Maybe it’s having another birthday pass without hearing from him? Or travelling in France, where he spent so many years? Or simply because I was in the UK seeing Mum? Whatever the reasons, last week I drove home from work in a nearby town, and a vivid memory bubble burst across my steering wheel.
Because as well as blogging, I’m a performer. I do street theatre, festivals, corporate gigs, and community events like parades, fundraisers, and cabarets. It’s a great [varied] job, I’m pretty good at it, and have been doing it in various incarnations for almost 25 years:
My memory bubble was from 2005: Dad had flown from his home in Canada to visit for 3 weeks, and I was performing in a cabaret fundraiser at local queer pub The Winsome.
The venue was packed, and noisy. Lots of flamboyant folk were being flamboyant, while the MC was being very funny. I asked for a simple introduction, and settled myself quietly on the floor with my large black garbage bag. The crowd wasn’t taking much notice, and certainly not shutting up, but I didn’t mind.
Because I knew as soon as the music started, and people tuned in to what was happening, we’d get them.
For I’m also an adult puppeteer, using no dialogue. This means I try to convey, trigger, and resonate experiences of adult emotions, like grief, fear, sexual desire, nostalgia, death, and of course, Love.
‘Sunshine’ actually belongs to friends of mine, but the first time I saw him, I fell in love. I quickly created a short, sweet, 10 minute show, using a musician friend’s haunting sound track, and toured that piece all over Australia, and to Singapore, Korea, the UK, Scotland, and France.
Now it was The Winsome’s turn.
I help Sunshine make magic. He simply emerges from his plastic bag, looks around, digs out a flower from the sack, and hands it to someone watching.
I never know who he’ll pick. He just does it.
The he walks back, takes a long last look at the world he’s leaving, waves goodbye, and returns to the darkness.
I’ve done it so many times…
But this time my Dad was watching.
I was nervous, but as soon as the music faded up, I sank into my job: serving Sunshine as he comes to life.
I felt the crowd focussing. I heard the silence drop. I watched my puppet start to glow, somehow channelling everyone’s energy back to themselves (it’s the only way I know how to describe the experience):
I can’t remember who we gave the flower to, but as usual, the effect was palpable.
Everyone clapped; people were very touched. Some were teary, and a few of them wanted to grab my hand while pressing their hearts, giving thanks and praise.
Which is always amazing to me, as I feel I should be thanking them for letting their imaginations out to play; for allowing my puppet into their emotional worlds, and for letting us two strangers reflect something of their own back to them.
I let those who needed to share their reactions, and gratefully took their sweet compliments. But part of me wondered what Dad thought, and where was he?
Finally I saw him standing over to one side: a nicely-dressed older man with silver balding hair and neatly trimmed moustache, jostling shoulders with drag queens, rainbow-dressed hippies, tough-looking dykes in regulation black, arty student types, and regular pub goers.
He was just watching me.
Watching me in a noisy cabaret pub, doing my thing, surrounded by the Queer community I love.
Watching me with a tear sliding slow down each cheek, making his bright blue eyes glisten.
‘I don’t know where you get it,’ he stumbled, shaking his head. ‘I just don’t know where.’
Neither do I Dad. And I still don’t. But I’m sure it has something to do with you somehow, and I still miss you, especially round my birthday.
Thank you for the gift of this special silver memory x