A mother knows her children. That’s what I learned from my own mother in a most unusual way.
My mother had five boys with age differences between each of about 18 months to 2 years, so she was constantly going through the separate stages of growing up for entirely too many years. All of us were different. I was the shy, bookish one, but still able to hold my own in any rumble.
In the last year of high school, I took up theatre simply because I needed the credit to graduate. I really took to it and stayed with it for several years on and off after graduation and appeared in a few shows here and there.
My last show was ‘1776’, the musical about the signing of the Declaration of Independence, at the Huntington Playhouse in Bay Village, Ohio in 1981. I played Stephen Hopkins from Rhode Island, the second oldest man in Congress at age 69. I was 25 and looked younger. To ‘age’ correctly required a lot of makeup and gray spray powder on my hair. With a hat, the makeup, the knee breeches, the stockings, and with a good ‘old man’ voice and walk reminiscent of the old character Walter Brennan, many really did think I was an older guy and were surprised at how young I really was. I even got good reviews for my characterization.
I may not have mentioned my particular part to my parents when I invited them to see a performance, because a rather peculiar thing happened the night they attended.
At the end of the performance, I appeared in the lobby in full costume, as was customary for all actors, to say thank you to the audience as they departed the theater. I spotted my Ma and Dad and walked over. Not used to seeing one of her boys in stockings and makeup, my Ma took one step back with a somewhat pained look.
My Dad, on the other hand, thought it was all great, but he had trouble picking me out of the large cast of nearly 30, he said. He turned to my mother and asked her if she knew which one I was. She said, “Oh sure, that’s him right there.” No hesitation. She saw right through the makeup, the costume, the shuffle and the voice.
I stopped doing theatre after that show and went into politics where all the real acting is done anyway. But I’ll never forget that if you change enough diapers, you can always pick your kid out of a crowd no matter what.