Thu 15 Jul 2010
i am in the doorway, saying goodnight.
i blow kisses and, to stem the inevitable Mommy! i want to tell you one more thing! i begin to sing. the song is a direct result of the chapter book Oscar and i have started this week, his first ever. Anne of Green Gables. it is his Island birthright, i tell myself. or my own.
this song – the title track from the musical version of Anne that my mother and i will take Oscar to next weekend – has lain dormant, unsung and forgotten by me for twenty years. but i start in, full of sudden inspiration. the first notes are familiar like old shoes and my own voice pleases me, which is rare in itself. i gather steam and launch into the high notes and suddenly, i am crying.
my grandmother took me to Anne of Green Gables, The Musical, every summer from the time i was Oscar’s age. it was our special outing, the tickets carefully saved for. i remember the cool vastness of the theatre, and the slight scratch of the plush red folding seats that bounced under me. i’d lean back and gaze up at the huge triangular light fixtures, like giant taco chips across the ceiling, and thrill to the cacophony of the orchestra warm up. every year i wore my best old-fashioned dress, the most current in an ongoing series of ruffled wonders.
i admitted once that it was my heart’s secret hope that some year, some unspecified tragedy would overcome the lead actress and all action onstage would stop, until a finger pointed out into the audience straight into my eager, waiting face, seeing what no one else could. You, little girl. You. and i would step into the spotlight in my puffed sleeves, and a star would be born.
i admitted too that it was through the triad of Anne, Marilla, and Matthew that i understood my own family as a child: myself, my mother, and my grandmother, all in our preordained roles, in the still-familiar cloister of this clannish island culture a hundred years after the story was set.
i did not admit, though, that leaving my grandmother’s house for school as a kid, swinging my schoolbag along the old, pebbly sidewalks, i used to sing the slightly maudlin Anne of Green Gables theme song at the top of my lungs.
Anne of Green Gables, never change, I like you just this way
Anne of Green Gables, sweet and strange, stay as you are today
Though blossoms fade and friends must part
Old grow the songs we’ve sung…
Anne of Green Gables, in my heart, you are forever young
(Harron, Campbell, Campbell & Moore, 1965)
i’d get so caught up in my performance to nobody in particular that i could move myself to tears. the song is the one that Matthew sings to his Anne, in the play, as he sits dying in his rocking chair. i was a child with a primary caregiver and kindred spirit nearing 80. in that song, i came face to face with the concept – and the inevitability – of loss.
and in that song, i understood what my grandmother could never quite put into words: the way she loved me.
i had forgotten, until it spilled from my mouth and there she was, waving in the window of her sunporch.
i had forgotten because i worked as an usher at the theatre the summer after high school and glutted myself on the show. eight times a week is too much Anne, even for a lifelong enthusiast and sentimental sap. for the first week or so, i wept like a baby every night when Matthew died. after that, his passing stood as the measure for ten minutes til curtain, twenty til we hit the bars. for years after, the only version of the song i’d sing was the naughty parody teenage usherettes made up to wile away the lonely hours shifting from foot to foot in ugly cummerbunds and bow ties at the back of the darkened theatre: Anne of Green Gut, you filthy slut, i like you on your knees…
(may the Island Gods forgive me.)
hell, it’s hard out there for an usherette in an unflattering outfit and a job market saturated by the Anne-dustry. catharsis comes in many forms.
but suddenly, my children are freshly bathed under quilts and i am explaining Rachel Lynde and Avonlea and there it is, that old faithful friend, this song, and this time round i do not need the puffed sleeves and no one need beckon me onstage because i have this captive audience of two. this is the star i was born to be, the stage i was meant for: to make them laugh, and bring them to worlds where they will come face to face with all that it is to be human. and i am caterwauling and beneath the tears that prick i laugh, because this – this – is my time to shine and i look into their faces and understand finally, fully, exactly how my grandmother loved me.