Today is my big sister’s birthday. I won’t divulge her age…’cuz nobody’s happy to have that information out there for the world. (Well, maybe she is, but I won’t push it.) She’s an awesome mom and wife (um, I assume; I’m not married to her ;-)), but I know her better as an incredible sister and BIBF — built-in best friend.
I have two older brothers and Mary, and while I know I was always a bit of a nuisance to all of them growing up, and I’ve put them all on pedestals for years, Mary and I were automatically lumped together being a) closer in age to each other and b) girls. We shared EVERYTHING; a room (and bed when we were younger), friends, clothes, bath time (again, when we were younger), oftentimes presents, and the less concrete; tiny issues that seemed so big, giggles ’til one of us fell asleep (usually her), and secrets.
After Mary went away to college, leaving me an only child for the first time EVER, our relationship changed. I was suddenly less of an annoyance. We’d receive homesick calls and my mother would be so excited to hear her voice…only to grow disappointed and hand the phone over to me. I was suddenly an equal rather than a buzzing mosquito, and it was wonderful. Through bumps in the road and issues big and small, our friendship has remained. As other longtime friends fell out of our lives, we still found that we could call or shoot a lengthy email divulging whatever gripe or real concern we had with the world without fear of judgment or condemnation…or, worse, losing the friendship.
The funny thing? We’re not that much alike. Mary’s the sensible one; I’ve always been less than rational (compared to some, this might not be true, but in our family it’s simply how it is). She’s relatively reserved unless prodded; I’m generally boisterous to a fault. She’s business-minded; I’m scattered and lack a head for numbers. She’s level-headed; I romanticize things and get over-emotional. Yet, we work. It works.
Why am I telling you about her? Well…for one thing, to embarrass her. Betchya it’s working. 😉 But, more importantly, to not only celebrate Mary and her turning another year older, but to celebrate all that Mary has done for me. See, I wouldn’t have the life I have right now if it wasn’t for Mary. Not only did she help discipline me, teach me how to deal inter-personally with others, and keep an eye on me in my formative years (among about a million other little things), but I literally wouldn’t have the life that surrounds me at this very moment if not for a few key steps that SHE made. It brings tears to my eyes to consider it, and how fate works.
See, way back in what seems to be a different lifetime for all of us, Mary was looking for a new outlet for creativity. Something that she could enjoy as a hobby. Being a relatively quiet, shy person, what happened next astounds me still. Mary saw an ad in the paper mentioning an open dinner meeting at the Ilion Little Theater Club to welcome new members and anyone interested in becoming a member…and, all alone, knowing not a soul, she showed up. So. Not. Mary. Hell, I don’t think I could’ve done it.
She learned a bit about the place and started her foray by helping backstage…then taking a role in a musical (I still love that part…a young orphaned archaeologist with dirt on her face)…then in an awesome comedy that our grandmother would’ve been proud of (in which I distinctly remember her borrowing a pair of my “Katharine Hepburn pants” — she was an outgoing, modern American married to a traditional British vicar). I loved going to see her in the shows and enjoyed visiting the place. I was just downright proud and happy for her.
She warm-heartedly allowed me to (just like the old days) tag along with her to a dinner meeting or two to learn more about the place, myself. I was fascinated by it, but never thought I’d get deeply involved. It was Mary’s thing and I didn’t want to take it from her.
But, then, the call came. A first-time director (and, at the time, the president of the club) knew that Mary wasn’t interested in a part, but wondered if I’d take a crack at it. It was a long-shot considering that I hadn’t acted since high school, but I took it and the rest is history.
I remember calling Mary immediately to find out if it was okay (I hadn’t said “yes” yet) and she seemed almost relieved that I was willing to take the role. Since then, I’ve come to feel the same way when I’ve helped a director find someone to fill a role I was unable to perform (usually due to time constraints…or just hating the part), but at the time I didn’t want her to feel like I was taking over HER hobby; once again nudging into her life just as I had tagged along on her dates in high school. (Yes, I did that. Thank God she married her high school sweetheart and we can still laugh about it today.)
Yet, Mary was gracious and almost grateful that we had a common bond to share. We even ended up doing a couple of shows together.
But here’s how this whole thing changed “the course of human events”: I met my husband at the theater. The first show we did together on Ilion’s stage (there was a prior show we worked on together, but didn’t have any lines or interactions with each other and it was an “on the road” production) was a musical called “1940s Radio Hour”. Dave was talked into joining our cast by a co-worker/friend. We were friendly, but far from friends or even “more than friends” back then. I was generally happiest that Mary and I finally got to joke off of each other and even sing together quite a lot (and in period ’40s costumes, at that!).
A couple of shows later and I found myself doing a cockney accent as a hotel maid in “Perfect Wedding”. It was a much smaller cast, and Mary wasn’t in this one, so we found ourselves growing much friendlier during rehearsals. I think I appreciated the dedication Dave had to the role and his perfectionism about getting it right; I’m pretty sure he liked the same thing about me. (If you’re gonna do an accent, DO THE DAMN ACCENT! Am I right or am I right?) We just got along. By the end of the run, we both found ourselves single and the rest is, as they say, history.
Some of my favorite memories at the theater are of sharing moments with family. Mary, whom if not for a horrific bout of tendinitis might have a career as a musician or music teacher today, has performed the role of musical director many a time. When we did “A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum” a few years back, it was the first huge musical role of its kind that Dave had had (although he did some kickass musical reviews in high school that I only wish had been videotaped), and her patience and kindness working with him was one of the things that gave him the confidence to get up there and put aside his misgivings; he proved that, yes, he had/has musical talent.
When Dave made his directorial debut, he chose “Clue! The Musical” and ripped it to shreds; I should say, he made it GOOD. It wouldn’t have been high on many lists of favorites if Mary hadn’t led the way musically. That one was, by far, a family affair. I played Miss Scarlet, did choreography and picked up slack wherever Dave needed me to. I’d done stuff like this for other shows, but this time was different. We were doing it as a familial team. Oh, and I almost forgot — Dave had to make a cameo once or twice, and Mary’s husband, John, played a superb Paul McCartney (just kidding; he was a back-up dancer/one of many husbands to Mrs. Peacock).
At any given time, we three served on the theater’s board, too. That’s a lesson in itself!
And, in the process of it all and as time tends to allow, we’ve picked up a second family. Sure, it’s one that has its share of oddballs (I may be one of them) and moody personalities (again…me?), but for those who have fallen in love with theater in the tiny one-room dressing room and equally tiny stage (what scene change?!), through tripped power switches and square-headed screws vs. Philips head screws and paint parties with donuts…the ILT family is to thank for it. And maybe George, our resident ghost, has a little hand in it, too. (No, we’re not chatting with the ghost in this picture.)
So, quite literally, I owe the family that is currently dozing around me as I type this to Mary first, and the theater second. That’s huge. I’m humbly grateful. And, yes, we will return…some day. When Hadley’s old enough to play independently backstage without getting into the tools.And when he can get a walk-on and actually walk…on.
A very happy *mumble mumble* birthday to my sister, my best friend, my second mother, my unknowing matchmaker, Mary. Thank you for being such a huge part of my life, for giving me an awesome brother and niece, and for being the proudest aunt ever. Lots of love and I’m sorry if this post was too much about me than you; it got away from me! 😉