Hello from my porch,
When I was 14, I had an opportunity to be a member of the Sioux City Children’s Community Theatre. We were part of a larger group of theatre folks that included adults, but we were also independent. Be that whatever it was, we were a rather motley, mismatched, but open minded collection of early teen and thespian hopefuls. In the above picture, I am the little one in the glasses, and the person I am restraining as the undersized policeman was my best friend growing up, Peter Goede. Peter was my best friend for the remainder of his life. Under the watchful eye of our patient director, Mary Hart and her able assistant, Donna Nyreen, we presented plays at the Sioux City Community Theater. There was generally a summer play and soon after, the Christmas Carol was added as a holiday offering each winter. What made us an unlikely group was we did not grow up in the same neighborhoods. More significantly, even then neighborhoods, or sections of our town somewhat stayed to themselves. Yet, the community theatre was in my part of town (by a large city park that had once been the home to quite an amusement park) I and many of us were from Riverside, which was considered a more blue-collar section of our town of 100,000 people. That is what made the location of the theatre somewhat surprising. Some were from the Northside, which I believed were much more affluent families than I was used to, and some were from Morningside, which was the largest section of our Northwest Iowa town. What I realize now is our mentors created something quite special. It was unique because we did not really think of ourselves as more our less than the other, regardless their address. We merely practiced together; we worked diligently together; and we became quite a group of friends. In some ways we were the drama version of Glee, generations before anyone would hear of Glee. As we worked together we created flats, built sets, painted, and learned lines, stage directions, blocking. In fact, we even worked with our own makeup to some extent.
Perhaps the most incredible thing that happened to this undersized, somewhat shy, but generally happy boy was the chance meeting of so many wonderfully talented others. However, as 14 year old petrified of girls, of course, I would also meet a girl, one who was not only in the theater group, but also in Sioux City Children’s Choir too. This was the other city-wide thing in which I was involved. She was younger than I, but also taller as well as the most beautiful and kind-hearted person I could hope to meet. She possessed beautiful eyes, a mesmerizing smile, beautiful, long, wavy hair, and an incredible tan. She was perfect in my 14 year old eyes, and more importantly, she actually spoke to me. I was head over heels with this girl. However, there was one difficulty I would come to find out. She was a Catholic girl, and my older brother, five years my senior, was told no dating Catholic girls. Therefore, I assumed the same would go for me. Yet, as I was only 14, and not supposed to have a girlfriend anyway I believed, and quite accurately I might add, that I could fly below my mother’s ever present radar. If I was in a group with her, my mother would know or expect nothing. Seemed like a good way to move forward. During that next year, I was fortunate to have the group of theater friends, and somehow we convinced my mother to take us to play dates to the northern end of Nebraska Street where there was a concentrated geographic group of these amazing thespian wannabees. Those play dates created an even larger group. Maintaining our group events, attending cast parties after final performances, and painting of our play blocks on the wall of the theater along the adult plays made us all feel quite important. Yet, as I grew more enamored with my fellow actress, the reality of life would come and hit us in the face. She and her brother, also part of the group (and someone my sister made a good friend of), informed us that their father was being transferred in his job and they would be moving. To say my life came crashing down would be a profound understatement. That summer there would be a couple of going away parties and during one, she and I sat in the yard talking. We knew we liked each other, but were each shy in our own ways. I think I finally found enough courage to even hold her hand. We chatted about how we would manage to stay in touch from the impending distance of almost 200 miles. One must remember long distance calls were expensive and I would have to figure out how to mail things (stamps and all) without my mother knowing. If I were to write a girl, I knew there would be questions; and if my mother figured out the Catholic element I’m sure I would be in trouble. And yet as we spoke, I knew unabashedly, I was willing to do anything necessary to maintain contact with this incredibly angelic person who had captured my heart. Then it happened! She gave me a kiss on my cheek. I remember my ears (which I was still growing into) getting flushed and, naturally, as soon as she kissed me she got up and left. Heaven had just landed in the yard where I was sitting. She has kissed me. Oh my goodness! Had I imagined it? No; it had really happened. I don’t think my feet touched the ground the rest of that night. How could I be so fortunate to have the most wonderfully kind girl, the girl I actually liked, kiss my cheek?
I was frightened of girls and the only other girl who ever kissed me was my cousin, Janet, and they had to hold me down for that to happen. I think I was probably 11. I think we got to spend one more time together, after the life-changing kiss event before they moved. And there were letters and phone calls after the move, but distance and life would make connections more distant. At one point, while serving as a manager for the JV and Varsity basketball team, a couple of us figured out (this is way back in the time when phone booths had the 25, 10, and 5 cent slots) how to make phone calls for pennies rather than the actual cost. Someone figured out if you put put a flattened, drinking-straw down the quarter slot and put pennies down the nickel slot the phone was tricked into registering that quarters were deposited into the phone. Wow!! I found a way to make long distance phone calls to my favorite girl for pennies on the dollar. Of course, we were not smart enough to realize that collecting a bunch of pennies out of a phone that did not use pennies would raise some suspicion. I am not really sure how long we scammed Ma Bell, but, of course, a number of calls to central Iowa and the same number was not hard to trace. Eventually I had to fess up and needless to say the number of phone calls decreased significantly. I do not remember having to pay for the calls, but I do know my parents were not impressed with my ingenuity. Letters did continue, but changes in both lives ended with our losing touch. There was one time shortly after graduation when I visited her brother and then there was a phone call about a decade ago. And yet the very hearing of the name, whether it was about her or just another person with the name, would bring back the memory of my first crush and how she made my heart so happy.
How do you put a half of century into perspective? That is a tall order, even if one’s life is your sort of basic “I-grew-up; went-to-college; got-a-job-and-got-married; had-a-family-and-worked-a-job.” Then there is the reality: I did not follow any of that. As I have written in some recent blogs, I really had no grand plan for my life. I am not sure I can even say I do now. What I know is I have been afforded opportunities, and many times, they have been unexpected. Many times I think they have simply been gifts waiting to be unwrapped. It is somewhat analogous to how I used to speak to parishioners about baptism. I remember comparing baptism to the same sort of incredible present that can only be understood when we are willing to unwrap it. It seems unwrapping, however, takes courage. It requires us to willingly take a chance, but most times that chance is frightening. Fear comes from our own life experiences and the cumulative effect of those times when we have failed or been hurt. There is the reality of how changes are more profound to us when we age. Perhaps the older we are, the more fragile we are. I am reminded of the song from the musical, Rent, when Mimi says to Roger, “I am looking for baggage that goes with mine.” I have noted in conversations with more than one person as of late, I feel like all the aspects of my life have finally caught up with each other. It is a nice feeling. It is also a bit strange, but it has been hard work getting here. Life is a journey of unexpected events. Too many times just when I think I have a plan, something occurs that makes the plan either no longer possible, obsolete, or altered in some significant way. There was the plan of the fall sabbatical in Poland; there was the expectation that I had a tenant for another year. Both have changed. There was an expectation that Anton would be leaving tomorrow; instead, he has been gone since April 1st. There was an expectation that I might be in Cape Charles around this time, but I do not expect that will happen anytime soon either. Changes happen regularly, although unanticipated, unforeseen. I think one of the things I have learned to do, not always willingly, is roll with whatever happens. Perhaps it was my father’s admonishment to never place expectations on things or people. That has been a difficult lesson more than once in my life and recently, it was revealed yet again.
My signature in some of my emails also is a line from Rent. It is the line that most resonates with me: “there is no day, but today.” I can only manage the 24 hour block I am in and sometimes not even that. I am so grateful for the fortuitous and wonderful conversations that have occurred, for the pictures from another time, for the questions and honesty. I cannot control anything, but I can trust in my soul that what I believe is worth believing. The other song from Rent that tears deep inside of me is the song “Will I?” While I have been gifted beyond anything I could have imagined, there are no guarantees. I know this well, and I have struggled with events over which I have no control. I am in charge of so little. Myself, and even that is not always within my capability. At this point, grading is finishing up; Polish needs to begin once again. Writing projects and trying to wrap my head around a new university process will keep me busy. And yet, my heart is happy. For that I can only say thank you. Imagine 50 years? Perhaps I will; perhaps something miraculous can happen. I believe in the hope and goodness of what honesty can do.
Thanks as always for reading.