Monday, September 7, 2009

Ernie Harwell

God bless you, Ernie Harwell.

When the news broke about your tumor last week, I was startled to learn that you were already 91 years old! In my heart you will be an eternal 41.

My mother and I remember easy summer afternoons and evenings listening to your play-by-play broadcast of Detroit Tiger baseball games as we grilled hot dogs, or curled up on the couch with a good book, or played cards with the neighbors. In those days nobody had central air conditioning; so our set, which was placed on the refrigerator in the kitchen, would radiate the transmission throughout the house as well as through screened windows and doors out into the yard, often overlapping with other family radios up and down the block, providing blanket community coverage of the game.

You and George Kell were a match made in heaven. Kismet. Trading real-time updates with background stories and baseball history with the facility of seasoned cowpokes riding easy in the saddle. No histronics - ever. Never indulging in the "coulda-woulda-shoulda" condescending tirade we so often hear today. Offering the courtesy of blessed silence from time to time, if there was really nothing special to talk about.

But your voice...your voice painted vividly accurate pictures of each contest with such depth and brilliance, wrapping its suede glove quality securely around each pronouncement, that we could almost feel seated at the stadium with a mustard-slathered "yummy-yummy red hot" in hand.

You respected the sport, the players, and your listeners. We loved you, and still do. The sport misses you.

Well done!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Directing The Philadelphia Story to be "Yare"

This has been an exceptional year. October 17, 2008 began a series of extraordinary challenges, opportunities and blessings that will (should) culminate on October 18, 2009 when "The Philadelphia Story" closes at Peninsula Community Theatre.

On the day of Oct. 17 I was awakened by the alarm company advising that there was a fire detected at my place of work. I rushed there in the wee hours (without makeup or business clothing) to address the myriad of complications that naturally follow, including the inevitable ambulance-chasing news services trying to make a titillating story out of an episode that probably stemmed from a schizophrenic homeless person. Anticipating this, I sent home for a suit and barely cleaned up before the cameras hit the door.

That night I was greeted at the door by my eldest daughter who announced that she and her boyfriend wished to be married in February, which we had expected - but not so soon; and, that there would be a baby around Memorial Day. Wow! Nothing like hitting your parents with startling news while they are comatose!

Of course, the holidays gleefully ensued with dinner all around at my house, with overlapping preparations for the wedding and a guest list of 160+. I strongly advise short engagements, as they surely keep the complications at a minimum. We enjoyed wonderful wedding festivities celebrated amid unseasonably warm February weather. Our Michigan and New York relatives thought they were in heaven! We merely offered prayers of thanksgiving.

Heretofore (before wedding and birth announcements) I had agreed to play the role of Louise in "Always...Patsy Cline" at Peninsula Community Theatre and to simultaneously direct "Leading Ladies" at Poquoson Island Players. Clever rehearsal schedules were coordinated to accommodate the needs of both shows and my travel from the south side. I rehearsed "Ladies" on Sunday afternoons, as well as Tuesday and Thursday evenings, while rehearsing "Patsy" on Sunday, Monday and Wednesday evenings. Both shows came together and were great fun - albeit I exhibited some signs of stress, unusual for me, taking the form of prismatic vision.

Not being one to lower the bar when things get challenging, I had also agreed to host a regional (Mid-Atlantic States) professional organization conference in my home town on a weekend during that time. Thanks be to God that I had a committee of capable, cheerful colleagues who had been working over the course of the previous year to pull it off. My only concession to the load on that weekend was to blow off classes on Saturday afternoon in favor of a nice, cool nap in the hotel room.

Backtracking to my daughter's wedding: one of the highlights of that day was the gleaming diamond on the finger of her cousin, who had just become engaged. She subsequently asked that I direct her wedding, which followed the weekend after "Leading Ladies" closed. It was fun, and I'd do it again, but I don't think I was ever as tired as when I finally collapsed into my chair that evening, barely being able to rouse myself enough to brush teeth and remove myself to a proper bed.

Oh yes - my son graduated university in the middle of that mind-bending May!

Short break. VERY short break....while we took our daughter, son-in-law and new baby-love granddaughter to Michigan to celebrate my mom's 80th birthday...

Then, I held auditions for "The Philadelphia Story" last weekend. I was surprised and amazed by the number of very accomplished actors who showed up, many from the south side. This American comedy classic is still admired for its grace, erudition, and character development. On the second night, I was convinced that I could cast almost the entire play having to make some very difficult choices. In fact, I had two actresses who were switching the roles of Liz and Tracy and clearly could play either. It was like watching dueling actresses, and would have been worth a few bucks admission to watch that alone.

There was only one character I could not immediately cast, so I sent invitations to the prime, suitable actors I knew. I was finally able to settle on someone I feel will enhance the cast list and hold his own amid the other characters on stage. If his schedule will permit (and we find out today), I may have an opportunity to guide an exceptional ensemble to some unusually scintillating performances.

At the read through last night I likened my job to that of a team coach such as Jim Leyland (of the Detroit Tigers). It might be more apt, however, to use the analogy of a ship's captain, or one sailing a magnificently crafted vessel. One must hire the best crew available, train them well, adapt to changing weather and sea conditions, then sail, full speed ahead, into every glorious possibility encountered during the experience. We must be flexible and adaptable, sensitive to the nuances and expertise of each. We must be "yare" for each other.

I've been learning a lot about being "yare" this year. Full speed ahead!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

My granddaughter slept on me this afternoon. I was honored.

After visiting around the lunch table at great grandma's house and filling her belly at her mama's breast, I took her. Can't get enough of that sweet, soft, 12 lb. sack of baby love. She fits perfectly into the crook of my arm, and is just beginning to hang on.

We walked around the room while the others talked. She surveyed her realm while filing away millions of details for future reference. Her knowledge of physics is only just developing. For some reason the magnets on Meme's refrigerator elicit excited alien conversation on her part and I can feel her struggling to work out how to reach out and touch them. No success yet. They're safe - for now.

After making a complete circuit, I begin gently rocking to and fro as she adjusts her position. It's a primal rocking motion that all mothers everywhere learn. It's like riding a bicycle. Once learned, always useful. As the undercurrent of recipes, bridal showers and work plans continue, her body slowly relaxes into mine. A quick eye contact check with her mom confirms that her eyes have drooped to half-mast, and are now completely closed. Those 12 pounds now feel like 15. I've still got the mojo! I can still put a baby to sleep with the best of them!

I settle into a chair at the end of the table, having propped a pillow in my lap on which to rest my arms and her bum, and I lean back a little so she can lie at a 45 degree angle from shoulder to waist.

For the next two hours I occasionally kiss her head and deftly cede to her adjustments as she shifts, lolls, stretches, grunts and sleeps. I send, via ESP, messages of promise. "I have plans for us", I say. "One day, when you're a big girl, we're going to go to the park, and children's theatre, and bake cookies, and hunt for bugs, and read books, and share all kinds of adventures!" But for now, a huggy-nap is enough, and a huge blessing for both of us.

I know that my own children felt exactly like this. I know that they passed through this sweet stage. But I was so busy learning how to be a mother and recovering from childbirth that I fought a constant battle to enjoy their infancy amid daunting stresses, and I don't remember clearly. The demands of my larger world and a constant, severe need for sleep fiercely competed with my ability to truly savor this serenity.

The best part of being a grandparent is that we get a second chance to embrace and even treasure each moment of grand-childhood that we are given. I already see her life in fast-forward images. I know that the next time she's brought through the door she will be larger, more savy, accomplished a milestone, and never again that 12-pound lump that nestled with me this afternoon. One day, she won't want to sit in anyone's lap anymore.

So today, I am privileged and honored and blessed to have Miss Celie take a two hour nap on me. Now that's quality time!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

"Socialist" Health Care?

"I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are not like your Christ." -Mohandas Gandhi

I find the extreme rhetoric regarding health care reform deeply disturbing. As a nation, we have learned nothing. Our republic has operated under a socialist system since taxes were first levied. No one turns down Social Security or fails to sign up for Medicare. Public libraries are still valued, and road maintenance is considered an absolute necessity. Yes, we unquestioningly redistribute wealth every day; yet, the far right uses words like "socialist" as epithets rather than offer reasonable solutions to real problems.

An old friend recently commented on an article I shared about Canadian health care saying, "Remember Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged? This is nothing more than pure socialism!" He went on to remind me that there was no health insurance prior to WWII. I know this person makes use of a very generous health care plan offered through his employer. I know that he enjoys the public benefits that we share through redistributed taxes. Did he think about what he was saying? Does he know most people prior to WWII faced and often died from dread diseases such as polio, typhoid, diphtheria, measles, and many others? Does he remember that life expectancy was much shorter for both men and women? Does this father of several children shepherded through careful obstetric screenings and infant care understand that infant and maternal mortality was a scary reality?

I wish my friend would calm down and look at the facts, then consider what we can do to bridge a considerable gap that has developed in health care over the last 20 years.

First of all, when his children are grown and perhaps even graduate college, they may find it very hard to find jobs with employers that even offer health care as a benefit. Many employers now only hire part-time or contract workers so they don't incur that expense. For young people paying off student loans, the extra cost of private insurance or even riders is staggering.

The working poor, likewise, are not the lazy good-for-nothings that many would make them out to be. They are conscientious folks who cannot find employment in a job that offers even modest or shared-expense health care. As with the younger generation mentioned above, the extra dollars demanded for such insurance is often simply unaffordable. They must choose between food, heat, shelter or health insurance. The elderly already clearly understand this.

I know and have known many without such coverage. They are good, honest citizens who work hard and stay out of trouble. I knew one woman, in particular, who died in my presence of a massive heart attack because her medicine cost so much. She chose to risk going without.

There are excesses that can be rooted out and controlled that will go a long way toward ensuring modest care for all citizens of the U.S. Tort reform is a big step toward solving this problem. Lawyers will not like it, and are actively lobbying against it, but doctors need to be able to practice medicine non-defensively. Their liability insurance contributes to high costs, as well as the myriad of unnecessary, very expensive tests they order just to be safe (such as multiple prenatal Ultrasounds). Currently my husband and I have THREE policies, because he had one at his place of work, I have one at my place of work (because they wouldn't allow me into the retirement plan without it - "to keep their numbers up") and now Medicare. This is silly. I should have been able to opt-out of my plan at the very beginning as long as I could demonstrate having adequate coverage. I would love to "give" one of our plans to a hard-working young person who really needs it.

A society is only as great as its treatment of the least among them. Our society contains a large faction that is simply mean, selfish, and blind to realities.

Of course, we could just let everyone who can't afford insurance die in the streets. But, somebody would have to pay for the mess - through taxes?