Saturday, November 8, 2014
Waking Up Weepy
Happened to me today. I've been waking up about 6:30 a.m. these days--nothing like the Old Days (when I was teaching) when the cruel alarm jarred me up at 5:10. (Often, though, it didn't jar me: Nervous about oversleeping, I was usually awake by five, cursing the clock.) But in these Retirement Days (and Days of Medications) 6:30 is about it.
But today ... it was about 6:15. I'm not sure if my waking and weeping were related to a dream; I can't remember. But I do remember why I was weeping. I was thinking about our son ... Steve.
I was thinking about the years he was with me at Harmon Middle School (1983-1986), the years he was in sixth, seventh, and eighth grades. He had begun his sixth grade year at Hudson Middle School, but the (ill) luck of the draw had placed him for most of the day in the room of a teacher (who will remain nameless) who seemed to have decided to end her career early. She had him for homeroom, science, history, English, and when we went to Open House in October, we were astonished in her classroom: The walls were bare. Absolutely antiseptic. She told the parents that her method of teaching science was "directed study"--i.e., the kids would sit at their desks (in tidy rows), read a section of the science book, answer the questions at the end of each section. While she sat up front and ...?
Joyce and I immediately recognized the horror of this. Even more--we knew that just down the road, in Aurora, were some of the greatest teachers in the country. And for sixth grade science--if Steve were there--he would have Eileen Kutinsky, who has no equal in my mind (well, except for her late sister, Vivian LoPresti, who taught first grade at Aurora's Lake School and was, well, a magician). And so at the end of the first marking period (after a conference with an intractable principal at the Hudson school--no, he would not alter Steve's schedule), we withdrew Steve and took him to Harmon School, where he had three wonderful years--among the best years of his life, I think. He had great teachers, made great friends, threw himself into the many activities of the school (from bike club to sports to band to bowling to drama).
This is why I was weeping this morning.
I was during my Aurora Middle School (and, later, Harmon Middle School) years (1966-1978, 1982-1997) the "drama guy." I directed over thirty plays during those years, and many of them I wrote with groups of kids. (I did a couple of shows at Aurora High School, too--Grease and The Merry Wives of Windsor.)
When Steve was a Wee Fellow, Joyce used to bring him to see the Harmon shows, and he got hooked on theater. When he came to Harmon late that fall of 1983, he wanted to be in the show we were doing, Murder on Bus 10, a comedy/thriller (?) I'd written with some kids. I plopped him in the chorus, and his career began.
In subsequent years he was in six more of my shows, gradually earning more important roles (I was reluctant to cast him too prominently at first, but a couple of my colleagues told me not to worry about it--the other kids knew he was good). He played Dracula in a silly musical I found (Dracula, Baby) and played Snoopy in You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown.
He was with a wonderful group of kids, by the way, classmates who welcomed him immediately. I'm nearly weeping right now as I think about how he--at least from my point of view--seemed to slip seamlessly into Harmon life.
He was a good little actor, had a strong soprano voice (right through 8th grade--he was not happy about that; he's now a strong baritone/bass), and was absolutely devoted to the productions--as were his cast-mates. They were a superb group to work with.
And then--suddenly, impossibly--it was all over. His final appearance was in The 90th Annual Eighth Grade Farewell-to-Harmon Show (no, there had not been 90 of them--1990 was their graduation year ... clever, eh?). My great colleague Andy Kmetz and I had started those end-of-the-year shows just a couple of years earlier. I wrote them--collections of skits and songs about school life, each year having a different theme. (Steve's year we used the device of having a new family tour the school with their kid they were going to enroll.) Our final show in the series, by the way, was the "2000th" of them.
So, suddenly, it was Saturday night, May 31, 1986, and I was sitting there watching Steve's last performance on the Harmon stage. And I was weeping.
Afterwards, kids were out in the Commons (what we called our "auditorium") hugging and crying, and Steve grabbed me around the waist, blurted out a thank-you, and cried against my chest. I wrapped my arms around him and added some moisture.
And then it was over.
He was in numerous theater productions in high school (at Western Reserve Academy, where Joyce taught)--including The Taming of the Shrew (he was Lucentio), a play we'd read in my 8th grade English class. I don't really know if he auditioned for any shows at Tufts, where he went to college. Later, Joyce and I got to see him in the chorus of two Akron opera productions--The Pirates of Penzance and Don Giovanni. But then job and family and Life intervened; other priorities. Happens to all of us.
Last spring we got to see his older son, Logan, 9, in a performance of The Little Mermaid in the Green Schools.
I was moved to tears.
His younger son, Carson, 5, dresses up all the time in costumes. I think he'll be in school plays, too. Last year for my birthday dinner he showed up at the Welshfield Inn in full Dracula costume. He was the hit of the night, and a kind server brought him a glass of red juice. (I do not drink ... wine.)
I was moved to tears.
As I was early this morning, thinking about that amazing relationship I'd had with my son back in middle school, about driving him to school every day (talking, laughing, seeing things), teaching him in 8th grade, directing him onstage seven times, watching him perform, watching him grow, admiring him beyond measure.