The peak of my drama career occurred when I was six years old, on a stage in the basement of the Lancaster Presbyterian Church in late May 1970. Our year-end kindergarten presentation was The Wizard of Oz; I had been selected to play the Tin Woodman (as it’s listed in the program).
The Stanford school system in 1969 (Lincoln County hadn’t consolidated yet) didn’t have a kindergarten program, so when my parents decided that I should have that sort of experience, they cast their nets about and found one they liked in nearby Lancaster. My mother told me several times over the years how, to her horror, she found me away from all the others (including adults) when she came to pick me up after my first day there. I was outside, sitting on the church steps big as you please; I guess I’d figured I knew my way around well enough already and simply struck out on my own, certain that Mom would find me.
The teacher’s name was Mrs. Mercer. I remember her as both friendly and kind. I’m sure she read to us regularly. She helped us make butter once; she encouraged naps. And when it came time for us to learn to follow the yellow brick road, she lent a steady hand.
The action scenes were fairly brief, punctuated by plenty of unison singing of all the classic songs from the movie. My star turn came when Dorothy and the Scarecrow found me rusted up by the side of the road. I’d been instructed to stand stiff and to squeak out “oil can” between my teeth. The night of our performance, I gave it my all. The stage lights were on (we hadn’t practiced with them), so I couldn’t really see those in attendance. I gave my squeakiest, stiffest “o-il…can” not once, but twice. The laughter from the audience still rings in my head. I suppose I wasn’t upset by it, but I was plenty surprised.
Several of my classmates were from Stanford (a few from my church, even), and I was with those folks the next couple of years in elementary school. I moved away in June 72, almost two hours to the north. My family went back only every once in a long while, and naturally I lost touch. That doesn’t mean I didn’t learn a little bit about some of them over time. I re-established contact with Susan (Wicked Witch), and to a lesser extent Jeff (Munchkin next to Mrs. Mercer in the photo), during our senior year in high school; I met up with Susan once or twice soon after she started at UK and I at Transy. Paul (Uncle Henry), who absconded before the picture was taken, is an uncle to one of my next-door neighbors’ son’s best friends. And Tommy (Scarecrow) has taught piano in Lexington to the son of my college friend Judy.
It’s a long way back to then. We’re all 52 or 53 years old now, and I’d be curious to learn what we’ve made of ourselves and how spread out we live. I’m thinking, though, that closing my eyes and clicking my heels three times won’t get me any nearer to finding out.