Sunday, August 16, 2015

It's been an odd . . .

middle of August this year.  I wake shivering in the mornings, digging jeans from the back of the closet to comfortably walk the dogs. The first part of the month was terribly hot and dry, so cool morning temperatures are a relief. It’s only fair, I suppose, as June felt like August, that we have a few days of June in August.

The heavens are not confused. This year’s Perseids meteor shower ended last night, although I’m afraid it began without me. I’m spoiled. I’ve spent too much of my life in places where the dark was untouched and near-complete to enjoy searching a street-and-window-lit sky for falling stars.

I’ve seen many fine meteor showers at the Kerrs Creek cabin and on Cuttyhunk Island. I saw my first, and to this day my favorite meteor shower lying on my back on top of a 20 foot tower built on the stage of an outdoor amphitheater in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. Seemingly suspended in a bowl of black cradled by treetops, my friends and I watched through the night as an unending parade of stars flashed across the sky. It was a magical moment in a magical summer, the last summer of plays produced at  UT's Hunter Hills Theater.

I have learned to cherish those times when everything comes together in a glorious whole. I think I appreciate them more as I age. But it’s probably just as well that these magical moments happen when we’re young. If they occurred now my mind might be too full to wrap them properly and store them safely in a corner. The shelves I place memories on these days often break under the weight of too much trivia and the memories spill out and are lost.

That hot August night in the Smokies was a perfect venue for stargazing. But it was the people I was with; almost the whole theatrical summer stock company spread out on the platform and around the stage, the soft murmur of their conversation drifting up with the cigarette smoke toward those blazing stars.

Those people were the blanket that wrapped this memory safely enough that I can call it back almost 40 years later and picture them clear as day. Something unique happens to a group of kids who spend a summer living together and doing something they love. Building that huge wooden scaffolding in the blazing sun, hanging precariously off ancient light towers, sweeping popcorn and crumpled drink cups off the concrete risers, cooking together . . .

and then the magic of those nightly performances. We bonded into a community.

I kept in touch with only a few after I left the world of the theater. Through the magic of the Internet I've recently been reunited with many more. But there are huge erasures from the programs of those last precious years in that mountain community. Some through tragic accidents, most through the greater tragedy of AIDS. So many bright stars gone. 

I’m not big on memorabilia. I try to live as much as possible in the present while trying to be grown up enough to do a little planning for the future. But I came up to the mountains last night and lay out on my car hood in a clearing surrounded by trees. And for a moment I pretended it was a platform in a clearing a couple of hundred miles and 40 years away. I imagined the smell of cheap beer and cigarette smoke.

But mostly I tilted my head back, looked up at the night sky and let the memories of old friends tip to the front of my mind.

 program from that last summer, 1977
it's not a great picture but you can see the platform in the background
 ampitheater and stage
ampitheater from above