“Paula, have you met my daughter, Merry? She owns Mrs. Claus’s Treasures, on Jingle Bell Lane. And this is Alan Anderson, who makes the most divine things out of wood you’ve ever seen. Merry and Alan, this is Paula Monahan. Paula’s an important part of the theater family. Isn’t that lovely?”
Probably only I, because I know my mother so well, heard the unsaid “not” at the end of that sentence.
“Are you in the cast, Paula?” Alan asked. “Or crew?”
I’d seen Paula around town, but I didn’t remember having ever met her and I didn’t think she shopped at my store. She was in her early forties, younger than most of the company, slightly taller than my five foot four, and slim beneath a padded black jacket. Heavy brown bangs peeked out from beneath her wool cap. “I play Mrs. Cratchit. My son, Eddie—he’s around here somewhere—is Tiny Tim.”
“Important roles. Tim, in particular,” Alan said.
Paula didn’t smile in acknowledgment. Instead she threw a not-friendly glare at my mother. “It is. As some people fail to understand. If you’ll excuse me. I need to ensure Eddie finds something other than cake to eat.”
“Sounds like an idea,” Alan said once she’d gone. “I’m ready to hit the buffet. Merry?”
“Go ahead. I’ll be with you in a minute.”
He needed no further encouragement and barely managed to refrain from breaking into a run as he crossed the lawn.
“That was tense,” I said to my mom. “What’s with you and Paula?”
vMom sighed. “All these years I have refrained from engaging in amateur dramatics, no matter how hard Desmond and Ron worked to entice me. At last I succumbed. Much to my regret.”
Mom wasn’t exaggerating or bragging. The director and former artistic director of the Rudolph Community Theater Players came on pilgrimage once a year to the house to beg her to join the group. In her glory days, my mom had been a professional opera singer. Not just a singer, but a true diva. She’s sung solo parts with the Metropolitan Opera and at some of the best opera houses in Europe, including a sold-out performance of Madama Butterfly at La Scala, in which she sang Suzuki.
With her travel and performance schedule, it had largely been my dad—solid, sensible, small-town dad—who’d raised my three younger siblings and me. Mom was retired now, and she kept her hand in teaching vocal lessons to local children and a few adults who’d always wanted to sing but never had the chance to learn formally. She might be retired, but she was still every inch the diva. She’d never had anything but scorn for amateur theatrics. To everyone’s surprise, probably hers most of all, she agreed to appear with the Rudolph Community Theater Players in this year’s production of A Christmas Carol. Desmond Kerslake, the director, told her they’d be doing the musical version, and they desperately needed her help.
She not only would play the Ghost of Christmas Past, as well as Belle, Scrooge’s former fiancée, but she served as the musical coach. When I’d asked how she could play both the ghost and Belle when the ghost shows Scrooge his youth, she said, “With a bit of deft maneuvering from stage left to center and a flick of a cape. Belle has the strongest female song in the entire production, no one else is remotely capable of doing it.” She tried not to smile too widely as she said it.
“This,” she now declared dramatically, “is going to be the death of me.” All that was missing was the back of the hand held to the forehead and the drop into the fainting couch. “If not of me, likely someone else.”