Monday, October 20, 2014

She Dreamed a Dream

Last Thursday night, we had the joy of attending Susan Bole’s one-night concert at the Segerstrom Center for the Performing Arts in Costa Mesa. We got our tickets shortly after they went on sale. Our seats were in the front row at the center of the balcony. Nice unobstructed view.

The show began with Lance Ellington, a talented singer, who sang a couple of numbers ala Michael Buble. Then he introduced the lady we had come to see.

She appeared in silhouette while the audio of her introduction to the judges on Britain’s Got Talent was played. No one who has ever seen the original video with the judges’ reactions will ever forget it.

Finally, she appeared in the spotlight.
Her stylists have done a great job with her clothing, hair, and makeup. She looks at least ten years younger than she did when she first burst upon the scene.

Then she opened her mouth, and that amazing voice burst forth. I am stunned whenever I hear her youthful tone and the total mastery and control she displays. Her selection of material provided tremendous variety in tempo and styles.

She was accompanied by a seven-piece orchestra and two female backup singers plus Lance Ellington. However, she sang most of her songs solo.

She finished the first set with a moving rendition of “You Raise Me Up,” accompanied by the Costa Mesa High School Choir. The song always makes me cry, and this time was no exception. I wondered how she could possibly top it at the end of the show, and then I realized she could.

She began the second set with “Oh Happy Day,” once again with the kids. Upbeat, and filled with energy, the song brought her back with a bang.

Each song seemed to have deep personal meaning for her, and she shared her connection to the music with the audience, who responded with love. Many Brits and Scots displayed their colors throughout the crowd. A group with distinct Scottish brogues sat behind us and fully delighted in the evening.

Susan still has moments onstage when she returns to the awkward little Scottish lady who gathered her courage and overcame her fears in order to go for her life’s dream. Those displays of awkwardness make her seem even more appealing and accessible.

A number of the songs came from her new album, “Hope,” coming next week. (Mine is already on pre-order.) The song “I Can Only Imagine” always reminds me of my friend from Downey Savings. Lily passed away from cancer, and this was her favorite song. I always miss her when I hear it.
Several of the songs were new to me, but all suited her voice and style. I own her other albums, and I’m delighted whenever one plays on my iPod. (I have my playlists set up to play at random because I enjoy the surprise.)

From first song to last, the quality of her voice remained powerful. To me, it seemed even better hearing it in live performance.

The little Scottish lady who had the audacity to think she could compete with the younger and more attractive performers on Britain’s Got Talent dreamed a dream. Each step along the way, she has met and far exceeded each goal. Right now, she is fulfilling another dream: a tour off the US.

As expected, she closed the show with the song which launched her career. The audience responded enthusiastically from the first note. Somehow, the lyrics totally encompassed everything this unassuming lady had spent her whole life preparing for. Despite how overwhelming the initial reaction to her was, causing her to withdraw to adjust, she now seems to have found a place where she is comfortable with her fame.

Of course, “I Dreamed a Dream” brought a long, standing ovation. (Several other songs had received standing ovations throughout the show, but this one surpassed the rest.)

What a wonderful life lesson in pursuing our vision, even when no one else believes in it. And what a wonderful gift she has given to the world.

If she comes to your city, don’t miss the chance to see her in person.

Have you ever stayed the course when others encouraged you to give up? Was the struggle worth the discouragement and frustration?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Grandma’s Powder Box

My grandfather died when I was twenty-six months old, yet I retain vivid memories of him. Perhaps it’s because he spent nearly every moment of the time he was at home with me.

When I was born, we lived in the ‘little house,’ a two-room structure behind my grandparents’ ‘big house.’ My grandfather built the original single room for his father. Later on, he and my dad added the bright, sunny kitchen, half bath (toilet and sink—no tub or shower), and walk-in closet.)

The main room, or living room, featured a Murphy bed, which dropped down from the back wall. To the left of the bed, a door led to the tiny half bath. (My parents had to shower or bathe in the ‘big house.’) A door to the right led to a large closet. When my parents added a sofa, dresser, and my crib, the space felt cramped.

However, the bright yellow kitchen with its large window, eating area, and all the appliances was about the same amount of area as the living space.

When my cousin, David, was born, everyone expected Grandpa to be over the moon. After all, he had three daughters. This was the first boy in the family, and he was named for his grandfather. However, when I came along a year later, Grandpa jumped for joy. He knew how to raise girls, and I practically lived in the same house.

Grandpa was the men’s clothing buyer for the Broadway Department Store in downtown Los Angeles. (My dad worked in the same store.) Each night when he arrived, Grandpa rapped on the kitchen window to let Grandma know he was home. Then he headed straight for the ‘little house’ and me.

He held me, rocked me, read to me, and most of all, talked to me. Often his evening visits ended with a tour of the big house. Grandpa pointed to each object (picture, table, chair, bed, etc.) and named it. Before long, I attempted to imitate him.

When I was a year old, my mother listed all fifty-two of my words in my baby book because she figured people would never believe my vocabulary.

These tours always ended in my grandparents’ bedroom at Grandma’s dresser. At the center was her powder box. It had been a gift from Grandpa.

When he lifted the lid, the scent of Coty face powder and the tinkling sound of “The Desert Song” filled the room. The storage space in the base held the pale pink powder and cotton ball Grandma used to apply it each day.

Then came the magic. Grandpa replaced the top, and the music stopped. As I grew older, he allowed me to lift the lid, but when I replaced it, the music continued. He repeated the process. Each time he replaced the lid, the music ceased, but when I did the same, the music continued. I found it very confusing.

Sometime later, I finally noticed the tiny wire, which controlled the music box action, and realized the music stopped when the lid pushed the wire down. However, by then, Grandpa was gone.

Years later Grandma died when we were on the road to Illinois. We went for work and were to relocate for a year. The day we got there, we phoned my mother to let her know we’d arrived safely. She told us she had just returned from my grandmother’s funeral.

“Do you want me to save anything of hers for you?”

I replied without hesitation, “Grandma’s music box.”

When we returned to California a year later, Mom gave it to me. It occupied a place of honor in my home for a long time.

However, a few years ago, I decided it should stay in my mother’s family, I gave it to my cousin’s daughter. She already had two girls and valued family and history as I did. I promised I’d write the story of the powder box for her, so I’m finally doing it here.

Whenever I hear “The Desert Song” or smell the scent of Coty face powder, the memory of both of my grandparents immediately comes to mind.

The scent of freshly cut pine brings back the memory of visiting lumberyards with Grandpa. He took me everywhere with him, and since he was a talented carpenter, visits to hardware stores were common. They remain among my favorite haunts.

Even though I only had Grandpa in my life for just over two years, he gave me nothing but pure unconditional love. In fact, his final words were, “Take good care of my Lorna.” The idea that his final thoughts were of me gives me great joy.

He taught me about the pleasure of words, which may have contributed to my interest in writing. He was a semi-professional singer, which might account for my love of music. I owe him a great deal.

So the little music box meant far more to me than just another family trinket. It holds precious memories of the people from whom I descend.

Do you have any special family treasures which hold similar memories and evoke warm feelings?

Kimberly, Kaleth, and Briley, this blog is for you.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Reunion Recap - Final Snapshots

 As a friend said, “The entire weekend flew by in a blur.” It did for me, too. Yet special moments stand out. Here are a few of those. I have changed the names to preserve the identities of those involved, but some of my classmates may recognize the individuals.
I first talked to him several months before the reunion when he was still in the hospital recovering from a major stroke. Even though his voice was weak, he said he’d be there if he could. He’d come to all the previous reunions, and I was sure he’d make it to this one if it were at all possible. We worked with his son to get him there, even though he’s now confined to a wheelchair.

Late in the evening on Saturday night, I looked at the dance floor where Vic’s son pushed him around while several of the most popular girls held his hand and danced with him. No other lighting was required in the room because the glow on his face lit up the place.

If he had been the only person there, all the hard work of the previous months would have been worthwhile.

Marion and I have known each other since grammar school when we discovered we shared a birthday. I spoke to her a week or so before the reunion, and she said she probably wouldn’t attend. However, I talked her into going.

On Sunday morning, I spotted Wade. He had been very generous to the committee, and I hadn’t had a chance to thank him. I talked to him for a few minutes and gave him a hug. Then I went over and sat next to Marion to ask if she was glad she’d come.

But she couldn’t take her eyes off Wade. “Who’s that?”

I told her his name.

“Tell me about him.”

Since he and I’d had many classes together in high school, I knew him pretty well and always considered him one of the ‘nice guys.’ In fact, I told her he’d have met my requirements for someone I’d have been interested in if I weren’t already married—and I am, happily, thank God. He’s extremely smart and just as nice. It doesn’t hurt that he’s also quite good-looking.

I encouraged her to go talk to him.

“But I didn’t know him in school.”

“So what? Just introduce yourself.” I practically shoved her toward him. And she went.

Later in the morning as we were leaving, I noticed they were still talking…

We had dinner with them a week or so ago. They reminded me of teenagers. They are obviously crazy about each other, but are taking it slowly. They look very happy together.

If the event only served to bring together these two people I like very much—both singularly and as a couple—then all the planning and work was worth it.

Both of these people were on the fringes during high school. Chas was a dear friend, but his mother died, and he left the school in his senior year. We communicated for a while, but what with moving and the passage of time, we lost touch.

Valerie worked closely with me while planning the reunion, and her friendship was probably the best gift I received from all the effort.

Both of these friends live out of the area. Valerie stayed with us for a few days before and after the reunion, and Chas stayed with another classmate who lives in the area. We spent Sunday afternoon and most of the day Monday with them.

Reuniting with one old friend and spending time with another old/new one was totally worth the time and effort it took to make the occasion happen.

We’d spent some time with Terry before the reunion since he lived close to us and we enjoyed reminiscing. My overall impression was that he seemed quite lonely.

Not long before the reunion, he called and said he had asked an ‘old friend’ to come as his guest. Her high school wasn’t having a 50th reunion celebration, so he had suggested she share ours. Another classmate was married to a fellow from her school, so they could celebrate their reunion during ours.

When they arrived, I discovered they had been college sweethearts but had gone their separate ways when they left school. The affection between the two of them had clearly survived the years. They had run into each other accidentally a couple of weeks earlier.

We spent some time with the two of them after the reunion, and apparently, they’re still seeing each other since I saw a photo of them together recently on Facebook.

To see these two clearly happy together has made me very happy.

Right up until the last minute, we weren’t sure Donny would be able to make it. He’s battling a particularly aggressive form of cancer, and has been in a great deal of pain. Traditional methods have been ineffective, so he is currently undergoing experimental treatment.

Yet there he was, smiling and clearly enjoying himself. Seeing him was truly a blessing for those who knew and remembered him. And none of us would have missed the opportunity to give him a hug. We continue to keep him in prayer.

I went to grammar school with Katie. She was a neighbor, and we went through Girl Scouts together. She married her high school sweetheart, another member of our class.

About a month before the reunion, she messaged me on Facebook to tell me her husband had a brain tumor and wasn’t doing well. I told her I’d pray for both of them.

Two weeks before the reunion, I woke with a strong feeling I should call her to see how she was doing. That day got away from me, but I called the next day.

“How did you know?” she said when she answered.

I began to cry. “I didn’t.” He had died the morning before. She said she’d cancel her reservation, but I told her we’d already turned in the final count to the hotel.

“Just wait until the day of the reunion and decide then.” We talked—and cried—for a long time. As we hung up, I reminded her, “We lost him, too. He was also one of ours.”

I was thrilled when she walked into the hotel on Saturday morning. We hugged and cried again. At the party, she sat at our table with a couple of other old grammar school friends. Later in the evening, we took a grammar school photo, and she was able to smile.

I hope being there was good for her. I know for sure that seeing her was a blessing for those of us who have known them both since our school days.

Many other special memories of that evening flit in and out of my mind. I only had room for a few of them here, but many, many more warm my heart and make me smile.

Would I do it all again? Heck, yes! How about in five years?