Theatre poster of the week, Lettice and Lovage
No Shame Theatre post of the week.
(lights up full)
A picture is not worth a thousand words – it’s really worth a good two thousand – minimum. It doesn’t have to be some Impressionist treasure, or a Pre-Raphaelite allegory either. It could be an old black and white photograph – hinting at a film noir menace in its inky shadows. However sunny the world was when the picture was snapped, the shadows lengthen over time as the photo cracks and flakes. Pictures capture something vital, not necessarily your soul – though in the case of some of you here, it would explain a great deal – but truth.
Picture This: A small child, barely a toddler, is taking his first steps. He’s beginning to fall backwards, arms held out for support that may not come. A baby deer caught in headlights. His fluffy, fleecy, too-large, footie pajamas are also caught in the blinding flash and glow as white as phosphorus. He looks like a baby David Byrne in that big white suit from Stop Making Sense. You may say to yourself “this is not my beautiful house”.
You may say to yourself “these are not my beautiful jammies”. You’ll have guessed by now that the child in the photograph is me.
And it’s a funny picture, but not as funny as it should be. Something’s wrong with it – something as subtle as it is important. If you didn’t know my family, you’d never guess. You’d never notice; and if you did, you’d explain it away as a trick of the light.
In the background, behind the falling child I was, my mother is seen sitting in a chair. You can’t see her face, or her arms or much else really, but it’s definitely her. All you can really see is her leg. That’s enough to tell you that it’s my mom. She had fine legs – really lovely legs. She was gorgeous. But in the picture, the white-hot flash seems to somehow – reflect – off her leg.
That’s the problem. Below her knee, revealed by the camera’s flash, is a shiny smooth fitted prosthesis. A new leg to designed to match the beautiful leg she’d so recently lost. And in shape, there is no discernible difference. In reflection though, the difference is laid bare.
I grew up with a mom who was smart and funny and sarcastic and wouldn’t dance.
I don’t remember how old I was the first time I heard the story of her missing leg or how many times I’ve heard it since. I ask her about it time and again- On my last visit with her and all the visits I can remember. It’s not that I like to hear about it, I don’t even like to think about it.
It’s the truth of it that I wonder about. I still doubt the story that I’ve heard so often. The truth seems so out of reach and the story… Well. Here’s the story:
My dad was a pioneer boy. Born and raised in Rifle, Colorado. Learned to swim when his brothers threw him off a bridge into the roaring, ice-cold Colorado River. Trapped beaver and muskrat and put the furs on the train to Chicago. Hunted deer & elk on the high winter mountains, for meat- not sport. Never excelled in school because there too much farm work to do.
One day he met a beautiful blonde- a worldly city girl from L.A. A teacher. He courted her and won her hand in marriage. They left the homestead and went to Laramie, Wyoming. They lived in the basement of house owned by the most wonderful people… and they were so, so happy there…
One day, their landlords went out of town, on vacation. My parents were left to look after the place…Of course they could watch the house, anyone could do that… But how could they show the same kind of care and consideration that their landlords had shown to them? What unique skills did they have that might go that extra step? Well, my Dad could clean their guns… Sound FX: (Loud Gunshot!)
My father would never keep a loaded gun in the house, and assumed no one else would either. That’s the story… and try as I may, I just I can’t believe it’s true. My father is the most competent and logical craftsman you’ll ever hope to meet. He’s been a miner, a lumberjack, a carpenter, a builder, a fire fighter, a teacher, an administrator and a hunter. Despite his upbringing – or maybe because of it – he’s a very smart man. That’s why the story about the landlord’s loaded gun seems so wrong, so out of place in a life like his. But right or wrong, it’s their story and they’re sticking to it. And if not that, then what? Are there better answers? None that I have ever thought of…
I’ve wondered about the truth of it for years. I knew that the doctors had taken the skin from her heal and stitched it to shattered leg that was left, but to picture the detached leg… The sudden firing. The smell of gunpowder. The shock of the blast. My mother’s leg. Blown… off. The spattered blood, the shattered bone. The pain, the cries, and the frantic emergency calls. The guilt. Can you imagine the guilt?
I think that was the defining moment of their relationship. Whatever else had come before, this was the moment of truth. I can never know what really happened that day, what’s really reflected in the picture of a flailing toddler and his mother’s false leg… I can never know the truth because I was not there. But I do know that my parents love each other still, and are growing old together with love. That’s the only truth I know.