Happy birthday, Braeden! He turns 15 today, September 15.
I don't remember last year's birthday too well. We were still working out back to school routines. The younglings and I went for walks along the river/creek in Waterford. I took LOTS of pictures.
The younglings had just finished "Star Wars." Luke was Luke Skywalker and Cordelia was R2-D2. Around this time last year, the ever wonderful Artistic Director of Town Hall Kids Claire Senko wrote to ask if they would like to come back and to a couple of shows for the local schools. They were quite excited to relive the experience.
There was a member of Jeff's family who was on the waiting list for hospice care. Out of respect for his family, I won't delve into details. It was a painful time for everyone.
There were also mental health issues, but again, I won't go into details. To say we were living off adrenaline and prayers would be accurate.
On a gorgeous September 28th morning, with fall starting to show and fragrant the air, my status that morning was a line from Bon Jovi's Lost Highway CD; a song called `Whole Lot of Leaving,` ... It`s pretty cool for late September. The autumn wind is creeping in. The summer sun packed up, it`s long gone. There`s a whole lot of leaving going on.`
On September 28, our lives changed due to a house fire. We lost 99% of what we owned - clothes, furniture, appliances, toys, books, you name it. Luckily, our neighbour across the street was a retired firefighter. He broke in and saved our bunny and dog. That night, Stratfest posted a pic of a rainbow for us on their twitter account (I was supposed to see Twelfth Night 2 days from then, and let them know I had to give my tickets away).
I know we gained more from the fire than we lost. I cried more from the compassion people showed us than anything. What we lost, mostly, are just physical, tangible objects which would trigger memories. Those memories are always with us...we just need to dig deeper to find them now. Everyone was able to save at least 1 important item, maybe 2, from the house (me: Christopher Plummer book inscribed to Cordelia, but mouldy and smoky, plus a treasure box from out west).
What Cordelia worried about, after her bunny, was her shoes. I said we would buy more. She said, "NO! Not my R2-D2 shoes!" My little girl who lost all her stuffies (and have been replaced and them some by the kindness of friends, neighbours, co-workers, strangers) was worried that the show, her part of the show, wouldn't go on because her R2D2 shoes were gone. She told Firefighter Scott about her feelings. Firefighter Scott had a hard time keeping himself together, probably as much as we all did.
You see, Firefighter Scott has been in the kids' school as long as they have been there for fire safety week. Firefighter Scott is also Claire Senko's husband. He really knew our younglings. [He gave Cordelia a big stuffy bear, with whom Cordelia is still sleeping every night.]
I don't want to dwell here - just know that we were taken care of by angels - physical, actual angels, whether we felt worthy or not. I don't know who all were praying for us to be 'ok' and be taken care of, but thank you. Your prayers were answered. We were blessed 10-fold compared to what we lost. I am ever grateful, and will never be able to repay the donations, the hugs, the smiles, the...the love and compassion was beyond anything I have ever experienced. To this day, I cry more over this than anything else.
A certain passage kept coming into my head in the days after. I learned it in grade 9 english. It's from A Merchant of Venice: "The quality of mercy is not strained; it droppeth as a gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blest. It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes."
Takes. I hadn't had much experience in the 'taking' side of the equation before. My mom, then my dad, gave hours and hours, years really, of volunteer service. I try my best to follow in their footsteps.
You don't know how deep a thank you goes until you see, and take, love in various forms after an incident like this. I understood what saying, "thank you from the bottom of my heart" meant - because I was truly "at" the bottom of my heart. They were the ones who filled my heart back up. And, I thank you. Nya:weh. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for the donations (including money, the house to sleep in/eat in/find comfort and love in, food to eat, clothes to wear, favourite stuffies as gifts, furniture, appliances...) thank you for filling my heart, and eventually my home, up again.
You're a good man...and woman...(there's a reason I use this line, so forgive me for not using plurals)
It's funny how after the worst day of your life, an "ok" day seems like heaven, an "ok" mood is fantastic! Never take an ok or an off day for granted. Be happy and excited for life, because it could be ever so much worse.
Focusing on the Star Wars play was what the kids needed. Theatre really is family. We found shoes acceptable for Cordelia to wear, and a new Jedi costume for Luke. Walmart had given the kids new toys - the boys received light-up polycarbonate lightsabers - which looked AWESOME on stage for the play. And they work great as nightlights, too.
Then, there was Stratford. After hearing about the fire, they offered tickets for a show to us. We chose Camelot. It was perfect - it helped us escape our (if possible) worst week, the first week of October.
If you have read my blog before, you'll know that I find solace in theatre. That night, my kids all learned the same lesson. Camelot brought us out of our suffering, and our "oh, YOU'RE the family who had the fire". We went to Stratford and no one knew us. We could just be us again. I don't remember any fighting. [It was a first date for Dakota and Amanda, seeing as we found ourselves with a spare ticket.]
I cried so much during that show. I needed to get out the emotions, yes. But it wasn't that at all. It was seeing my children's faces light up, their eyes actually light up with happiness again. The magic of theatre and Camelot changed them before my own eyes. I didn't think I'd see them like that again for a long, long time.
Lisa arranged for us to meet a cast member at the stage door. We were quite excited! Not only did we meet Sir Lancelot (the wonderful human being named Jonathan Winsby) but we were given a backstage tour of the Festival Theatre, too. I nearly passed out - I never dreamed of ever getting backstage there in my life. Dakota will never be able to surpass this first date. Ever.
That night was a turning point for us. I think we all purged our negativity because of our friend, our new friend, and the magic of theatre. It bonded us, gave us hope, and made us feel loved.
A few weeks later, a dear friend, who was like a sister to me (and that's saying something because I don't have a sister), died suddenly from sepsis. Three hours later, Jeff's dad finally was able to enter the next life, pain-free at last. Our new place flooded. Twice. And, we had to buy a new car. Last autumn was tough.
But, the kids and I had Camelot to escape to. It was our happy place. We could dig in our brains, and hearts, and remember a time when we felt no pain, even if for a few hours. I changed my twitter avatar pic to the lights along the sidewalk of the Festival Theatre. It still is.
And people ask me why I go to Stratford....
Sitting here typing, I see Luke, Luke in Star Wars play and I hear Princess Leia say, "Help me Obi Wan Kenobi. You're our only hope." Sir Alec Guinness as Obi Wan...Alec Guinness at Richard III - opening season of Stratford...back to 2012.
Life is one big circle, isn't it?
The night I started this blog was September 15, 2012. Braeden's 15th birthday. We hadn't ordered a cake, so I made my secret recipe, from scratch, vanilla chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast.
After his pan-birthday cake, we left for Stratford. It's funny - Braeden turned 15, on the 15th, and tickets for Charlie Brown were $15. The stars lined up for us today, I guess.
When Dakota and I were at Hirsch, Ken James Stewart sat in the row in front of us. He plays Charlie Brown (http://www.stratfordfestival.ca/OnStage/productions.aspx?id=16333&prodid=41232&id2=16449). I, of course being the ...ummmm outgoing (some may say annoying) person that I am, talked with him about how much we loved the show and Stratford. I mentioned that Braeden picked Charlie Brown as a birthday gift, and asked if we could see him at the stage door after. He was kind enough to say yes. I also wrote the most excellent Kevin Yee, who plays Linus (http://www.stratfordfestival.ca/OnStage/productions.aspx?id=16333&prodid=41232&id2=16462) to ask if he wouldn't mind meeting us, too. He said yes.
Before the show, we went to the Stratford Exhibition. I've mentioned before how much I love this place, right? Being a history major and lover of all things Stratfest, this place is heaven for me. All I need is a baby to deliver or a mom to help breastfeed, and it would be perfect. [There was birth and breastfeeding in Grapes of Wrath....]
We had a fantastic new tour guide, Marlene. She told us the Stratfest story in a whole new light. I learned so much! She was great with the kids, and the adults...just a wealth of knowledge. We all loved it.
We meandered through the Exhibits, learning and relearning stories of the past and future. I hope the future of theatre does not include the doing-away of the maquettes. That would be a crime.
Dakota, who has taken drama and been in a few productions in his high school, finally decided what he wants to learn about - the tech side, lighting especially. I guess it's time for me to meet some of them now and get Dakota informed.
We had incredible talks with Dr. Francesca Marini, the Archives Director. I love her! And there was an incredible man we spoke to, but I failed to get his name. Someone please let me know? He was in the band "X" in the 80's. He was quite amazing. Plus, he knows someone from Lord of the Rings... I thought that would make Braeden's day, but no. I even had a surprise...
We ran into dear, wonderful Bruce at the Avon Theatre Store. He makes the store such a happy place. We didn't get a chance to speak long, but it was nice while it lasted.
Cordelia finally was given a Shakespeare finger puppet. So, while waiting for the doors to open, she put on a show for the birthday boy:
I also love these pictures of Dakota and Luke:
You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown was even better this time around. I don't know how actors do it, keep improving a show. That's why they are the actors and I am in the seats, I suppose. But I like it! That's my new philosophy. [< a song from the show]
I wish Stratford would let me take pictures of the kids during a show. I'll be good, I promise! [I know it won't happen lol] The looks on their faces - that extra brightness in their eyes... It was like Camelot all over again. Maybe we should just nickname Stratford Camelot?
I cried in my usual places (little red headed girl, Happiness is...) plus, opening number. That was new. I can't recall the line right now, though...very near the beginning, said by Charlie Brown.
Snoopy, Stephen Patterson (http://www.stratfordfestival.ca/OnStage/productions.aspx?id=16333&prodid=41232&id2=6378) and "Suppertime" still steals the show. Holy moly! I know a few kids read this, but dang - who knew Snoopy could be sexy? I'm probably old enough to almost be most of the cast's mother (or aunt?), but .... wait for it .... I love a man who can sing! sigh... Stephen Patterson is a very nice man, too. We have spoken with him before. He and his wife make a beautiful couple (and can she SING, too!)
[By the way, I'm serious - I would love a man to sing to me on my birthday in April. A man, because hearing a woman sing would make me far too jealous of her talent. Last year, I had to settle for youtubing my favourite male singers, including Stratford people. Singing over the phone is quite acceptable. Or facetiming. Song is your choice :-)]
After the show, we made our way to the stage door:
Aren't they beautiful? I'm kind of biased...
It was pure joy to finally meet Kevin Yee. He is someone to follow on twitter, or facebook, or youtube. He puts a smile on my face. He was so sweet to the padawans and younglings and me. He didn't call me annoying. Yay! Or is he that good of an actor? Uh oh...
When Ken James Stewart came out, Braeden was in for a big surprise: The cast signed a programme for him! LOOK!!!
I had mentioned to both Kevin and Ken that Braeden was the boy in the kids REact video who says "fantazmazing". Have you seen it? Kids REact Video Braeden loves suits. He wears them every Friday to school. His principal had to borrow his tie for the yearbook photo.
Honestly, Braeden's eyes were as if he touched a LoTR sword. He is still ecstatic. Nya:weh to Ken for thinking of doing this and following it through with the rest of the cast. I owe ya!
The other man in the picture is Andrew Broderick, who plays an excellent Schroeder (http://www.stratfordfestival.ca/OnStage/productions.aspx?id=16333&prodid=41232&id2=16408). Braeden is so happy. What a gorgeous bunch of boys!
I do believe Braeden was hugged by a woman, too, if I remember correctly. The incredibly talented Erica Peck, who plays Lucy (http://www.stratfordfestival.ca/OnStage/productions.aspx?id=16333&prodid=41232). When she spoke to him, she said, "Oh, you're the birthday boy!" Even if she didn't hug him, a 15 year old boy having a woman know his birthday is pretty awesome.
Sally also said happy birthday. I heard this woman sing in Pirates and was completely floored by her voice: Amy Wallis (http://www.stratfordfestival.ca/OnStage/productions.aspx?id=16333&prodid=41232&id2=16452). Wow, can she sing as Mabel in Pirates.
And here's Stephen Patterson:
It was a wonderful 15th birthday for Braeden. He said it was his best ever! We are getting the programme framed as a reminder of the constant love and kindness of Stratford.
Because of the magic of theatre and the good people who share their gifts and hearts with us.
Happiness is feeling loved and of worth, and hearing my kids sing Charlie Brown when going to sleep...and seeing compassion...having an ok day...going to Stratford...
What is happiness to you?