Dateline: Seattle, Washington –
I didn’t write anything last night as I just wasn’t in the mood so I figure I better write something today to keep all of my readers (the numbers of whom are close to double digits) coming back for more. For those of you who are newer to my life and my ‘long posts’, I began these by accident during Tommy‘s sudden illness and even more sudden death a year and a half ago and they’ve become a way for me to process that, the unresolved stuff over the death of Steve, my first husband back in 2001, and I keep hearing from friends that my musings have been helpful as they deal with issues in their own lives as much of what I write about is the human condition. I have collected all of these pieces up in blog format at http://lifetheuniverseandeverything.blog for those who wish to delve into the backstory or who wish to see where life’s wanderings have taken me as I put myself back together.
Yesterday, I borrowed my young cousin Jake, who is a sophomore in high school and a budding musical theater kid in order to run lines for Dear Brutus. The first and third acts are pretty solid and the second act is getting there, but with a few odd patchy holes. By the time it opens in two weeks, I should be able to declaim it without looking like the proverbial deer in the headlights. Jake just finished up playing Rapunzel’s Prince in Into the Woods at his high school, a show of which I am very fond, and the first show that I actually saw on Broadway back in 1987. Bob Kummer was living there at the time, got the tickets and we went together. It was about two weeks into the run so it was the original cast at their peak. It’s also the only Sondheim show I’ve ever performed in – having played the narrator back in 2008. I have dreams of someday doing Fredrik in A Little Night Music or the Judge in Sweeney Todd. I’m smart enough to know that I will never be able to sing Sweeney himself.
After that, I met my old friend Lauren Marshall for lunch and a walk around Greenlake together with Orsino, her dog. Now that Lauren’s children are older, she’s getting back into her theater life as a writer and hopes to return to directing soon. We’ve been friends for nearly forty years, have collaborated on all sorts of thing and we always critique each others theatrical writing to keep each other honest. I hadn’t walked around Greenlake for a while. It’s a small glacial lake in the middle of the northern part of the city with a park and paved walking trail of roughly three miles all the way around. It’s a nice walk and, while making the circuit, I was reminded of other times – as a child with my parents with stale bread to feed the ducks and the geese – as a tween doing walkathons to raise money for the 7th and 8th grade band trips to the band festival in Abbotsford, BC. (That usually involved five times around and sore legs after). In med school with friends deep in conversation about those things 20 somethings are wrestling with – relationships, politics, career trajectories.
Later in the day, after another visit to mom, who was much more awake and alert and interactive (her favored activity being grabbing hands and pulling towards her and then pushing away), I went over to my sister’s to chat while she made pies for Thanksgiving dinner. My niece Isabel and my cousin Jenny also turned up so we had a family gabfest over tea for a few hours.
Today is Thanksgiving. What am I thankful for? A friend made a comment a couple of days ago that he wished he had had my upbringing. I never thought a lot about my childhood/adolescent experiences as being anything out of the normal, but in hindsight, they were anything but. My mother, was the daughter of a British colonial emigre surgeon and a lowland Scot pediatrician. They came to the US to escape the indolent colonial lifestyle of the 30s, settling in San Francisco where my grandfather’s erudition, charm, and innate ability for self invention took him to the upper reaches of University of California leadership. My mother, being the quietly rebellious sort, turned her back on San Francisco society and the patrician future her father had planned for her and married my father, the son of a small town dentist who had also turned his back on his family and upbringing to make something of himself, becoming the first person in the US to earn a bachelor’s degree in Oceanography.
When I came along, my parents were in New Haven where my father had a position at Yale so I was basically born into Mad Men. The Drapers could easily have been the down the street neighbors. My mother, in particular, hated that society and its mores with her west coast upbringing and, by the time I was two, we had resettled in Seattle which was the area my father had come from. My father became faculty in Oceanography at the University of Washington. My mother took time off until her children were all in school and then went back to teaching various sciences at Seattle Central Community College.
Their low budget academic salaries combined with their love for sciences and the outdoors led to a childhood of hiking, camping, nature walks, and informal education in the natural world, both terrestrial and marine. The family car had a large box of reference books in the back and we would look up the plants, the rocks, the fungi, the birds, and the animals we came into contact with. I suppose this is where I get my sense of systems and interconnectedness that’s always been part of my life which explains why I like working in teams, whether medical or theatrical.
My parents were well aware of the value of both education and of understanding that different people live differently and there are no rights or wrongs in some choices. I was in public school through 8th grade, including being bussed to a majority African American school for 6th. For high school, my parents evaluated each of us for our strengths and needs and all three of us went to different private high schools which were the right fit for each of us. Mine was The Lakeside School, more or less a transplant East Coast prep school, complete with brick, white paint, cupolas and maple trees, where I was pushed. I didn’t figure out how good my high school education was until I got myself into Stanford (not my parents choice, but mine) and realized that as a freshman there, I was using the same texts I had used as a freshman in high school.
So there you have it; some European upper class sophistication, some small town values, some reverence for the natural world, some close knit and supportive nuclear family, some world class educational opportunities. How did I get to be so lucky? And that’s what I’m thankful for today.