Friday, May 27, 2011


As Ed and I stepped into Bangor Airport this morning to prepare for our trip, we were met with quite a sight.  Service men and women in camouflage uniforms were everywhere  - in the gift shop, in the snack shop, some sleeping on the floor, some sleeping on chairs, and some sitting around engrossed in their laptops.

Bangor is known for its Troop Greeters, a large group of volunteers who at any hour of the day or night, show up at the airport when a military flight is scheduled to leave or arrive.  Some of these are veterans from other wars, like Vietnam, where the same young boys who were spat upon return to the USA after their deployment have grown up into old men, and want to volunteer their time to make sure all soldiers get treated with hearty handshakes, hugs, and respect they deserve.  So there were several Troop Greeters there today as well, but Ed and I still weren't sure if the troops were coming or going.

So finally when the announcement came for the troops to board, a tired young man who had been trying to sleep on the floor beside my seat, head on a knapsack, got up to prepare to leave, I asked him, "Are y'all coming or going?"  He said, "Going."  I asked where, and he said, "Afghanistan."  Even though I knew it was a possibility, even probability, my heart still sank when I heard it.  Then came the frustrating moment for me because I had no idea what to say!  My first impulse was to say, "I'm so sorry!" but that didn't sound very encouraging.  My second impulse was to say, "I hope you make it back."  That, too, was too sad.  I ended up blurting out, "Good luck!" and he said thanks, and that was that.  I didn't know his name, but from now on every time the news reports another soldier death in Afghanistan, I will think of this man, a stranger whom I was privileged to briefly encounter right before he went off to fight a dangerous war in a dangerous country.  If I had had an hour to formulate an appropriate response, it still would have not been adequate.  What do you say at a time like that?  I didn't know if the young man was for the war or against the war, I didn't know if this was his 1st or maybe his 3rd tour of duty, didn't know if he was worried about the future or concerned about leaving his family, or even anxious to put to use the skills he had been trained for.   I didn't know if he was just apprehensive or scared stiff.   I only know he had signed up to be of service, had been called, and was going as he had promised.  "Good luck" just didn't cover it, but it was all I could muster on the spur of the moment.

When I realized it was Memorial Day weekend, the whole event took on a more poignant note for me.  This brought the face of war right to my own face, and I could hardly speak in words that made sense.  How could I ever be satisfied with a terse "Good luck" when all I wanted to do was throw my arms around him and cry like a baby?

Saturday, May 21, 2011


Ed and I spend a lot of time reading aloud - actually, I do the reading aloud and he does the listening.  Ed has a mild form of dyslexia which required me to read aloud to him many of his textbooks in college and seminary, and we have found in the years since that it is a wonderful mutually enriching arrangement for all kinds of interesting books, mostly nonfiction.  We take our time, sometimes stopping after a paragraph or even a sentence to discuss what we have just learned.  After reading At Home by Bill Bryson, we enjoyed his writing style so much that we bought three other books by him, and we are now reading A Short History of  Nearly Everything, which is basically a history of science, from the atoms through the entire universe, chemistry, geology, biology, botany, astronomy, microbiology, and everything in between.  We have read about scientists and philosophers and inventors and physicists and all other types of scientific achievers (and bumblers) who have influenced our perspective of our world.  Some were pure geniuses, some were funny, some were off-the-wall personalities who discovered things by sheer accident, and others were mildly to severely eccentric.  While Bryson gives details about the people, he also writes about the fascinating details of science - the incredible vastness of the universe, energy, cells, what make up our bodies and what make up our Earth.  The whole thing is mind-boggling - the mystery, the curiosity, the awe.  And it’s science.
We were only a third of the way through with the book when I just had to laugh at the absurdity of it all - my being fascinated with science at 55 years old!  If you had told my adolescent self that I would be reading about science - of my own volition - later on in life, I would have choked in amusement.  Science?  No way!  I’m into music and the arts!  I’m into French and Abe Lincoln!  I used avoid science and its sister subject, math, like the plague.  The only math class I ever had any interest in was that of algebra, and that is because I had a very good teacher who made the subject intriguing.
Of course, in high school, science was a requirement.  I spent hours trying to figure out which would be the least offensive branch - chemistry? biology? physics?  I think those were my three choices, and they all basically sucked.  I was not just disinterested in the curricula - I was horrified by the thought of the time I would have to waste, along with having a dread that I would not be able to maintain the good grades to which I had become accustomed.  I absolutely HATED science.  
After hearing about dissecting frogs and the like, I discounted biology.  Physics was totally incomprehensible to me.  So it was chemistry by default.  
That is how I ended up in East High chemistry class in my senior year of high school.  I had successfully avoided science until I could not officially avoid it any longer.  After all, I had to graduate, didn’t I?  This was the hell I would have to endure.
Unfortunately, as I had feared, it was a wasted year.  My teacher, whose name my subconscious self has purposefully buried for all eternity, was new to our school.  On the first day of class, he admitted that he was not trained in chemistry; he was supposed to be a biology teacher, but he was stuck with us as we were stuck with him.  I admired him for his honesty, but he was indeed a horrible, ill-prepared teacher, partly because he didn’t really know the subject, and partly because he didn’t have any passion for the subject.  I only remember two things about the class:  Melting glass beakers into funny shapes over a Bunsen burner, and the final exam.  The week before the final exam, again the teacher apologized for not being able to teach chemistry properly, and he said as a sign of recompense, he was going to give us an actual copy of the final exam ahead of time, because, he admitted, it wasn’t our fault that he couldn’t teach chemistry.  The rest of the class, with a sigh of relief, memorized the answers and that was that.
For some odd reason, the whole situation was unacceptable to me.  I had never “cheated” for a final exam, and I wasn’t going to start now, even if it was teacher-approved.  So I threw the exam away and threw myself into studying.  
Studying, of course, was just memorization and not learning.  I never learned chemistry.  But I remember trying to look at some kind of element table or chart where I had to memorize the layout, and I thought to myself, “This looks like a train...this looks like a boat...this looks like a flower...” and tried to memorize the layout accordingly.   Total waste of time, of course, but I made an A on the exam without the cheat sheets.
Today in 2011, I’m reading about chemistry and loving it.  I’m devouring information on the planets and galaxies and theory of relativity and neutrons and protons and the rest and I’m in heaven.  On top of that, I’m a medical transcriptionist and work with information on anatomy, pharmaceuticals, and lab values all day every day.  It’s a mighty big leap from that hopeless chemistry class with Mr. What’s His Name.  Who would have dreamed?  Not even Einstein, I would suspect, could have come up with such an unlikely scenario!
I’ve spent the past month in introspection, trying to figure out why all this fascinating stuff we are reading now didn’t interest me back then, and my conclusion is this:  I never had a great science teacher.  To be a great teacher, you need three elements, in my opinion.  1) Knowledge of the subject, 2) A personal passion for the subject, and 3) The ability to pass that passion onto your students.  I never had a science teacher in my 12 years of schooling who had those three qualifications.  My interest was never nudged, my curiosity never piqued, and that passion was certainly never ignited.    My goodness!  What we could accomplish with our kids if all our teachers possessed this sort of energy and talent!  Young minds, already curious, are ready to soak up education like sponges, if only it is done with passion instead of boredom.  How would my life have been different had I been able to read this book in high school? Who wouldn’t want to hear about the scientist who was so paranoid about human interaction that he would flee if anyone tried to engage him in conversation?  About the brilliant astronomer who, even in the midst of genius thoughts, still believed the canals on Mars were made by Martians?  About the intellectual chemist whose unfortunately eccentricity was tasting every substance he discovered - including cyanide?  About how Albert Einstein applied for a high school teacher position and was rejected (wonder if anyone was eventually called on the carpet for that one? “You wouldn’t hire WHO?”)?  Would you rather read true stories about real human beings with their problems and personality traits or would you rather just memorize a date in history when uranium was discovered?  These are the kinds of things that make history of anything - and therefore the present - come alive.  Passion is what makes students want to take study to the next level, whether it’s to develop exceptional skills in gymnastics or to discover the next great theory of the universe or the next promising treatment for cancer.  That passion - unfortunately - is not something that one can assume will appear.  But if the time is right - and the student is ready - and the teacher is passionate - what miracles can occur!
This is why I'm so excited that our oldest granddaughter who just turned 8, Caroline, is fascinated with science in all its forms.  She's young enough to form lasting relationships with insatiable curiosity, ideas, awe, and discovery.  She has people in her life who are fueling this curiosity and stimulating this drive for knowledge.  She is lucky.
Now - do you have any idea, any idea, of how small a molecule is?  Did you know that a molecule is so small that the number of molecules found in 2.016 grams of hydrogen gas is 6.0221367 x 10 to the 23rd?  It’s a meaningless number to most of us, but think of it this way:  that number is “equivalent to the number of popcorn kernels needed to cover the United States to a depth of nine miles, or cupfuls of water in the Pacific Ocean, or soft drink cans that would, evenly stacked, cover the Earth to a depth of 200 miles.”  With amazing facts like that, who needs science “fiction”?  The truth is enough to engage even the most lazy of minds.   I have managed to turn science the enemy into science the friend.  And my life is richer for it.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The House

Welcome to the last in my series of blog posts on buildings that have been important to me in my life that are now gone.  Today’s building doesn’t quite fit that description.  It’s still here, but a shell of its former self, a reminder every time I see it that the adage is true - you can never really go home again.
It’s the brick house in Memphis where my sister Joy and I grew up.  Since Mama’s car wreck and subsequent broken hip and ankle, she moved in with Joy, and her house stands empty.  I mean really empty - a token bed and table and not much else.  Joy is working herself to the bone trying to get it ready to sell, but, as one can imagine, a house with over 50 years of history has a lot of fixing up to go through. Alas, with me in Maine, the burdensome task falls mostly to Joy, in addition to her full-time job, full-time family including two teenagers, full-time house and yard maintenance of her own, church work, and taking care of Mama.
So the house is in a state of limbo.  It is here, yet not here.  It is gone from our lives, yet not gone.  It is a standing reminder of what our lives used to be, and a vivid reminder of how things are not the same and never will be.

                                                                     Mama and Daddy on the front porch:

Joy and I were born into that house and lived there until we went off to college.  Other friends and relatives had moved at least once during their childhood, but not us.  In fact, we are the only family to have ever lived in that house to this very day.  The thought that maybe one day another person might live there fills me with hope and nausea simultaneously.  Hey, that’s our house!  Since we got married, Ed and I have lived in a townhouse,  a Memphis bungalow, parsonages in New Bethel, Ripley, Algood, and Murfreesboro, and then our Victorian in Ellsworth, Maine and now our little ranch.  We’ve had our share of moving around.  It’s kind of ironic that the first house I lived in was new, and the last house (I vow it’s the last!) is new.  The ones in between made us feel like temporary tenants, sharing the house with people past and present as it were, taking our place as residents for a few years, replacing those who came before, and after a while turning the keys over to the next families.  My childhood home is not like that.  We are its only family.  Joy and I are the only kids to have lived there.
Boy, did we live, though!  How does one do justice to recording memories of a happy childhood in a happy place?  They are endless.  Each room can be checked off as another piece of my life.  

Mom and Dad bought the little house new in the 1950s as Memphis was expanding with post WWII boom.  At the housewarming party with their friends, they delightedly announced that they were expecting me (after 12 years of marriage).  Joy's birth followed two years later.  During those first few years, Daddy’s mother lived with us.  Frail, elderly, diabetic, half blind, she lived in one of the two real bedrooms (the other was used as a bedroom for years out of necessity, but it was really supposed to be a little den).  Joy and I grew up with our old grandmother, Ma-Maw, staying in the dark room at the end of the hall.  I remember that every Sunday after church, we would eat out at the Jefferson Cafe, and Dad would always have to bring a lunch home to Ma-Maw.  By the time we were old enough to interact with her in any meaningful way, Ma-Maw was too far demented and sick, living in a dark room of her own.  I remember after she died, how surprised I was to see that the back room was a pleasant room when it was bathed in sunlight, revealing the light floral wallpaper.  I had never actually seen it before.
So Joy and I shared a bedroom all our growing-up years.  This meant sharing a closet, a small one.  We only had one bathroom in the house, too. It makes me feel old to say it, but most kids today don’t have any idea what it’s like to share limited space with the whole family.  It’s as unthinkable to them as realizing a world existed without the ability to talk on the phone while your riding in a car and the ability to see movies on demand on your TV and the ubiquitous presence of computers.  But share we did and it was the only way of life we knew.  Fortunately, Joy and I enjoyed each other’s company the great majority of the time.

Out of the 3 bedrooms, we lived in each one for a period of time, starting with the den above, then after Ma-Maw died, alternating bedrooms with our parents.  There we would hang our respective posters (hers of the Monkees or Bobby Sherman and mine of Abe Lincoln), go over our extensive lists on what to pack for the annual vacation trip, wake up to dimes under the pillow from the tooth fairy, lie in bed at night in the dark and recite the whole play of Oklahoma! aloud (our high school production), and listen to our transistor radios when we were supposed to be going to sleep.  In the summer, we slept with the windows open, and the attic fan would whoosh the cool night air in to help us survive those Memphis summers.  Open windows have their problems, though. For a long time we heard the couple next door arguing all night, as their windows were open as well, until one day the husband came home and the wife shot him dead while he was standing on the porch.  That was the end of the arguments.
Mama and Daddy’s bedroom was the place I would go when I had a nightmare in the middle of the night.  I walked in there and crawled into bed with them.  We’re talking double bed, not queen bed, of course.  It must have been awfully crowded in there.  But it helped me get back to sleep easily.  Their bedroom also held Mama’s old black Singer sewing machine.  Mama made a lot of our simple clothes when we were little and when we were old enough to learn to sew, we made our own on that old machine.  I remember when I took  Home Economics in high school, I was astonished at the relatively modern sewing machines we were using.   

                                                                                       Early on my parents' bed:

It was in the dining room that always shared a family dinner together.  The only exceptions were when Daddy had a meeting at church or somewhere and the three of us would eat something different like pot pies.  But most of the time, the four of us would sit down to delicious meals such as spaghetti, beans and cornbread, homemade beef vegetable soup, or, on other less exciting days, liver or salmon croquettes, always with a saucer of sliced white bread stacked for our starchy enjoyment.  There we gathered at Thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter with our grandfather and his friend, Mr. Gordon, and Great Aunt Bessie.  Somehow in the little room at the modest table, there was always room for another chair.   On Saturdays, after eating all week on a half-gallon carton of ice cream for our family of four, Daddy would cut open the carton until it was one flat piece of cardboard, set it on the table, everyone grabbed a spoon, and we would share the last few bites, scraping as we went.  After supper, the table would turn into a hobby table.  In the evenings when he could, Daddy would bring out his splicer and other home movie equipment and organize the most recent home movies.  Alternatively, he would bring out his beloved stamp collection and work on it.  Sometimes we would use it to do homework.  The house itself was so small, we were usually doing whatever we were doing in the company of at least one other person.  

                                                                     Early dining room picture (I'm in Mama's lap)

                                                                                    A holiday dinner:


                                                                        Mother and me in the dining room:

Do you know how you can vividly remember certain moments as if it were yesterday?  I remember standing at that table the day after Daddy died, staring at a lemon pie.  Friends had bought over casseroles and desserts and other food after they heard the tragic news, and at the time I had been giving up sugar for quite a while, and I remember in my raw grief staring at that lemon pie, thinking, well, I might as well have some, nothing much matters any more, certainly not mundane details of what I was eating or not eating.  We had had an emotional earthquake, and the priorities had shifted.
The den was a busy room for years.  After Ma-Maw died, Joy and I moved into that back bedroom and the den became a regular office type room, with Daddy’s desk, files full of reel-to-reel audio tapes and choir music, and our big old upright piano.  Joy and I both learned to play, because, as Mama said, she had always wanted to learn and never did, so we would fulfill her childhood dream.  So Joy and I spent hours at the piano separately and together.  We loved to sing duets, some pretty silly ones, some really nice ones, and invariably our black cat would saunter into the little room and jump up onto the keys and walk around while we were in the midst of our duets.  We never could figure out if he didn’t like our singing or just wanted to participate.  It was usually when we were trying to record ourselves, so on the recording, you’d hear the random keys being stepped on as we tried to continue singing in vain and we broke out into the inevitable uncontrollable laughter and the attempt to shoo the cat out and start over.  It was also in the den where Joy and I, church veterans to the end, had our own family Thanksgiving service for our parents, with bulletins, scripture reading, hymn singing, and the works.  We also used that room for our Tiffin Spy Agency meetings (so we could use the piano to accompany our TSA theme song).  That den had the window facing the porch that was usually unlocked, and I remember many times when we had locked ourselves out of the house, Joy or I would have to climb in that small window, over the desk, around to the living room to go unlock the front door.  

                                                                            Cousin Tim at our old piano in the den:

The living room, of course, is special if for no other reason that it was the favored room for visits from Santa and the Easter Bunny.  It was the also the room where Joy and I acted in our most famous comedic play, The Odd Couple.  It’s not the one by Neil Simon; it’s the one written by us, and it was a parody of Aunt Bessie and another relative, Aunt Maude.  We got in old-lady garb and had our parents sit down for an audience, as we acted our little hearts out.   The living room was also the location for Mama’s Bunco gathering, when a group of her high school female friends gathered, clucking like chickens, smoking like chimneys, eating mints and nuts, to play a game none of them really understood but which involved, from our perspective, a lot of noise, laughter, dice rolling, and bell ringing.  Whatever it was, Mama seemed to look forward to (and dread) her month to host the gathering.  Joy and I always had to help her clean the house, wax the wood floors, open up the card tables and chairs, and set out the mints and nuts.  Then, if we were lucky, Daddy would get us out of the house and take us to the library and maybe by the time we got back, they’d all be gone.  It was in the living room we watched shows like What’s My Line? and the CBS evening news with Walter Cronkite.  It was in there that we awaited with anticipation a visit from our aunt, uncle, and 3 boy cousins from Little Rock.  It was there that we set up the screen and projector to watch slides and home movies.  

                                                                                     Sisters on the couch:     

                                                                                     The 4 of us on the couch:

                                                                                                Santa came!

                                                                       On the couch with our amazing cousins:

Come to think of it, the couch was always the one constant in the living room.  In May 1980, Ed and I stopped by to visit because Daddy was feeling poorly.  He had had a couple of small heart attacks in the preceding years,  but he was a man who would always be there, robust, energetic man with a million things he wanted to do.  That day he was lying on the couch in the living room, pale, tired, and as I went over to give him a hug, he whispered, “Pray for me.”  (The next time I saw him, the following week, he was being wheeled past me on a gurney in the ER, and that was the last time I would see him alive.)
Our kitchen was the tiniest kitchen you ever did see, but still managed to hold a washing machine when my parents finally could afford to buy one.  Back then, we didn’t have a dishwasher or microwave or even a dryer.  I can remember, though, having to defrost the freezer.  (Gee, I am old!)  Unfortunately, I never learned to be a cook.  Fortunately, I married one.

                                                                                              Little helpers:  Me


We had an attic, unfloored except for a strip down the middle to walk on.  Daddy used to  pull down the stairs, climb up there and sit at the top, perusing old papers and files and things from his past.  I remember once being up there with him when he showed me a picture of a bearded man in some kind of magazine.  Being a kid, I wasn’t paying that much attention, but I thought he said that was the only picture he had of his father.  Recently, as Joy and I were cleaning out the attic, we desperately tried to find that magazine. I couldn’t remember the details - was it a Sunday school publication? Life magazine?  There were tons of magazines up there!  We finally found it - a trade magazine for the printing profession, and it was not a picture of his father, it was a picture of his grandfather, an esteemed printer.  What a find!
Outside was the second part of our own little world.  There on Mother's Day, we would go out and pick rosebuds to wear to church.  Mother wasn't really an avid gardener, but those rose bushes were her pride and joy.   (When Daddy died, we put 3 roses on his casket to represent the three of us left.)  The front porch was small but adequate enough for me as a child to build an intricate complex of cat hotels called Catland Caverns out of cardboard boxes.  I’m sure that increased the property values in the neighborhood, LOL!  Our parents let us do pretty much whatever creative activity we fancied.  We chalked up the sidewalks in front, made a tent on the clothesline out back, bounced balls off the roof, set up a “club house” by the garage, played badminton in the front yard, and in general made nuisances of ourselves but hey, that’s what kids do.  I guess we redeemed ourselves by helping in the yard work.  During the summer, we would all get out there and pull weeds,  edge, mow, trim hedges, sweep, and make our yard look presentable.  When painting time came for the house, inside and out, we helped with that too.
                                                                          Daddy, Joy and me on the front porch

                                                                                On the back porch with a neighbor:

                                                                                           In the front yard:

                                                                                          In the back yard:

As we grew, still pictures gave way to home movies, but the memories are as clear as ever.  Well, all that was long ago, ages ago.  As with my church Harris Memorial, those scenes exist only in our heads and hearts now.  I feel good to have gotten some of the down on virtual paper here, for we are the last of the Tiffins to live in that house.  I know it's just a bunch of bricks and mortar and a yard and some trees, and I know the building is not the home, any more than the church building was the church.  But still it is all so intertwined.  I have no idea what the future is for what was once my precious home.  I know that this month I will fly down there to do what little I can to help my sister get it ready to sell.  It just breaks my heart.
Farewell, my Memphis home.  Thanks for the memories. 

Friday, May 06, 2011

Ushering in some culture

Third in a series of posts about special buildings in my life that are no more:

As Joy and I were growing up, we had fairly normal lives - maybe spent more time at church than the average kid - but on the whole, for those of our financial status and environment, we were like everybody else.  That changed the minute we became ushers.

Memphis had a grand auditorium, Ellis Auditorium, a downtown facility which hosted countless shows, visiting artists, everything from opera to Bobby Sherman, plays and symphonies.  Our school chorus teacher, Miss Gillespie, had a good friend named Rosemary Hammond (who, it turns out, was a family friend of our parents as well), and Rosemary was in charge of staffing a volunteer usher group of junior high/high school students to make sure all those audience members could find their seats.  So that's how it started.  Yes, the job was strictly volunteer, but the benefits - ah, that's what made us the culturally rich women we are today!  After standing and walking non-stop for an hour or so, taking tickets and trudging up and down stairs, gently urging folks to move to the correct seat in some cases, we ushers got our rewards - we found some empty seats, or in the case of a sold-out performance, stood somewhere, and got to see all the shows for free.

Of course, we were dependent on our dad to drive us there and pick us up.  Many times he had to get up early the next morning and go to work as a bank teller; nevertheless, at midnight he could be seen driving downtown, parking, riding the escalator up to the second floor, and gathering his two girls for the ride home.  Occasionally he was early enough to catch a little of the show's ending himself, which he relished.  Years later, I asked him what on earth led him to sacrifice so much of his time and sleep to make sure we could see those shows.  He replied that, being financially unable to buy us tickets for such performances himself, he wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to widen our cultural horizons and would do anything to see that dream realized.  What a dad!

So there we were, living the lives of the "theater."  Note:  The plays and musicals were for the most part tours from Broadway - real Broadway casts and real Broadway stars.  Here are some programs - just a small sample - of some of the shows we attended.  (Excuse the tape and other signs of age - these are old pieces of paper that I unfortunately stuck in those self-adherence scrapbooks that I can never remove!)

(That couple above: Robert Preston and Mary Martin - the only actors in the whole musical - to this day I can sing almost every song from memory.)
(Backstage, I spoke to Duke in French, and he wrote me a charmingly complimentary few sentences in French in my autograph book)

As a budding pianist, I got to see the incredible Van Cliburn and he even autographed my copy of Moonlight Sonata (which has sadly disappeared in the ensuing years), but I remember gushing around his tall frame with a bunch of other piano students backstage and saying to him, "Do you realize you are 1/2 inch taller than Abraham Lincoln?" (He didn't.)
I was never into dance, but I knew ballet superstars when I saw them, and so was enchanted with the incomparable Nureyev and Fonteyn:
Elvis even made an appearance - not as a performer, but as a participant in the Jaycees Prayer breakfast, which was held in the Auditorium (I believe he was winning an award).

The Metropolitan Opera came to town every year, and that was one of the highlights of the well-to-do and society leaders in Memphis.  I remember the first time I ushered for the Met.  Rosemary had asked the usherettes to wear "tea length dresses," something I, of course, did not own and had to borrow from a  teenager at church.  The whole thing was very formal, and very exciting.  My dad took home movies of my friend Audrey and me all gussied up on our way to usher for the Met performance.

Here is a program from the Orchestra of Paris concert.  I had found an empty seat directly beside a member of that symphony (I can't remember why he was in the audience at the time).  He autographed my program and taught me the word "ouvreuse" was the French word for "usherette."

The shows and concerts were endless - many more than I could talk about here.  The Memphis Symphony had monthly concerts, and often had a guest soloist - one time it was Pablo Casals, the great cellist.  I was interested in pianists, but cellists?  Not so much. My dad made me usher and stay for that one - he said I would always regret the opportunity to hear Pablo Casals in person.  Funny, but to this day, I am proud to say I did indeed see Mr. Casals in person, the cello intrigues me and I would love to learn how to play one.

Some of the shows, like "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," Joy and I watched so many performances that we knew all the lines by heart ourselves.  It was always fun to see the various audiences and their different reactions to the same lines.

Of course, I wasn't always in the audience.  I was in the chorus of the operas Aida and Faust:
I vividly remember the opening night of Aida.  We had to look like Egyptians, so they had this horrible dark mud-like pancake makeup they were going to smear all over our faces.  Now, I have always had an aversion to caked mud and dirt anywhere on my body.  It just makes me want to scream.  I remember going into the makeup room, where the makeup attendant got a big handful of gross mud-like putty and as it came near my face, I had the fleeting thought of "It's not too late; I can just walk out of here and be done with it."  But I flinched and allowed it to be smeared on.  So yucky!  But it was a lot of fun to be on stage for a change.  My second opera was Faust, I was a year older, and I absolutely adored the music, so I had a ball.  Who wouldn't want to be dressed as a peasant, sitting around a table with a tankard of "beer" in your hand, lustily singing lyrics like, if I remember correctly:  "Wine or beer, beer or wine, for we drink any kind...when the wine glass goes around, we can always be found...only water we disdain, drinking keeps us sound and sane!"?

Then finally:
My high school graduation was held in the Auditorium.

Joy and I got to haunt the halls of the Auditorium back in the days before security was a big issue.  The security guards actually got used to seeing us; rarely were we forbidden from entering an area or questioned.  (Even so, we tried to avoid calling attention to ourselves just in case.) I spent countless performances just sitting backstage, right in the wings, drinking in the excitement of seeing the performances.  I was so close I could have walked on stage before anyone could have stopped me.  I was very quiet and unobtrusive, but it was never anything like it would be today.  I can't believe we got away with it so many times like we did.

Alas, all those memories were left without a tangible presence, as in 1997 Ellis Auditorium underwent demolition.  When I think of all the music, laughter, and excitement that filled that building for years and years, I tear up.  But I also smile a little, remembering Daddy's great wish to give us something he could never have afforded to give us - an appreciation of music, drama, and culture that is with us to this day.  I laud the greats like Van Cliburn, Duke Ellington, Pablo Casals and the rest - but the real hero was our dad, every sacrificing, ever dreaming, ever trying to give his little girls two wonder-filled magical lives.

RIP, Ellis Auditorium, Memphis.