This morning I saw the Calico for the first time. We’re talking cats here, and that Calico is one among many felines who have found a welcome doorstep at my sister’s home in rural Utah. It’s very difficult for a theater man to encounter cats and not come face to face with the Andrew Lloyd Webber/T.S. Eliot fantasy Cats and the unforgettable song “Memory.”
That reminds me. I’m on a promotional trek presenting the story of a story, my memoir, The Circus that Ran Away with a Jesuit Priest. And I’m becoming keenly aware that just because I’ve released for publication a set of reflections on my version of my life doesn’t mean the memories are going to stop. Thankfully the septuagenarian’s expected “blanks” about what happened to whom or when are often filled in with remarkable and surprising frequency.
“You’re not going to remember me, but . . .” has become an opening refrain for wonderful new stories about my childhood, my family and their own stories. Quickening intersections with student and professional years have managed to expand my often sanitized and unwittingly edited version of “history.” There is enough information accessible for interested folks to make contact and the surprises keep on coming.
A few stops back, while in San Francisco, I was waiting for a streetcar on Market Street when a cell phone voice asked “Is this Nick Weber?” Exposed. Who in what part of what world might be triggering what memory? “Your grandmother hired my mother when she was desperate for work and no one would offer her a job.” And up comes a treasured story about a lovely housekeeper adopted into our family.—And how romantic and warm the otherwise cold print of an email becomes when out of the black and white ether I decipher another memory, “I was about to embark on a career in lion taming and you encouraged me.” And the story warms again a little later in the memory, after the writer had traded taming for the more accurate training. He had joined out with Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus as a cage-hand for the late superstar, Gunther Gebel Williams. “I remember telling him about your tabby act with Gunther, Gebel and Williams, and he thought that was great.” (Yes, we taught domestic cats to do the “bottle walk” and to jump through fire.)
At the book presentation in my hometown, Yuba City, California, were my one-time next door neighbors. I remembered their name better than their faces, but the gentleman confessed peeking through a knothole in our fence to uncover the source of an eight-year-old sideshow spiel and saw me up on a box, imitating a talker I had just seen on West Coast Shows.
At every chance to talk about the book, I sing the praises of my mom, Grace. I almost joke about how perfectly named she was, and am not for a bit exaggerating when I recount how devoted she was to my father. Recently visiting her half of the family I discovered I only had half of the story: Dad had returned that devotion with interest during her last years of sickness and need.
The published memoir is an excuse, a conversation starter or re-starter. How fortunate I am to run around the country recapturing my tiny portion of this adventure called life. That adventure must always be astronomically more expansive than a whole library of books.