Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Last Show

My husband Bob and I first enrolled our daughter in day camp at the tender age of six. While we were thrilled with the prospect of our offspring learning to swim, play softball, and create arts and crafts projects for display in my office, Melissa did not share our enthusiasm.

My cherub would have preferred to spend July and August taking advantage of one of the most important inventions of modern times (air conditioning). However, we had no choice. Bob and I both held full-time jobs, and full-time sitters were hard to find.

So my daughter suffered for seven long summers before we finally lamented. As a middle school student, she had matured far beyond the age where we could force her to board the bus for camp. Yet passing the time between seventh grade's end and the start of eighth by staring at the TV was simply not an option.

Enter an unlikely advocate in our quest for a more meaningful summer....Melissa's history teacher. When not spending his time educating apathetic adolescents about ancient Egypt, Mr. "D". served as Director of a summer drama camp production of The Music Man....and Melissa's friends couldn't wait to audition!

My daughter's excitement evoked memories of my senior year in high school when I joined the ensemble cast (despite my lack of ability to sing or dance) of an obscure musical called "The Boyfriend".  The experience earned its place among the best of my teenage years, and I couldn't wait for Melissa to capture that feeling.

I became a member of a diligent group of "Drama Mamas" who supported the show by selling ads in the program book, constructing the set, and staffing the refreshment table during intermission.

Forced to dress in early 19th century garb and placed unceremoniously in the back behind dozens of more experienced actors for every ensemble scene, Melissa nevertheless embraced the adventure and couldn't wait for more!

Bob and me with our "Maid" Melissa
During 8th grade she earned the title of "Maid" in her middle school production of Annie, and as a high school freshman, she rocked out as part of the cast of Footloose. 

But the pinnacle came during her sophomore year when her school took on the ambitious task of performing the classic broadway musical, Les Miserable.

When Melissa shared this exciting news, I admit to feeling a small amount of skepticism. How could a group of teens pull off such a powerful, professional musical where the entire story is told through song?

At the end of the day, the director of Les Mis cast her as a girlfriend of one of the students. It gave her the chance to showcase her beautiful voice as part of a group of young ladies singing a sorrowful melody about the sensesless loss of life of the young, idealistic students turned soldiers.

Aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins came
to see Melissa in Les Mis
All told, Les Mis broke records for the high school's show. Each of the six sold out performances found the cast bowing to thunderous applause by an audience on their feet in awe and admiration.

In her junior year,  Melissa joined the ensemble cast of Oklahoma, another chance to share the stage with the castmates and crew who had become the closest of friends.

Fast forward to February 27, 2016 when the curtain closed on the school's final performance of the fun-filled, whimsical Disney classic, Peter Pan.

It was the last show.

Melissa's last school show.

The last school show for all of the seniors who traded in countless carefree evenings and weekends in favor of long, tedious rehearsals. The last school show for the seniors who juggled homework and tests and lack of sleep while giving 100 percent to their passion for performing.

The last school show for the seniors who have evolved into incredibly talented actors and actresses in their own right, many of whom will go on to study musical theater in college.

The last school show for the moms and dad who spent countless frigid evenings waiting in their cars for their kids to emerge from late rehearsals.

The last school shows for the moms and dads who helped their kids learn their lines and practice their songs.

The last school show for the moms and dads who sold candy, built sets, and bought tons of tickets for relatives far and wide.

The last school show for the moms and dads who came to every performance, who watched with delight and wonder for that shining moment when their child took the stage - no matter how large or small the part.

The last school show for the moms and dad who supported, invested, and loved the experience with a passion that riveled that of their kids.

Next year at this time I am sure that Melissa will come home from American University in Washington, DC where she'll be studying communications and public relations. I'm sure she'll want to see the school show, and there's a chance I might go see it too.

But it won't be the same.

It will never be the same.

For the show has ended...and it's time to move on.

The seniors of Shawnee High School's production of Peter Pan.
Melissa, who played a Lost Boy, is in the first row, far right, wearing the white baseball hat.

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Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Slide Show on Plaza Place

I cried when I heard the news.

My beloved grandparents were moving to Atlantic City.

Sure, it was only a 90 minute drive from our home in the northeast section of Philadelphia, but to a 10-year old girl, Atlantic City might as well have been on the opposite coast.

"We'll never get to see you!" I wailed, not realizing how very, very wrong I would be.

My grandparents' cozy, one-bedroom apartment on the 12th floor of a beach-front high rise became host to my family more often than I could ever have imagined.  The building, called Plaza Place, was so named not because it boasted rich and famous tenants, but because it was built on a street of the same name.

We certainly visited during the colder months, but it was those summer days...those warm sweet summer days, that captured our fancy.

My older sister Bev and I spent our adolescent Plaza Place days flirting with the cute teenage lifeguards at the pool or helping our little brother Steven build sandcastles on the beach. Evenings in 1970's pre-casino Atlantic City brought everyone to the boardwalk, the place for parents to see and be seen while their kids played skeeball at dozens of arcades or rode the coaster at the now defunct Million Dollar Pier.

But the best part of a trip to my grandparents' apartment?

The slide show!

After one of my grandmother's delicious dinners, the family would relax for a bit before heading to the boardwalk. That's when Bev and I begged my grandfather to bring out the slide projector.

He pretended to object at first, but Bev and I knew we would always get our way. He'd set up the screen, pull out the projector, place the slide deck on top, all the while hiding the twinkle in his eyes.

Instead of developing his film into the more traditional photo album-ready prints, my grandfather chose to have his pictures made into thousands of slides, and ninety percent of them contained what I considered to be incredibly boring images of vacation destinations from exotic locales across the globe.

However, my grandfather took delight in "secretly" placing family photos at the end of each vacation slide deck. That meant we were forced to politely sit through what felt like 3,794 images of Russia or Spain or Portugal or Egypt. We waited in anticipation, listening to that distinctive "kachunk" sound the projector made when my grandfather pressed the button to advance to the next slide. We never knew which images would appear on the screen. Pictures of Bev and me holding our infant baby brother, pictures of us frolicking in the ocean, pictures of birthday parties, dance recitals, holiday dinners...he had them all. Precious memories placed strategically at the end of each deck.

Today those memories are stacked unceremoniously amid dozens and dozens of boxes of slides bathed in decades of dust and grime inside my parents' garage.

Lost memories hidden in slides that are impossible to see without a projector and screen.

Lost memories that someday, someday, I'll find a way to transfer to prints.

Not surprisingly, there are very few photos of my grandfather hidden amongst those slides, for he took pride in his skills behind the camera, not in front. When a devastating stroke took its toll, my grandfather passed his treasured Nikon to me.

As a young adult, I used my grandfather's gift to capture autumn's spendor, spectacular sunsets, and scenic gardens in spring-time bloom. But I soon realized what I longed to capture belonged not to nature, but to my heart.  I captured photos of the college friends who joined with me on the journey through our 20s, where fun began when the work day ended as night clubs held promise for finding our future Mr. Right.

I captured photos of an adorable guy named Bob whose title soon changed from boyfriend to husband.  I captured photos of a newborn baby girl named Melissa....a toddler at play...a pre-teen frolicking with friends in the ocean...birthday parties, dance recitals, holiday dinners....I had them all.

Today, instead of viewing treasured family photos on a screen in my grandparents' Plaza Place living room, I can simply scroll through life's moments conveniently stored on my phone. Yes, the technology has changed, but the time-honored tradition of reliving my memories has not.

In the coming months, I'll add photos of a high-school graduation to those memories....and before long, bittersweeet images of college move-in day.

Perhaps, just perhaps, when my "baby" is tucked away in a distant dorm, that's when I'll finally find the time to tackle the ardous task of transferring those slides to prints.

And while my daughter embraces her exciting future, I will embrace my distant past.... where summer nights found my family gathered in a cozy living room to watch the slide show on Plaza Place.

Me (in the orange coat) with my sister Bev and our beloved grandmother Ann.
One of thousands of pictures stored in my grandfather's old slides.
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