I found the 2014 adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s “Into The Woods” on TNT after work Friday night. Enchanting songs. My wife especially enjoyed the way the fairy tales stitched together. We were half an hour into it- I picked it up right around Depp’s first cameo – when first, I missed my Mom, and then, it hit me that who I really missed was Mama Vickie. Fanciful creatures in a musical? If she never saw this before she died last year, it’s too bad, because they made it for people like her.
It’s been noted she didn’t particularly carry a tune, not even in a bucket, but when she was enjoying herself, she never let that stop her from singing along. She particularly enjoyed a great musical: Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, Oklahoma, 1776, Sound Of Music, Grease- even that Sgt. Pepper’s thing, which is not heralded as a great musical, had a place in her heart. You don’t encounter musicals in film nearly so much as when she was young, though Glee has opened the door to a variation on the form that reaches a lot of Millenials. But isn’t it nice when you find something that suddenly brings back a loved one as though she’s sitting right there with you in the room?
I know this was especially strong for my wife, who shares the central characters’ desire for a baby, and maybe in James Corden’s baker, I saw a little of myself, uncertain if I’d be a wonderful parent, in light of the life I’ve built along the long wait. But I’d never say it was because my own father wasn’t terrific- the passing years showed me that clearly, he’d taken “how to be a good dad” and pretty well plucked it out of the ethers. Skating rinks and camping trips may not sound like fairy tale elements, but the love of fun found in my childhood’s no fiction!
I thought Sondheim’s use of heartfelt melody to carry a clever use of words in telling a story in rhyme, marvelous. I can’t match his eloquence at the moment. All I want to convey is a feeling that relies so primarily on experience, I can scarcely hope to match it.
But since Vickie passed away on the first day of summer, her words- her stories about family and her girlhood days, to say nothing of a nice dose of down-to-earth insight- have come back to me many times. Maybe the best thing I can say is how I only had the little flash of how sad it is that she’s not up and breathing, with her poor labored heart, to catch Meryl Streep playing an endearingly fun witch, the sympathetically over-protective parent with enough magic to work her will and teach that rude baker and his wife a lesson. We’d returned from our own fairy tale adventure in California, aware we really should spend time with our family before Life- or Death- butted in...so no regrets there.
No, most of the time, I just remember her honesty, her support, her tenderness- how much she loved us, and everyone she held dear, and how feel how much fun we had doing the few things left she felt she could do in her last two years. She loved her kids unconditionally, accepting them when they made life choices others couldn’t comprehend. Even if Angela Dawn’s closely-held pendant was wrenched from its rightful place, it remained long enough to serve as an anchor in her uniquely-observed grief, wherein such a spirit as her mother’s would never part that breast. Mama Vick’s love spent Christmas day with us; her presence will trundle by the grove candles this Midsummer’s Eve, her funny doings and sayings will brighten our smiles in the season to come. The lady left not a dirge, but a clever song, to give you feels and sweet memories of childhood, barefoot life on the country road and walks to places beside oceans she never saw, before the sun, rising and setting as ever.
No one’s truly lost, if you know how to find them!
She would say now and then she always wished her birth certificate said “Victoria,” as that was much more how she thought of her true self- with a little more romance and dignity than “Vickie” conveyed. I didn’t sense a moment open to me reading this at her funeral, but the words did reach those who loved her best, and they’re hers to share as we remember her with you.
In honor of our great friend today, let her name be ‘Victoria’. She told several of us, she always wished she had been named Victoria; it was her mother’s original intention! Her helpful big sis, Debra, gave the birth certificate name as “Vickie Jane,” as humble as could be imagined. But she would tell you, she was no plain ol’ Jane. In glory, she radiates like the queen she is. “Victoria” if you please.
That spry little tom boy still lived on in Victoria’s eyes, to the summer solstice day she peacefully closed them last. She told me stories of Raiford, Mildred, Debra, Randy, Barry, Ronald and all the grandparents and all the brothers and sisters, that made me her family, too. But her heart, full of all those beautiful ideals that seem so unpopular to the cynics of late, made many, many people part of her family, and if you were really her friend, you know her family was her diverse and moving work of art.
As we drove home under the first full moon without her tied to this plane alone, I reflected how,
in our loss, we are not so alone. Somewhere, others were asked to give to Time and Death the dearest sacrifice that had come to fruition. To lose a life long companion, to lose a wife, to lose a mother, to lose a family member-this is the lot of humanity.
But never say Victoria wasn’t unique! Her cheery way of making up jingles about whatever she was doing at the moment, unabashed around her house, her smoking bluntness; her utter authenticity and disregard for airs or pretense, her desire to make everyone in her family’s life better any way she could, in prayer or deed, and her invaluable discernment of people’s character- all these I will miss, but am so much the better for having known such a beautiful, true person.
She never took back her unconditionally given love. She was quick to share her candy and loved a hearty laugh. She loved babies. She even correctly dreamed predictions of their genders. She loved sleep, where much more gets done that you might realize- for there, you dream. The true motives of people fascinated her; she loved an honest question as much as an honest answer, and had an unlimited supply of both. She spent much of her final years enjoying the memories she’d piled up so vigorously, comfort to pains that piled up equally so. She was forgetful. She was a voice of Reason.
She loved a good vampire story, a true ghost story, a love story of any kind, and Dark Shadows for being all three! She enjoyed the macabre, and game shows, and her kitty, Cap. She loved Loretta, real country music, and trips to different places. When she didn’t feel put on the spot, she could break out a gospel harmony that could melt your heart. She was a smash to party with. She stood up for herself, without ever taking herself disproportionately serious. She wore herself out, cheer leading.
She adored singing any of her favorite songs with Poppa, as if they’d just come out on the radio. She laughed with Chris and hung out after work on the bed with Dixie and talked to Angie in the mornings; she helped raise three beautiful grand children with Anna, and she learned the undying nature of love with precious Joy. She worried sometimes til it hurt, found contentedness in a frosty Coke or little piece of candy; shared a lot of delicious home cooked meals; and dreamed of a lot of fun things that stayed dreams. She hated cleaning the house and waiting on her husband in the car. If you washed her dishes without asking, her love and respect were yours. They took in a LOT of strays, so long as their kids loved them. She lived until she could simply hug and kiss no more. But if you look in your heart, her words will leave you never.
Victoria knew some of the saddest, and happiest, days, any person could know, but kept faith in the way of her heart without surrender. In that way, she achieved a victory that Death can never take away, for her love lives still in you, and me, and in places yet unimagined. Cheer up!
Today is Queen Victoria’s Day. 6/24/16