Beauty and the Beast Redux

Last month I saw a lavish production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast onstage at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. Last night I saw a high school production of the same play at the Omak Performing Arts Center. To compare the two would be to mix apples with oranges, or more likely, caviar with popcorn. And I do love popcorn.

I paid $75 for the Ashland performance, and I got my money’s worth. I paid $6 for the high school production, and I got a million times more than that in enjoyment. Professional actors are good, sometimes even great, and you expect them to be. Kids onstage are good, sometimes potentially great, and they’re more: they’re discovering themselves as they venture into a world larger than themselves. That is genuine drama and comedy of a kind you don’t get to see in professional theater.

After school performances like these I hear audience members marvel at the talent of the youngsters. Youthful talent never surprises me. It’s always going to be there. What isn’t always there is the necessary level of adult support that showcases young talent. That behind-the-scenes support and direction was apparent in last night’s performance. Skilled, knowledgeable adults provided the infrastructure that allowed young actors to shine. I’m gratified to live in a community that supports kids, whether they’re on the football field, gym floor, or theater stage. I’m especially grateful for the teachers and volunteers who, as skilled grown-ups, guide youngsters through formative, life-changing experiences.

Flying the Flag

fullsizeoutput_1cf3A drab, overcast, pre-winter day. Perfect for a visit to the cemetery. I prefer to go when I suspect no one else will be there. I like solitude as I visit my husband’s (and someday my) gravesite. We’d chosen this spot on the edge of the Okanogan Cemetery because of its expansive view of the valley, river and mountains. I also enjoy walking my dogs along the cemetery lanes when I know they won’t be bothering other visitors or mourners.

So I was there earlier this week. I’d just conscientiously “bagged” the dogs’ deposits (thank you, City of Okanogan, for providing a garbage can) when a caravan of cars arrived. Uh-oh, I thought. A funeral. I hustled my dogs into the car and was preparing to leave quietly when I turned to see a bevy of teen-agers fanning out among the graves. Turns out it was the Okanogan High School Key Club putting flags on graves for the upcoming Veterans Day observance.

At last, an opportunity to resolve something that had been vexing me for ten years, since my husband died. I approached Dennis O’Connor, Key Club advisor, and asked how the kids knew at which graves to place a flag.

“Is there a list?” I asked.

No list, he answered. The kids read every grave marker, looking for indications of military service.

“That’s all we have to go by,” he said, acknowledging that veterans whose service is not recorded on the head stone don’t get a flag. He’s heard that some people get upset over that.

Guilty as charged. Well, not upset exactly. More like mystified. My husband had served in the U.S. Navy Reserve, photographer’s mate. That was long before we were married, and I didn’t know much about it. It never occurred to me to put it on our small, rather simple gravestone. Our family did receive a flag from the American Legion when John died, so I knew there was some official record somewhere. But on Veterans Day or Memorial Day, there’d be no flag at his grave. I knew he would’ve liked his grave to be among those with flags fluttering. I wasn’t sure who to call to get his name on what I imagined to be a list. Then I’d forget about it until the next Memorial or Veterans Day.

When I began to explain all this to Dennis, he immediately handed me a flag. I felt honored to poke it into the earth by John’s headstone. John would’ve been pleased. What would’ve pleased him even more was the sight of those kids, stooping to read every headstone, sometimes having to scrape away leaves, dirt and dried grass, searching for veterans.

Happy Veterans day, John, and all who served. Whether or not there’s a flag flying  at your place of rest, there’s a flag flying for you at this nation’s heart. And just when I’d been needing reassurance, those kids were a reminder that our nation indeed has a heart.


Dia de los Muertos

fullsizeoutput_1cec“Did you get photos?” my friend Elizabeth inevitably asked whenever I told her about an interesting or beautiful event in my life. More often than not, I’d have to make some lame excuse about why I didn’t have my camera with me or hadn’t pulled my phone from my pocket.

I’m a competent photographer—had to be through all those years as a small-town journalist. But I’m neither brilliant nor passionate about the art. I’d rather enjoy the work of photographers who are both.

fullsizeoutput_1cf0Elizabeth and I were polar opposites when it came to photography. I use photos to illustrate my writing. Her writing was about her photography. She claimed she was merely an amateur with the camera, but she had it with her at all times. Even after her eyesight dimmed, she persisted, setting her Canon A710 IS on automatic, pointing and clicking. Then she’d pass the camera to me (or, I assume, to whomever was with her) so I could assess the image and tell her whether she needed to try again.

fullsizeoutput_1ce9One of the hardest parts of aging is letting go. Letting go of people who die ahead of us; letting go of physical abilities: mobility, the senses, a pain-free existence; letting go of activities that give us joy and express our creativity. We never discussed it, but I knew Elizabeth had reached the threshold of letting go when she no longer carried her camera. By the time she celebrated her hundredth birthday last July, she’d let go of so very much.

fullsizeoutput_1cf1Last week her longtime friend Marsha and I sat at Elizabeth’s bedside during the final hour of her life. I sang some of the old hymns that Elizabeth and I’d been singing together over the last couple months. She’d amazed me by remembering all the verses of any hymn we sang. On that last morning, as her breathing became erratic, she no longer sang. I’m not sure she could even hear me sing, but her spirit did.

fullsizeoutput_1ced“I believe my favorite hymn is ‘This is my Father’s world,’” Marsha commented. I began to sing it. Somewhere around the “music of the spheres,” Elizabeth entered that place of deepest peace. After Marsha and I shared a few prayers, after the funeral home collected the body, I stepped outside into a glorious autumn day. There is a reason that this is the season of “Dia de los Muertos” (Day of the Dead), All Saints, Hallowed Evening (Halloween). Autumn is a fine time to die. That fall palette of reds, golds, yellows, bronzes, oranges, and on, and on, are creation’s promise to us. Leaves and grasses shimmer brilliantly before they let go, becoming part of the cycle that is eternal life.

For once, my camera was in my car. I spent the afternoon driving up and down the valley, looping back and forth, past orchards, over the river, through town, stopping with each new burst of color, breathing the redolent smells of apple harvest, the even deeper essence of Mother Earth enriching herself.

Yes, Elizabeth, my friend. I got a few photos.