Sunday, May 14, 2006

May, Mabel, Doug and Me: Column for the Bay City Times

I spent a good part of Mother’s Day at the Bay City Players for the second weekend of “Meet Me in St. Louis”. Susan Meade was there - lovely as ever – in her crinkly gold silk blouse, distressed-and-deconstructed-pearl-and-lace-encrusted jeans, and unfaltering smile.

We sat behind a Queen-Anne-legged table chatting and offering season tickets to anyone who glanced our way. Into our triangle drifted an apricot-coated little lady with white hair being led past by her daughter.

They paused in their passing and Little asked of Susan in the slightly tremulous voice that is proof of a full life, “Did you know me?”

Without waiting for any reply beyond our politely interested facial expressions, Little's mouth set into a quietly certain smile and answered herself: “You knew me.". Susan said looking into Little’s eyes with a similar smile, “Yes.”

As the daughter led her away, Little said with an urgency that made me listen very carefully: “My name is May.”

Then she was gone, but my day was altered and I was minded of other little ladies. Other mothers. Other children. Other urgencies. And Mabel.

Mabel was a ninety-something-year-old woman who lived at the same nursing home as my Great Uncle Sol (a cousin, actually) in South Dakota. The main difference between she and he was that, while my family were there to visit him, no one came to visit Mabel.

I passed her in the hall as I set out on a passing-the-time exploration and – for some reason known only to her Alzheimer’s and herself – I was recognized as and assumed to be a boy named Doug.

I never found out if Doug was a nephew, son or grandson, but I did learn a great deal about him as Mabel reminded me of things any self-respecting Doug should have known.

Doug and I apparently had the same ready laugh. Doug played baseball and the piano. Doug loved chasing fireflies and climbing trees. But, most of all, Doug was deeply, wholly unforgettably, unreasonably and lastingly loved of a woman named Mabel who seemed to remember very little beyond that love. For some reason not to be found, I was where he should’ve been, and – for a while – I was alright being a boy named Doug.

I stopped to chew on this for a bit backstage at the Players in Bay City and realized that May, Mabel, Doug and me were linked by time, sympathy, empathy and humanity and that everything living will age, fade, falter and eventually be forgotten, but old is not dead as long as one is remembered.

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