I was eleven when I did the simple math: I was conceived by my mother through her leading man in the senior class play Calico Charms, written by Bowlingmead High School's beloved English teacher Florence Darrow. Those are the essential facts leading to the telling of this small tale. On this evening some eighteen years later I was being escorted by my father to the school's Dramatic Club dinner, during which I would receive a special award for my performance in the same play, in the very same role as my mother played.
At our table was my leading man, a handsome boy but one with whom I shared no special chemical connection as my mother had with her "David Rigby" in Charms. The boy's parents were seated across from me, my father at my left and my mother's chair was unused. No matter to the rest of the faculty and drama clubbers in attendance
because my father has enjoyed one of the busiest and most publicized of television careers among his fellow thespians, starting out in "pretty" soap opera roles and, as he has gradually and gracefully added years, rising to his present star-billing as the long-running head of a large urban vice squad. You know the show. I will not plug it here. His off screen comings and goings have also been well-covered, linking him with this actress or that but never, it seems, with final and concrete documentation. Suffice it to say, Bowlingmead High School was understandably honored by his surprise guest appearance.
My mother was not here tonight because when I was an infant she made the irrevocable decision that the acting life was not for her daughter with its precarious economic odds and that if my father were to pursue it beyond the Bowlingmead Drama Club, he would pursue it alone, which is exactly what he did and handsomely.
For me all of this has been a source of more acceptance than sadness for as long as I can remember. When my father picked me up in the airport limousine, he knew better than to even ask my mother if he could come into the house. Following, we sat in mostly silence all the way to the auditorium. But, once there, when my name was
called and I was asked to come up to the stage with my famous father to receive the award, I felt this terrible, nearly consuming loneliness for myself and for my mother. If she had no longer been alive, it could not have been more gaping, for all she had done to raise me on her own and even encourage me in my own acting pursuits when hers had ultimately caused her such sorrow and yearning.
As my father rose and took my arm, an audible hush fell over the hall. There at my other arm was my mother in a sequined black-and-gold calico-patterned evening dress that showed off her remarkable figure but did not show the years of stationary and road-worthy bicycle work it had taken to attain that feminine form. I think
even my father was stunned by it but mainly by her sudden appearance. As we headed up, all he could think of asking my mother with that charming television smile of his was: "Where do you think you're going?"
To which his leading lady from Calico Charms replied without blinking: "To California."