Whilst I was in high school, I did children’s plays. We had a really great playwright who wrote fun spoofy fairy tales with panto-style shenanigans. I loved these shows when I was younger, sitting in the audience, and I was so proud that I got to be part of that tradition once I got to high school. The cast would set up two rolling chalk-boards draped in swathes of fabric at one end of a gymnasium. When the school assembled, we unraveled these clever tales, with valiant heroes and dastardly villains and chase scenes and wild overacting. Good times. Sometimes, a few weeks later a kid at the supermarket would eye me suspiciously. Sometimes, they’d whisper to their parent and point at me. Sometimes, a kid would approach me and they’d whisper, “You’re the queen”. I’d laugh, because sometimes, indeed, I was. I had this minor celebrity because they enjoyed a story I helped to tell.
I’ve been thinking about those children’s plays and how great those scripts were and how much fun those performances were – for us and for our audiences. We made an impression. Something in those performances made me memorable to those kids who found my alter-ego in the produce department. Sometimes, yes, I was the Queen. And sometimes I was Heck Brannigan’s Ozark-dwelling Maw, and sometimes I was something completely other. Sometimes I still am.
A friend recently made an offhand comment that the first time he met me, he thought I was bossy. Seven years after that impression, I asked him what he thought. He just laughed and said that I accomplished a lot since that impression and deftly avoided the question. My boss, now that we’re tight, told me that when he took over managing our team “he was told” that I’d be the tough nut to crack. We’re both wordnerds, so when he used the passive tense to protect his source, I thought that was pretty funny. When I laughed at that, he scrambled to explain and to assure me that it wasn’t nearly as difficult to “win me over” as he was expecting. I don’t even know what that means. Life’s a jolly holiday with Mary. Everyone knows that!
For those keeping score at home, that makes me stubborn and bossy. My friend and my boss would doubtful use those words anymore as the *first* words they’d use to describe me. But it’s interesting that they’re willing to tell me that they *had* those impressions in the Wayback.
The subject of impressions came up at Soup Night a while back. My aunt was a educator before she retired. She was a teacher, vice-principal, principal, and super-intendant of education. She received a large (like, 2 foot by 3 foot) painting by Pippo Agro. The student was his son, and he felt that my aunt was such a good influence on him, that he wanted to thank her with one of his dad’s paintings. That painting sits at the top of the stairs at my parent’s house, and I think of this story whenever I look at it. Indeed, since I learned this story, I like that painting significantly more. Anyway, as my aunt told us this story, she said that she didn’t go above and beyond to support this student. She doesn’t recall really having much interaction at all with him. But she graciously accepted the painting (waves breaking over the shore), and she considered that if she made such a significant good impression on this child without really knowing it, what if she made an equally I bad impression on someone else without really knowing it. I wonder the same sometimes, Bossy and Stubborn notwithstanding.
I was reminiscing with a friend recently about our elementary years together. We were talking about a grade 8 graduation party where my parents invited every kid from both graduating classes to their home after our ceremony was over. They invited 60ish kids into their home to watch classic mid-’80’s horror movies (looking at you, Freddy Kreuger), and dance to the dreamy voice of Morrisey and Depeche Mode and live our best John Hughes-inspired lives. My friend is now a teacher and she said that she compared a family at her school to my parents when they also included everyone to a year-end party. I told my mom this. It made her day. It always makes her day when I tell her that someone from 30 years ago asked about her, or thought about her, or had a fond memory and shared anecdote because of her.
I can’t imagine my friend’s feelings were unique. My parent’s kitchen table was always available for any of my friends – close or not – as a safe place. My mom would listen to our cusp-of-teenage angst. She would compel us to make good choices. As we grew from pre-teen to teen to adults, the kitchen table went from serving chocolate milk and Kool-Aid to adult beverages commensurate with our quandaries. But the welcome my parents extended to anyone who needed a table to sit at and an ear to listen hasn’t changed a bit. There are a few friends who always still ask after my parents and declare their affection for a nugget of truth that my mom helped them unbury or a kindness extended when they needed it. Sometimes when I ask my mom if she remembers a particular kid, she doesn’t. And I think she’s even more profoundly moved when they share something that came so easily that she doesn’t even remember doing it.
This Lent, may my actions inspire the impression for which I want to be remembered. May the impression that I give be welcoming of spirit and generous of action.