Growing up I had several best friends. One of them was Timmy Grant, who lived across the street from us in a big house with lots of siblings. Visiting them was an adventure.
Over there you could jump on beds and eat whatever you wanted. You could send one of Timmy’s younger brothers down the 2-story laundry shoot into a pile of pillows. You could eat spoonfuls of Tang right from the jar. On special occasions, Timmy’s mom would prepare a delicacy called Butter and Sugar.
The ingredients of Butter and Sugar are butter and sugar. It is prepared tableside. The server places one half stick of butter into the same bowl in which the dish is served. Next, top the butter with a healthy pouring of pure cane sugar. Mash the ingredients together with a fork. Enjoy.
I spent as much time over there as I could.
One memorable hot summer day, Timmy discovered a great way for us to cool off. We’d create our own water slide using a garden hose and their family’s red station wagon.
We placed the nozzle-less garden hose in the middle of the wagon’s roof, facing forward. The water ran across the roof, cascaded down the windshield, and across the hood. We’d climb up the back of the vehicle and crawl across the roof, the roof rack providing safety rails on either side. Once in place, we’d launch ourselves down the windshield, shoot straight across the hood, and land on the hard, black-top driveway. Preferably feet first.
It was genius.
Things were great until my 7th or 8th trip down. As I transitioned from the windshield to the hood, I shifted awkwardly. Instinctively I grabbed for something in an attempt to steady myself. It worked and I was able to stick the landing. Immediately, however, I discovered that I was holding a single windshield wiper. I was horrified as I calculated all of the trouble I would get in for damaging their car.
Timmy flashed past me, giggling with joy. I grabbed his arm and spun him around.
“Timmy! I broke the windshield wiper!”
Unfazed, he looked from me to the windshield wiper and said, “We’ll blame it on Richie.” Richie was the quieter of Timmy’s brothers who never seemed to get yelled at. When we were finished, we went inside and informed their mom that Richie had broken the windshield wiper. Timmy’s plan worked, as usual.
Timmy and I got along great, but we had different interests. While my preferences leaned heavily toward sports, Timmy had a strong artistic side. He particularly loved the performing arts. He eagerly accepted any opportunity to see people sing, dance, or play on stage. My exposure to the arts was limited to my older siblings’ local and college theatre performances.
Early one winter Timmy’s mother announced that she, Timmy, and his two sisters would be seeing The Nutcracker Suite in Philadelphia. It would be his first ballet. Timmy just couldn’t believe his good fortune.
“Wow,” I gushed. “You’re so lucky!”
In truth, nothing sounded less appealing to me than going to the ballet. On the list of things I wanted to do at the age of 8, going to the ballet was just above going to church and just below going to church on Palm Sunday. It just wasn’t my thing. But, it was Timmy’s thing and I was happy for him. So, being a good best friend, I feigned jealousy which seemed to add to Timmy’s excitement.
A few weeks went by and I forgot all about The Nutcracker until the day my mother informed me that one of Timmy’s sisters had a conflict and could not attend. This left the Grants with an extra ticket. Timmy remembered how excited I was when he first spoke of the ballet. Now, I would be going.
I stood blinking at my mother. I couldn’t understand how such a well-meaning gesture like encouraging a friend’s endeavor could result in such a horrific outcome. Ballet was Timmy’s thing, not mine. Further, I would be going on a Saturday and Saturday was my day off. No school. No church. Just my stuff. How could life turn so quickly?
In today’s world a child can communicate with his or her parents. If something doesn’t interest a child, they can speak up. Parents then work with the child to reach an acceptable outcome. This was not the case in my house. Parent-child communication was a one-way street. They spoke, we listened. My mother informed me that I would be going to The Nutcracker Suite ballet, so I was going.
Unable to bear the thought of sitting through a ballet, I decided to stage a bike accident on morning of the show. With any luck I’d draw a little blood, exaggerate the symptoms, and get to stay home and watch TV.
About 30 minutes before departure I rode my bike around our house until I heard someone coming out the door. I quickly pulled around the corner to see who would be serving as my witness. It was my mother. This was not a friendly draw.
Typically, a mother who witnesses her child’s bike crash shows concern. She might even decide that they weren’t well enough to attend the ballet. Not so for Ann Roney. A bone would have to stick out of my neck before my mother would think something was wrong. This dive would have to be a big one.
I picked up a little speed and when I was about twenty feet in front of her I threw myself off my bike. While my intentions were strong, I lacked the fortitude required to injure myself. I landed on our lawn with a soft flop that wouldn’t crack an egg. I mustered a fake cry of agony, but she walked right by me uttering a flat, “Oh, get up.”
My first ballet was worse than I had imagined. The theatre was dark and stuffy. No one spoke, not even the people on stage. The music was strange, and I couldn’t tell which performers were supposed to be real and which were imagined. The only candy available at the concession stand was Lemon Drops.
I squirmed in my chair from the very start. Captivated, Timmy sat next to me on the edge of his seat, eyes riveted to the stage. He drank up every sound and movement the performers made. He didn’t blink once. I prayed for a meteor to hit the theatre.
After some time Timmy’s sister, Bridget, sensed that I needed to get out of my seat. She brought me out to the concession stand where we purchased another box of Lemon Drops. We walked the Academy’s cold, boring halls. There was nothing to see or do.
After a while we returned to our seats where the torture continued. Because I wasn’t able to follow the story, I had no idea how close we were to the end. I was trapped in a continuum of wordless music and unwatchable physical movement.
Then, without warning, the performers moved to the front of the stage and bowed. I couldn’t believe my eyes. “Is it over?!” I asked Bridget. She nodded with a smile.
I jumped out of my seat and applauded as if the Phillies had just won the World Series. Color returned to my world as the ballet passed into history. Timmy beamed. His life had changed. He vowed to one day become a professional dancer. I swore to never again see a ballet.
We both kept our promises.