I realize that I don’t come across as the warmest guy in the world. Despite the time I spend in community theater, I am an introvert. That introversion plays out in my not expressing my own feelings. I listen to others closely, but only express myself analytically, whether I’m directing or deciding how to play a character. I can come across as cold.
But I’m really a sentimental guy. I try to remain loyal to friendships, even if we don’t make contact over months or years or even decades. The warm feelings persist, even if I have trouble showing them.
That brings me to a fantastic experience I had yesterday. I went to a hymn service led by Jennifer Larmore, one of the world’s premier mezzo-sopranos, member of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, winner of two Grammys, etc. We attended the same high school back in the seventies, and Jennie was coming home to see her family. It was not only an opportunity to see Jennie, but also other friends who came to see her as well. I got this picture of four friends, and that started the train of thoughts and reminiscences that made me want to write this article. It’s a tribute to four women who, just by being themselves, made a difference in my life. It’s also a tribute to those little daily acts of kindness that, through no conscious decision, make an impact.
I’ll start on the left, with Dr. Elizabeth McLean Street. I moved around a lot as a child, and never really had the experience I found at the McLean household. It was one of those places that was a gathering point, a place where all kinds of people were made welcome at any time we found ourselves there. I’m not sure that Elizabeth knows this, but I was prepared to throw myself on the McLeans’ mercy when my father was contemplating another move during my junior year. It may not have worked out, but I was determined to finish high school in the same place I started. It was wonderful to know a family who made me feel that staying with them was an option.
Elizabeth herself has a way about her that suits her career in the medical field. I never had an impression, when conversing with her, that she had anything more important going on than listening to me. It’s a rare quality, and I treasure her for it.
Next is Lisa Martin. I have not seen Lisa for forty years, and did not catch her married name (if she in fact changed her name when married). Lisa was my dancing partner in the Golden Voices ensemble for two years, and I hold a special place in my heart for those who have had to put up with what passes for dancing for me.
Lisa was president of the Junior Civitans, and they had a Valentine’s fundraiser that involved the delivery of flowers to “special someones” during classes. Lisa, very kindly, had one delivered to me. She didn’t need to, she was just being nice to a friend who was very likely never to receive one. She probably doesn’t remember it, but I certainly do.
Brenda England Brent is a brilliant pianist and one of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful women I have ever known. She was also shy and as uncomfortable with compliments as I am. She was the choral accompanist, and also accompanied soloists at various venues. Brenda is one of the best at following the soloist rather than leading – a necessary trait, but one not seen the majority of the time.
She also has a delightful laugh, and during high school it was a characteristic single utterance. One day I went to the piano to find the note, and was able to tell her she had an E-flat laugh!
Then there’s Jennie. She’s always been a special person, and would be regardless of her vocal talent. No matter whether she’s traveled the world, lived in Paris, been celebrated everywhere and become the most-recorded mezzo – she is still the same sweet woman who sang “Yesterday’ at the talent show and asked for help when playing Rosie in our production of “Bye Bye Birdie”. (Not that she ever really needed my help.) She is always interested in me and my family, and shows true regret at not being able to attend my little local theatrical shows.
All four of these women remain very special to me. In a larger sense, they show that the most minor actions and attitudes can make random people’s lives a lot brighter. I thank them for being my friends.