Lois Greene Stone, writer and poet, has been syndicated worldwide. Poetry and personal essays have been included in hard & softcover book anthologies. Collections of her personal items/ photos/ memorabilia are in major museums including twelve different divisions of The Smithsonian. The Smithsonian selected her photo to represent all teens from a specific decade.
"When did you start being grown-up, Grandma?" Jennifer asked me after her breath blew out birthday candles.
I was surprised at such a question from an eight year old.
"I'm pretty grown up now, Grandma, aren't I?" Her blue eyes stared at my face insisting on a response.
"You sure are." I searched my memory for the real answer. "It wasn't a physical thing." I paused wondering if she were ready to hear my personal interpretation of 'grown-up'. "Guess it was when I first really stopped thinking about myself, noticed my older sister was a person and, without seeking praise, I gave something up for her."
"What thing could you do that made you grown up?"
Feeling somewhat self-conscious sharing a piece of my past at a family birthday table, I closed my eyes viewing a long-ago scene, then began my story:
A school poster noted TRYOUTS for Good News, a musical, needs actors, singers, dancers. Auditions in high school auditorium, 3:30 PM, Tuesday.
I took singing, dancing, piano lessons, and imagined myself the star kicking my legs to the Charleston feeling a fringed skirt flutter around my fourteen year old legs.
Tryouts were into the second half-hour when I entered a somewhat darkened auditorium; I was delayed because of a Sports' Gym meeting.
I stayed in the back, moved into a wooden seat. I lowered the adjacent seat from its upright position, then dropped my purse and books. Walking onstage was my older sister, Carole, who I believed had no ability to do anything except boss me around.
She read with a pleasing and believable voice. All inflections were in the right place. "Would you like me to sing a little from one of the songs?" Carole looked out from the lit stage.
"Nice reading," the teacher remarked, "and, yes. Why don't you."
In a torch-singer's style, Carole began one of the show's ballads.
I sat motionless. Carole could sing. Carole could act. My obnoxious, overweight, nail-biting sister, who became a dictator when Mom and Dad couldn't see it, who didn't like school or sports, didn't have lots of friends or dates, actually had "talent". I whispered to myself, "talent."
"Thank you, Carole. Nicely done. Next?"
Carole left the stage. I ducked pretending to find something that had dropped on the floor; I stayed crouched in that position in case she walked out via the aisle I was sitting near. I noticed chewing gum under the seats. I could hear the next tryout's reading; it was stilted.
"Thanks, Emily. Next?"
I sat up. In the darkness, I wondered if my parents knew Carole could sing and act; my father always said his girls were talented. "But she really is, Dad," I mumbled to myself. "Whod've believed it."
"Skinny sorority sisters tryout next." The teacher's voice echoed in the almost empty theatre. "Line up onstage in three minutes. All. Take a seat. Hand me your name and other pertinent data as you get up to read."
"That's me," I muttered. I knew I, too, could be natural as an actress and performer. In summer camp productions, I'd been both Snow White wearing a black wig, and The Little Prince wearing a boy's wig. "But..." I talked to myself as I gathered books and put the purse strap over my right shoulder, "if Carole gets a part, she shouldn't have me in the show, too, and if I get a part and not her she'd feel rotten. I'm younger. I've time. I got all that good stuff people see; I guess I hope she has her own day." Yet a part of me wondered why I gave up the tryouts.
The hallways were empty and seemed wide without people walking in two directions. I took long strides towards the main entrance of the building; my soft-soled shoes made no sound on the linoleum tiles.
"You walking home, like always?" Carole happened to be by the door as I was leaving. "I take the bus."
Her eyes met mine. The aqua color was pretty; first time I ever really noticed. She moved her purse to her fleshy shoulder but the strap slipped.
How could I let her know I'd seen her talented performance, and she would most certainly get a role in Good News, if I couldn't even tell her that her eyes' color was remarkable?
Suddenly wanting to actually spend some real time with her, yet still wondering how it all came about, I asked, "Have you change for fare as my bus pass, as usual, is at home?"
Jennifer touched my arm as my story ended. She looked at me, and, with quiet awareness said, "Growing up isn't just getting taller, Grandma, is it?"
I felt flushed. My daughter and her family had been quiet during my reminiscence. Now she asked, "Did Carole find out you saw the rehearsal?"
"No," I replied, facing the party paper plate. "I never told her." I slowly looked up, still feeling embarrassed about my inability to ever reveal this incident to my sister, "Carole did get the part and was really perfect. And we started doing more together but didn't have an adult relationship until we were both married."
"You're still growing-up, aren't you, Grandma?" Jennifer blurted out this sentence.
"I guess it isn't just getting taller. You're pretty sharp for an eight year old." I realized I could still share this with my sister, before time runs out. "Slice me a piece of cake. After that, I've a long-distance phone call to make." I touched Jennifer's small arm, and gently squeezed it with thanks.
November ©1998 Canadian Messenger of the Sacred Heart
reprinted June 24, 2011 The Jewish Press©