Words from beyond

I’ve been trying to get my condo clean and changed up a bit since it is now actually mine. This entails going through a deep closet that’s beneath stairs leading to an upper unit. I pulled most things out, threw a lot away and am now in the process of going through miscellaneous boxes.

One box held diaries written by my grandfather. At one point, he kept a diary consistently and with sufficient detail that it was admitted as evidence during a lawsuit. A man was suing because my grandfather had hit this man with the car and left the scene of the accident. However, my grandfather’s diary showed that he was home in bed with the flu for several days surrounding the date the man claimed the incident occurred. The suit was dismissed.

Years ago, I looked through the diaries in the three bound notebooks. Each had only a couple of entries, so I wondered if there was any truth to the family tale. I didn’t look at the other loose-leaf notebooks until today. Oh, yes, the entries in the loose-leaf notebooks were consistent and detailed, even recording the amount of gas purchased in a week.

In the same box were about 40 Playbills from shows I worked in some manner: load-in, sound crew for the run, substitute when the Production Soundman took time off. Mom was going to make a quilt for me with show logos, but she never got around to that. I’ll figure out something crafty to do with some of those Playbills.

At the bottom of the box was a letter written to me from my Aunt Betty and Uncle Don, along with programs from performances my grandparents saw when they lived in New York in the 1920s and 1930s. The programs weren’t called Playbill at that time. They were either New York Magazine Program or The Playbill Published By The New York Theatre Program Corporation.

Alvin Theatre June 27, 1932
Alvin Theatre, June 27, 1932

Some were from shows in theatres where I’ve worked. Some were in theatres that are no longer standing.

There are actors whose names I’ve never heard. There are actors whose names are legendary — Helen Hayes, John Barrymore, Margaret Hamilton, Dame Judith Anderson, Errol Flynn, Basil Rathbone, Leslie Howard …

The Majestic and Alvin Theatres
The Majestic, Brooklyn, December 1, 1924 and Alvin Theatre, March 12, 1928

On the front of every program is a “FIRE NOTICE: Look around NOW and choose the nearest Exit to your seat. In case of fire, walk (not run) to THAT Exit. Do not try to beat your neighbor to the street,” and the fire commissioner’s name.

The letter from my aunt and uncle mentioned Mom told them I was working seven days a week, getting ready for a show’s opening. I don’t remember ever seeing the letter or the programs before today.

The letter was dated November 4, 1988. Dad died February 16 of that year. I was working the first show for which I was Production Soundman from the start — The Merchant of Venice, starring Dustin Hoffman. Opening night, Joan Collins, Dame Peggy Ashcroft, Placido Domingo, and Twiggy were in attendance. Twiggy’s husband, Leigh Lawson, played Antonio. My brother Dan and my mom came to the show on December 23rd. I took them backstage and introduced them to the cast. Dan was in awe.

I remember wishing Dad was there to see me working in an electronics field. Of course, Dad would have fallen asleep and snored through the play.

Merchant didn’t have a show that evening, so when I sent Mom and Dan to Les Mis, I used the excuse that, since I worked that show so often, I didn’t want to see it again. The real reason was that I was going to mix the musical they would see the next day — Me and My Girl — and I wanted to brush up.

That box of goodies — the diaries, letter and Playbills — let me visit with loved ones who are gone and take a stroll through through pleasant memories. I can hear my grandfather’s voice reading his diaries. I can alternately hear my aunt and uncle reading the letter. Best of all, I can hear and see my brother and mother at different moments of that weekend. That is one special box of goodies.

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