The old man shuffled down the street,
face downcast, trying to ignore the bitter wind that tore at his
overcoat, trying to ignore his bitter disappointment over the
latest ... and last ... meeting with his bank. The once dapper
coat which he knew how to throw around his shoulders with a theatrical
flair was now carefully mended. There was no money for frivolous
things like coats. Frederick Gurling had given everything he had
to keep his Maple Street Community Theater open.
Once one of the leading community theaters
in the country, the Maple Street or "The Maple" as
it had been called in the Good Days, had fallen upon hard times.
But Frederick remembered it as it had once been in the Good Days.
Frederick Gurling had been considered one of the best acting coaches
of his day, a peer of the rich and famous, a mentor to the young.
"Herr Frederick" they had respectfully (and fondly)
Ah, the young men -- how dashing: hair
styled impeccably, such handsome leading men in their fedoras,
their suits, sometimes even a young man carrying a cane, or umbrella,
or cigar -- a prop to gesture with. Ah. And the young women, how
lovely with their carefully permed hair, and artful curl here
and there, makeup applied so skillfully, lovely, girls in sweaters
and skirts or suits and hats and hose. Ah, those were the Good
Days. Frederick found he spent more and more time remembering
the Good Days.
"Move it, old man," said a
brash young man as he hurried past, hair in a bushy reddish Afro,
bell bottoms, tie dyed shirt, needing no prop to make the desired
gesture, using his middle finger instead. The girl with him tossed
her long dirty hair over her shoulder, as they passed, her bellbottoms
slung low on her thin hips, her shirt tied high under her small
breasts. She looked at him as she passed, but she didnít
see him, eyes vacantly focused elsewhere. The Good Days were gone.
Now many theaters were full of rowdy,
dirty young people singing folk music loudly ... and badly, doing
performances that seemed to have no plots, often removing their
clothing and smoking questionable substances. They wanted to use
the Maple, but they didn't want to pay, didn't want to clean up
afterwards, didn't want to perform the classics or the musicals
that had made the Maple famous in the Good Days. And the audience
didn't want to pay either. The Maple was too shabby now to attract
the glittery crowds it once drew, and the young people who wanted
to use it left it in worse shape each time they used it... and
the ones who had skipped town in their colorful rusty vans, rock
music blaring, had left Frederick near bankruptcy. He had to close
Frederick's eyes misted. If he didn't
do something soon, he would loose the Maple completely. What would
he tell his beloved Hilda who so carefully mended his coat, his
clothes, his wife of 40 years? Already some men in shabby suits
had popped in at odd hours, looking the old place over. "Vultures,"
he thought, "already looking at the Maple like a dead beast,
ready to pick the bones clean."
A young cub reporter had recently done
a small piece in the newspaper about the Maple and the financial
ruin that lurked impatiently at its doors. If he could only fix
it up, Frederick thought. If he could just repair the leaks, repaint
it, lay new carpet, gild the columns, hang a new curtain -- a
deep, sumptuous burgundy velvet, yes, with gold tie backs. Ah.
A limousine pulled up next to the curb.
Two legs, long, slim legs, in dainty high heels, slid out the
door. "Mr. Gurling?" inquired a throaty feminine voice.
"Herr Frederick?" she said. He stopped and looked more
closely. A lovely Channel Suit followed the legs, then the beautiful
face he had seen in the cinema the few times he went. "Herr
Frederick," she repeated as she touched the sleeve of his
What was SHE doing here, he wondered.
Frederick was not much for the movies, much preferring the stage,
but this face had enticed him into the cinema on more than once
occasion a decade earlier. "Miss Marshall," he said.
"I am honored. What can I do for you?"
"Oh, please, Herr Frederick, do
call me Katie. I haven't been Gene for several years now. Would
you do me the honor of joining me for coffee?"
A stunned Frederick climbed awkwardly
into the back seat of the limousine. "Miss Marshall, I am
sorry, I mean, Miss... Katie... to what do I owe this great honor?"
"Herr Frederick, don't you remember me... Katie Marshall?"
"Katie Marshall, yes, the name rings
a bell, but ... I am confused, I know you as GENE Marshall."
"Yes, Herr Frederick, but I WAS
Katie Marshall, and now I am simply Katie once again."
"Do you mean little Katie Marshall?
But that can't be. She was a skinny little thing, all eyes
and coltish legs, and so shy... oh, I am sorry, I have insulted
"No," she said, barely suppressing
her laughter. "No, that is quite all right, Herr Frederick.
That was I. Do you remember what you told me?"
"Ack, it was so long ago, but I
do remember when you tried out for the lead in a play, what play
was that? And the role was for an older, more glamorous girl,
and required some experience. As I recall, you had none... I mean,
experience, I do not mean you had no glamor," he stammered.
"But I didn't!" laughed the
legend. "I was young, I was green, I was in pigtails, for
goodness sake. But this is what you told me. I have never forgotten.
You said, 'Katie Marshall, this role is not for you. You are young,
and you have no experience.' I wanted to crawl out of there and
I turned to leave. But then, Herr Frederick, you took my arm and
added, 'You have great potential, but more than that, you have
desire. I have seen the fire in your eyes as you tried out. You
dream of being an actress, no? Then follow your dream, Katie Marshall.
Take an acting class. Attend the theater whenever you can. Watch
the great ones perform. Follow your dream, young Katie, and never
"Herr Frederick, I took your class
for one term, and it did help me, but much more, your words inspired
me. I held on to what you told me, and took one of my first jobs
as an usherette so I could watch the 'great ones' as you told
me, and it was there I was discovered. I owe so much to you, and
so does this community. I have read of the plight of the Maple,
and I want to help. Please allow me to share my plans for a fundraising
effort to save the Maple. It will take us more than one coffee
meeting to work out all the details, but I want help organize
a grand gala for the Maple and perform in a tribute to some of
the great musicals... and I have lined up several friends to join
me," she added, running off a list that left Frederick stunned
"Oh, it is too wonderful, but, but
I have no way, there is, you see, I have no money to pay for this,"
he stammered in defeat. "Herr Frederick," she said as
she again touched his arm, "this is something you must allow
us to do. Our payment will be to see the Maple once again one
of the grand dames of the theater. A wise man once told me not
to give up my dream. Please don't give up on yours."
The night of the big gala arrived.
Using her stage name once again, Gene Marshall stood in the wings
of the completely refurbished Maple. Her serene countenance belied
the turmoil she felt inside. It had been almost ten years since
she had stood on a stage. Well she remembered the last time: the
thunderous applause, the standing ovations, the encores, wave
after wave of adoring fans calling her name, cheering, the roses,
countless bouquets brought to the stage, laid in her arms
or on the stage itself, filling her dressing room afterward.
But that was almost a decade ago.
She loved the privacy being Katie Marshall
offered her. She loved the freedom, the peace, the serenity that
surrounded her. Only her respect for Herr Frederick, her love
for the beautiful old theater, and what she felt was her obligation
-- a fond duty to her first teacher -- had brought her back to
the stage. Had it really been three months since she first approached
him in front of this very theater?
But here she was, back on the stage again,
smelling the familiar odors of paint, perfume, hair spray, grease
paint, and sweat, hearing the unmistakable low roar of a thousand
people talking in the audience. the shuffling of a thousand programs.
Would they still love her? Worse, would
they still remember her? Gene absently touched her immaculate
upswept coif -- a slight gesture that only those who knew her
well understood as a show of nervousness. Butterflies fluttered
in her stomach and yet she recognized an odd feeling of deep familiarity.
The orchestra struck up the overture,
the lights behind the new plush burgundy curtains dimmed. The
announcer, a dear old friend of hers known for his work as the
announcer of Americaís best-loved nighttime talk show was
up introducing Mr. Gurling. Herr Frederick spoke a few words of
welcome in his heavily accented English. Geneís heart warmed
-- this was why she was here, to help a dear friend. But as the
announcer's voice boomed out, "Ladies and gentlemen,
tonight we have a special privilege, that of welcoming two great
ladies back from early retirement. Your presence here is testimony
that the legendary Maple is officially reopened, but now we welcome
another legend back to the stage. Please help me welcome the lady
of the hour, a great actress and a generous supporter of the arts,
Miss Gene Marshall," Gene recognized a deeper truth. She
was here because she belonged here.
The heavy velvet curtain swept back.
The lights hit the stage, illuminating her slight, elegant figure.
The silence was overwhelming; then the applause began, long and
sweet it fell upon her like rain. Next the cacophony of a thousand
theater seats was heard as the audience stood as one person, cheering,
almost chanting, "Gene, Gene, Gene..."
Brushing back a single sparkling tear, Gene moved forward
to embrace the crowd with her heart, her whole being. She had
returned to the most familiar place of all... Gene Marshall had
Kathryn Darden is a mentor for a growing international team of entrepreneurs. As a journalist she writes arts & entertainment and skin care articles for several online publications including Christian Activities and Examiner. She is an Executive Consultant with Rodan + Fields Dermatologists.
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