My Mother and I Shared a Common Love of Theatre

August 25, 2017
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With my mom, Willie Cork, 2016

These remarks were delivered at my mother’s funeral on August 23, 2017. She died on August 19 at the age of 79 from cancer.

All that I am comes from my parents, and although there were some challenging times growing up, with many moves from state, to state, to state, through it all my mother remained strong, focused on providing for her family.

My mother and I shared a love of musical theatre, and beginning in 1989 with The Music Man she came to every one of my shows in Connecticut, including my most recent, a performance in Will Rogers’ USA at my church in Glastonbury last summer.

In 2012 I packed everything in my car and took the show to a few libraries in Florida so that my mom and dad could see it. My dad was my roadie, and as his memory was already failing, each of the three times he saw it was a new experience for him.

A few lines from Will that I think relate to my mother very well:

Now I don’t give advice folks, but boy if I did, I would just say you’re only on this Earth a very short time. For heaven sakes, have a few laughs folks, and don’t take things too serious, especially yourselves.

Just live your life so you wouldn’t be ashamed to sell the family parrot to the town gossip, that’s all.

Listen here, you may not see things my way, folks. Why in heaven’s name should you? I may not see things your way. Why should I? That’s America, I believe.

Another family favorite is the musical Man of La Mancha, which Jason and I appeared in together at the Strand Theatre in Seymour, Connecticut. Above the theatre is the Knights of Columbus Hall which was our dressing room. Often during shows downstairs we could hear the dances going on upstairs. One time a polka band was playing, “In Heaven There is No Beer” during a dramatic moment on stage. After her death I learned that my mom’s mother, who we called, “Ma,” went to dances there when she was young. She often said, “I wish I had been a singer and a dancer.”

One of my mom’s favorite shows was Les Miserables, and most of the time that I rode in her car the soundtrack was playing. I’ll always remember her when I hear these words:

Do you hear the people sing, singing the song of angry men?
It is the music of a people who will not be slaves again.
When the beating of your heart echoes the beating the beating of the drums, there is a life about to start when tomorrow comes!

Words like these remind me of the power of theatre to lift us up when we face challenges, and to find connections with the challenges of others. My nickname is, “The Unsinkable Cork,” and I think that my mom was unsinkable too.

I also thought of my mom this week when Jerry Lewis died one day after she did, and the way that he closed each of his annual telethons, with an anthem from the Rogers and Hammerstein musical, Carousel. I think we all need a little courage this week. My mother had it in spades.

When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark
At the end of a storm
There’s a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of a lark
Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown
Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone
You’ll never walk alone
Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone
You’ll never walk alone

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Happy Father’s Day, Dad

June 15, 2013
Family canoe trip, 2007

Family canoe trip, 2007

Early in 2007 my youngest brother Jason called and said that Dad was changing, and he thought that we should put together a family canoe trip.

My Dad had been mugged outside a restaurant in Ocala, Florida in 2001 and was hit hard on the head. He started having headaches right away, and then memory losses, and then his personality started to change.

We took that canoe trip later in the year, all six of us surprising my Dad for a wonderful weekend together in North Carolina.

It’s been a slow decline for my Dad and painful to experience. When I asked my Mom what year he was mugged I couldn’t believe that it was so long ago.

I noticed on that canoe trip that my Dad was different – he was fading from the gregarious person that someone once called, “a compulsive talker” to a more reflective and quieter person. He stopped working. He stopped driving. He stopped writing stories. He stopped calling. He stopped emailing. And as I write this today he is not only forgetting the visits of his children, he is forgetting who we are. Of course, none of this was his choice and his doctor said that it was intelligence that slowed the decline.

It’s difficult to write those words but we have all accepted the reality of my Dad’s condition and are concentrating on supporting him and my Mom as best we can. We just hope that his final days, no matter how many, are peaceful.

On this Father’s Day I remember the time when I was ten years old when I learned the importance of having a father.

It was 1976, and I had a block of wood and a bag of parts to build a race car for the upcoming Cub Scout pinewood derby in Rockford, Illinois. I started whittling away at the wood but didn’t make much progress.

My Dad had an idea, and he took the block of wood to a friend’s house and shaped it on the bandsaw into a streamlined replica of a soapbox derby car like the ones he raced when he growing up in Indiana. He helped me to sand it and paint it red white and blue, in honor of the bicentennial–but my Dad did most of the work.

I remember feeling angry, that my Dad had taken over my project.

When we arrived at the pinewood derby at the next pack meeting, I saw my friend Danny Brown’s car. It was still the square block of wood that came in the kit. No whittled wood, no sanding, and painted with water color paint.

Danny’s dad didn’t live with him – his parents were divorced. He had to get that car ready on his own.

My anger faded away when I saw that car and I was grateful to have a Dad. Later that night my car won 3rd place in the pinewood derby.

Pinewood Derby, 1976

Pinewood Derby, 1976

My pinewood derby car sat in a checkbook box for many years. The axles had broken, the wheels were long gone, and it would never race again.

One day in New Jersey about twenty years ago I found a set of pinewood derby car wheels in a hobby shop, and asked my Dad to fix my car.

He formed new axles, touched up the paint, put on the new wheels, and built me a beautiful stained wood base to display it proudly.

It’s been some time since my Dad could operate a bandsaw, or sand wood, or send me an email or tell me a story. That’s okay, he helped me make that car and I’ll remember him for all of the times that he was there for me.

Thank you, Dad. I love you, and Happy Father’s Day.

Rob and his pinewood derby car, 2013

The car I built with my Dad, 2013