, some should have been, but never got that break. It's the nature of the beast. With that in mind, I've thought long and hard about the kids I worked with along the way. There was the young woman who carried herself like an adult from the moment I met her in her early teens. She could silence 2000 high school maniacs by just taking the microphone into her hand. She could sing like an angel. Melinda, I hope you're still singing.
There was the young dancer, and I mean this was a professional ballet dancer at 14, with the black curly hair and dimples that made all the girls blush. Yes, it was a young man. He played dramatic roles for me, like John Merrick in the "Elephant Man" and won state acting awards. He left not a dry eye in the house with that performance. He charmed Miss Laurie and the rest of us with his singing voice, as "Curly," in "Oklahoma!" He remained with the local professional dance company and was constantly in one rehearsal or another, all while maintaining a vey high GPA. He continues to dance professionally today after graduating from college. Zachary, I will never forget you.
During the rehearsal process for a production of "Camelot" I noticed a shy dark haired young man. I met Hassan that day. This young man was a born dramatic actor. His sophomore year, he won an All-State Acting Award as one of the top three actors in the state. By his senior year, his acting was a privilege to watch. I see his picture in the local press now, as he moves through college and onto the professional stage. Besides being a great actor, he is one of the best people I've ever known.
David had more pure talent than I've ever seen. Jill is the second coming of Lucille Ball, if the folks in Hollywood would just catch on. Alistair's a comic genius. Leah did Judy Garland proud. Kia flew "Peter Pan" to life. Josh could win you over with his comic timing. There were just so many wonderful moments, I cannot name them all. And don't get me started on how hard those kids you never see, the stage crew that makes it happen, work to bring you a performance you may never forget.
In this age, when GLEE is so popular, don't sit there on your couch watching 20 somethings play teenagers. Go to your local high school or college. Watch real kids do there thing. We've all sat through some dreadful performances at one time or another, some of them by professionals. Yet, every now and then you witness a young person reaching into their soul and producing an unforgettable performance. You may never see their name in lights, but what you saw was an inspired, emotional moment, where the artists and the art come together.
I am blessed, so blessed, to have witnessed these performances. Support your local music and theatre programs. Art makes us human. Don't rain on the kids' parade. Help keep the arts alive in schools and in your community. In doing so, you may see a young girl bring the house down, in a dusty auditorium, and be forever grateful. Thank you, Celena.