Ch. 7. Screwed

As it turned out Benny wasn’t the only one who had a nickname for our drama teacher–drama “coach” was the term she preferred, a perverse way of protesting the extra resources and attention diverted to our mighty basketball team. The other students called her “C.C.,” for her first name was “Cheryl.”  My sister, Raynard Smith, and the other upperclassmen called her “C.C.” Benny Doherty steadfastly called her “Caudill,” and I, as the youngest cast member by two years at least, dutifully called her “Miss Caudill,” which I think she accepted as a function of my status within the group. I hadn’t put enough time in to really be one of the “in” crowd. All the rest were veterans of previous plays–multiple previous plays–and I was the only person who hadn’t ever been in a play. (Well, there was that one time in 3rd grade, but that’s a story fragment for a later point in time than this.) Later on, as we added more supporting characters, some other younger students were added.

Even Lyn called Miss Caudill “C.C.,” not “aunt Cheryl,” which is what you would have expected. Unless she was in trouble or wanted Miss Caudill to pay close attention to what she was saying.

Throughout the next few weeks we practiced reading through the script, working on difficult words, stopping for clarification when necessary. Even Miss Caudill admitted that she didn’t know what some of the phrases meant–it had been so long since Shakespeare’s day, perhaps no one knew. We learned that scholars believed the word “soud,” which Petruchio repeatedly shouts in one scene, probably means “food.” All of us were startled to find out exactly how bawdy “Shrew” was, and snickered at the fact we were essentially getting away with saying bad words and sex jokes in front of other people who probably didn’t quite follow what we were saying. All sorts of stuff about cocks and tongues and such actually went over my head at first, and it took Benny Doherty five minutes to recover from laughing when I asked him to interpret it for me during a break.

Since Grumio and Petruchio spent much of the play on stage together, Doherty sort of took me under his wing. He helped me learn how to turn toward the audience when turning around instead of away from the audience.  What he forgot to show me Miss Caudill didn’t hesitate to add. Look at Benny, don’t look at her while performing. Chin up, stop hanging your hands like hams! PROJECT! Stay focused. Where are you right now? Don’t tap your foot or rock back and forth on your feet. Get your hands out of your pockets. Just stand there and more. He was a strong enough actor he didn’t mind surrendering to the fact that I was getting laughs when he was playing the straight man –another term that needed to be explained to me– to Grumio’s silliness. He got the scenes with Katherine, played by Miss Caudill’s lovely niece Lyn, and in my judgment he came out ahead in the deal.

At the beginning, she barely knew I existed, but she was polite to me. As far as that goes, I saw her being polite and friendly to everyone. Because she was Miss Caudill’s niece, a senior, and afforded the relative freedom to come and go as needed for various errands, I occasionally even saw her during English class, where she would sometimes sit in a little desk off to the side and process multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank papers for her aunt. She never got credit for doing any of this work; as far as I could detect she was just doing it because it was a thing that needed doing.

I told my mother once that she treated me like a little brother the entire time I knew her.  In truth, it wasn’t exactly like a little brother. Certainly my own sister never went out of her way to compliment me, or ask how I was doing even on a day when I wasn’t depressed about some 13 year-old’s issue of the day. But it wasn’t like a boyfriend, either. She is probably the only person from high school that never made an effort to tease me or make me feel out of place even when I was deliberately being weird. (And I was pretty weird. All the time. ) She even patted me on the top of the head occasionally, which invariably made me blush. She never laughed about that, either.

I always paid close attention to her whenever she was in the room, but after all, I said to myself, I was a freshman and she was a senior. She might as well have been a movie star as far as I was concerned. I know my chest tightened a little whenever she was in the room, and I also knew how little chance a boy like myself had with someone who was a hairsbreadth away from being a full fledged woman. She might as well have been on the far side of the moon.

We rehearsed–practiced was a verboten term for us, with its basketball connotations–nearly every day, several hours at a stretch. I still wince when I hear high school students talk about play practice. At first, it worked out for Dad to pick us up on the way home from his construction jobs. As long as it was convenient, we didn’t hear much more than what we were doing was a waste of time and effort and it had better NOT interfere with your grades because getting a good grades was sure-in-hell the ONLY way you’re going to college and get a job that doesn’t break your back the way mine does me and if you ever FORGET that I’ll cut out this stupid GOD-DAM SHIT faster than you can spit a watermelon seed

And that was on a convenient day.

We never knew if he was going to make good on this threat to make us drop out of theatre. He certainly threatened to often enough.  We knew he didn’t approve but helped us because he thought he was supposed to do the things he did. It wasn’t always a happy event, getting picked up after God-damn play practice.  These days, after the world has been wussified sufficiently, he’d probably be investigated for child abuse, but he never hit us unless we deserved it, and only after Mom demanded it. He put food on the table, toys under the tree at Christmas, heat in the winter and a roof to keep out the rain. He did what all men of his generation did and what good men of our generation do: he did right by his kids. We knew it; he knew we knew; but we yelled and cried and screamed about missing rehearsal anyway. And he cussed and pouted and yelled and ... drove us around a lot.

There were times, though, lying awake at night listening to my parents’ shouted bedtime arguments about our futures, twitching at the slammed doors, crying when my mother could be heard sobbing about finances, her lost son, and the hard life she’d lived, when I wondered whether or not I was doing the right thing in taking a stand and insisting that we be allowed to continue to work with Miss Caudill.

There just wasn’t anyone else at school who pushed us hard enough that we had to push back just to keep up. I don’t mean that in the sense that we opposed her (otherwise we wouldn’t have been there in the first place). I mean in a sort of a Newton’s Third Law sort of way. She provided the traction that made all of us feel as if we were actually making progress, going somewhere even if we weren’t sure where we were headed.

We didn’t have a theatre in which to practice; as I said we didn’t even have a basketball court, and if our school would have had any money to spare it would have first gone to a few hundred square feet of freshly scraped hillside and a layer of asphalt with two hoops instead of one. We had no stage, no sets, few props and rags and tatters for costumes.  Our makeup kit (there was only one) fit in a tackle box. What we had for a stage was a raised platform about two feet above the floor at one end of a long room used for study hall. It was room 111.

There’s a phrase you sometimes see on cute placards at truck-stop gift shops, that goes something like this: “We’ve done so much, for so long, with so little, it is now possible for us to do anything–with nothing!” I personally believe Miss Caudill coined this phrase, and if she didn’t, she owned the copyright on it. 

In those days there were so few courses offered and so few politically-driven graduation requirements you could actually have an hour a day to do homework. As I already mentioned, we called it study hall–and my primary experience was sitting in a desk and doing work, watching the teacher observe us from the raised platform at the far end. I believed the platform’s purpose was simply make the teacher more visible to us and us to them.  We thought the room was crowded when there were 40 or 50 students in study hall, but these days they’ll cram that many math or English students into a classroom half that size in California and call it world-class education.  I got pulled out of study hall so many times by Miss Caudill I eventually stopped going; instead I reported directly to Miss Caudill, who would send a note to the study hall teacher asking where I was if I didn’t show up, thus assuring the daily accounting of my whereabouts was accurate.

After school we moved the teacher desk off the platform (at 3 PM it was a stage; during the day it was a platform) and started working. Our lighting system was two switches on the wall. Costume changes were in the bathrooms at the end of the hall. Miss Caudill believed that actors projected voices as necessary; even if microphones had been available, we wouldn’t have used them.

Standing on the platform you got a better view of the forest of pencils stuck into the aging ceiling tile like a forest of stripped trees in Tunguska or Mount St. Helens. A stack of milk-crates provided steps on stage right (the right side of the stage as you face the audience). Stage left had a luxury– built in steps. We couldn’t even darken the room for scene changes– the windows had no curtains.

“Can you throw him down the steps?” asked Miss Caudill, rocking gently back on two legs of a chair, which was recently inhabiting the platform. I gobbled and gaped at Benny, who was looking at me like a side of beef he’d rather not have to touch if he could avoid it.

“Sure thing,” he finally said, shrugging nonchalantly. Miss Caudill nodded. Go for it.

Waitaminit,” I managed to spit out, before he lifted me in quite a competent fireman’s carry, twirled me around, and set me back down. “No problem,” he said. I wasn’t quite the imposing figure I cut today. In those days, I was a year younger than my peers and smaller than average. Benny was several inches taller and in better shape. No wonder he could pick me up like a rag doll.

“OK,” said Miss Caudill, astride the teacher’s study hall chair a few feet back from the edge of the stage. “Let’s do this nice and slow, Benny, we can’t give him a concussion.” She looked at my sister, who was serving as stage manager as well as the role of Curtis, the house manager for Petruchio. “We don’t have time to replace him again.” A squinty look at me. “You ready, Hoss?”

I don’t remember answering.

A few dozen tries later, Benny was essentially rolling me down the steps like a human bowling ball, carefully choreographed like a dance move. We did it exactly the same way every time, and I rolled in such a way that my head never came near a step and I wound up sprawled flat at the bottom of the steps.

“That’ll work,” said Miss Caudill. “During the play, Ben, don’t get excited and throw him into the audience.”

“Riiiight,” said Benny, somewhat unconvincingly, I thought. He grinned at me, wolfishly. I might do it anyway, that grin said.

My costume was modernized, as was everyone else’s because we couldn’t afford Elizabethan-style costumes. So everyone wore ordinary street clothes, jeans, t-shirts, sometimes with little accents.

I took up the issue with my mother, who had always patched all of our clothes and used them when they were worn out to make quilts. Mom was a child of the Depression, and she never threw anything away; you might need it someday.

She was peeling potatoes when I asked. Come to think of it, there were significant fractions of her life when she was always peeling potatoes. I loved her fried potatoes, made midwestern-style with nothing on them but salt, and not much of that. “Will you make me a costume for the play?” I asked. “And can I have some fried taters before supper?”

“Well, I might make you a costume,” she said, carefully pouring the peeled and chopped potatoes into a cast iron skillet coated with melted lard, shielding herself from the spattering grease with careful positioning of the potato bowl. “As for the taters, if you keep eatin’ them like you do, you’ll get foundered on ‘em.” Foundered means eating so much of a thing you get tired of it. “What’s this costume supposed to look like?”

You should understand that my mother had an authentic Eastern Kentucky accent, and she didn’t actually talk the way I am writing. She would have said, literally, “I reckon I might,” and “Wha’s ‘is costume s’posa look lahk?” while carefully not moving her jaw more than necessary. I don’t think I can pull off phonetic spelling consistently, so I think I’ll just do what I did when one of my girlfriends from Ohio met my mother for the first time: I’ll translate. It’s not just the accent, it’s the word choice. For example, if my mom didn’t know an answer to a question, she’d say it’s un-tellin’. ‘Help’ became hope. ‘Improvising’ was jinn t’gether. ‘Not one’ was naryun. Children are young’uns. This was not funny or weird to us, because we grew up with it.  People have said the language from Eastern Kentucky was descended from the kind of English spoken in the 1600’s, when the first settlers in the area arrived. (We knew our most distant ancestor arrived from France in 1611; his name was Benjamin Brasseur, which became distorted to the modern Brashear.) Maybe that made it easier for us to catch on to the cadence of Shakespeare. It’s un-tellin’.

People who have just met me often say, “You don’t sound like you’re from Kentucky.” Usually I just say, “There’s a reason for that,” and leave it at that. Hours of drills and listening to phonograph records and tape recording my own voice and Miss Caudill’s unending scrawls on long yellow pads are left unmentioned.

“Well,” I said to my mother, “I’m not exactly sure. This character, he’s kind of a goofball.”

“Huh, that there’s a perfect part for you then,” she said, grinning. “Something funny,” she said matter-of-factly, as if that defined the problem. “Go get your old jeans, the ones that are a little short on you.”

I got the jeans and found her coming back into the house from the outside, carrying some leaves.

“Now how about this,” she said, holding up the leaves.

“You want to glue leaves on my pants?” I asked.

“No, I want to cut out fabric shaped like leaves and sew the fabric leaves on your pants.”

I gaped at my mother, who obviously was getting whatever it was that needed got.


The other half of my costume was a floppy hat she had made for me. It was shaped like a cloth bowl, and was reversible. One side was multi-colored and filled with odd designs and contrasting patterns such as paisley and stripes together. That was the Grumio Side. The other side was blank white, and that was the Jeff Side.  She stitched an Apollo space capsule with flames shooting out of it’s retro-rocket pack on the heat shield (following a sketch I made for her) but everyone thought it was a mushroom. That’s why it became known as my Mushroom Hat. You could flip the front up to make it look like Larry Storch’s hat on F-Troop or you could flip up the brim all the way around to look like Gilligan’s cap on Gilligan’s Island. Both associations worked for me, so whenever I wore that hat I flipped it up a different way when I went on stage. Oddly enough I don’t remember anyone ever mentioning that they noticed.

When my father saw the get-up he nearly exploded.

“There ain’t no son of MINE gonna go out lookin’ like some bum wearing GOD-damn STUPID-looking SHIT like that!” he boomed. While my parents, and in particular my father, cussed a blue streak whenever they were even the slightest bit agitated, my sisters and I never uttered a curse word in their presence. Not if we wanted to live to see another sunrise.

I couldn’t cuss back or out shout him. All I could do was try to placate him.

“It’s just a costume, Dad,” I pleaded. “I’m not wearing it out in public. It’s just for school.Which, technically, was a lie, but Dad didn’t need to know that.

Well, why do you have to wear that God-damn ugly thing around the house?” He snatched it from my head and held it in front of my face. “Cain’t you just wear a regular ball-cap like a regular boy?” Dad was seldom seen in pubic (or private for that matter) without a grimy ball cap bearing some unlikely logo such as for some restaurant out in New York or a sports team he’d never seen, or, more typically, a blank slate-grey work cap carrying the sawdust of dozens of houses and jobs wormed into the cracks between the seams. It probably never occurred to him that he might hurt mom’s feelings by putting down the appearance of the hat. I was alert enough to know if your mother makes you a hat, you wear it and say you like it even if you don’t, just because she’s your mother.

Truth be told, I actually liked the hat, anyway.  It was different.

“He ain’t raglar,” said my mother. “He don’t backtalk you like Jane ner do them drugs and drinkin’ and smokin’ like most of them boys do.” Like my own two older boys did, and the one still alive still does. “He gets good grades in school an’ I don’t see what you’re so worked up about.”

“Why do you always have to take up his side on everything?” growled my father, tossing the hat on the kitchen table, stomping out the front door and jamming his own rumpled cap down on his thick black hair. He marched out of the house, not for the first time, muttering something about how he “had no say about nothing,” because he always, somehow, wound up deferring to my mother in the end. I retrieved my hat and folded it like a rocket parachute, folded in thirds as a narrow cone and rolled into a tube from the bottom up. and stuffed it into my back pocket.

One more thing I would have to edit about myself while I was around the house.

“Don’t worry,” said Mom. “He’ll come ‘round.”

“Mom,” I said, “Does it bug you sometimes that I don’t want to work in the mines or fix cars or build houses, whatever it takes to make some real money someday?”

“Well that’s what I reckon is buggin’ your Dad,” she replied. “Though neither one of us would wish the mines on nobody, for no amount of money. “ She closed her eyes tightly and shook her head. “I cain’t see how any mother can let her young’uns go down in that mine ever day. I couldn’t take it. I’d get sick ever single day from worrying.” She opened her eyes and stared at me. One of my boys dead before me is already one too many flitted across her eyes. She started washing dishes and shifting pots and pans around the kitchen, which is what she did when she was nervous or upset. “As far as me,” she continued, “Neither me ner your Dad finished school, and we’ve paid for it all our lives. I don’t even know enough about what you do to give you advice anymore.”

She paused long enough to fix me with a squinty eye. “I reckon the best thing I can do for you is get out of your way.” She looked at me as if assessing my potential for digging ditches. “Are you sure you want to spend your time on this drama?”

“Yes,” I replied. “I think it helps me be more confident about myself. Good for public speaking. ”

“Well, then,” she said, “Go, and do.” She returned a pan to the shelf she had just removed it from with a clank. “I’ll deal with Tad.” Tad was my dad’s nickname.

And so I obtained a costume and continued working in drama, for the time being at least.

Miss Caudill told me, years later after I became a teacher myself, that I wasn’t the only one that struggled against their parents’ better judgment to stay in drama. Nearly all of us did. Even Benny.

Benny wore a black t-shirt and jeans. Lyn wore jeans with a tie-dyed t-shirt that fascinated me more for the curvature it revealed than the colors it displayed.

I was developing a serious crush on this girl. I’d never really had a crush on a girl before, at least one where I let my interest show enough so that other people could tell. More than once she caught me staring at her, and she smiled when I pretended to look away or to look at something behind her.

Think about it– here was the prettiest girl I’d ever met, and not only was she tolerant of me, she was a nice person, and smart as well. She never seemed to have trouble learning her lines. Even Benny struggled with memorizing lines, and she often drilled him with a copy of the script she always seemed to have on her person. Later on she didn’t need that, and memorized most of the lines everyone had in her scenes and would provide gentle prompts when Miss Caudill would let her get away with it. She was a role model for many of the younger students because she acted like theatre was serious business– no goofing off (at least where Miss Caudill could see it), always prepared, helping other students rehearse, fetching things, working on costumes, constantly in motion. She put more hours in than anyone involved, except possibly Miss Caudill herself.

She must have known I had a crush on her all along, but eventually I made it painfully obvious by overcoming my rational voice (that told me she’d never consider having anything to do with me romantically) and asking her (a senior) out on a date with me–a freshman one year younger than his peers. She patted me on the head and told me I was sweet.  Well, I was supposedly in puppy love (at least that’s what everyone thought), but I wasn’t entirely stupid, and I knew what my chances of success would be. I’d tell you exactly how that turned out but the story says I must restrain myself and reserve that peroration for a more appropriate time.

We practiced on the stage in the study hall. I rolled down the steps. October rolled into November, and December approached, which would be when we did our first performance of the entire play for the public. We decided to do the play both at the school during the school day–for which a few students would be excused to see it–and for the public at the local community college.  We printed some flyers. We ordered tickets for the performance, all of the normal things you’d do to prepare for a play. Along the way, though, a few odd things happened.

First, we got better. I cleaned up my diction (quite) a bit. The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain. Sally sells sea shells by the sea shore. How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? Diphthongs, glottal stops, breathing, projecting, adding a little burst of air at the end of word ending in a consonant (tuh) to make the ending crisper from a stage distance. That’s the same thing our Bible-thumping Baptist preachers did, in dozens of little one-room splintered factional churches up and down the creekside road (Jesus-HUH is a gonnUH take-UH you to Heaven-UH if you puh-Ray-UH for forgive-en-ess-UH!).

(Actually, Baptist preachers don’t thump bibles; that would be disrespectful of the written Word. They thump pulpits and pews and the floor and inattentive foreheads.  Sometimes we’re trapped by our own imperfect reflections in the popular media, a phenomenon I call the Jerry Springer Effect.) And many of those little roadside buildings have been replaced by more monumental structures of brick and stained glass and porcelain baptisteries today.

Our version of punching up the diction was just a little less intense than the preachers’.  Lying on my back, attempting to speak while Miss Caudill put pressure on my diaphragm with an impressive stack of books, helped me learn to project. I learned to roll my r’s.

Second, we learned to be professional. There was something going on between Ben and Lyn, but I wasn’t privy to it; and Charmaine Marshall was passing through teenage boys’ lives and leaving wreckage in her wake. Often you’d hear arguing and sniping and such after rehearsal and people would complain about each other to Miss Caudill...but when they stepped on the stage, it was like a switch went off and everyone just worked. Worked hard. It was as if everyone knew she was our last best hope for excellence and we’d best not squander the opportunity.

Miss Caudill took notes on her long yellow legal pad. Afterwards we’d sit in a circle and have to listen to her tell everyone what you did that was good or bad, mostly bad. There was no arguing, no defensiveness, just quiet nods and pledges to do better. Don’t turn your back to the audience when you speak. Stop looking at me and look to the entire audience.  Your timing is off. Check the line, you’re saying it wrong. Chin up. Different shirt. Two steps back on entrance. Exit faster. Exit slower. You sound like a mouse. Give it a three-count before responding. Don’t step on the laugh. Enunciate! For heaven’s sake it’d be better if you had your hands in your pockets than just letting them hang there like dead ham. Look like you’re paying attention. Don’t face her directly, it hides your face. Just turn your head a little in her direction and it’ll look like you’re facing her from our perspective. Get a haircut. Don’t get a haircut–don’t even wash your hair just before we open (that was to me). 

And always, always, every single day: Project! No one can tell you’re doing all those wonderful emotional things with your voice if they can’t hear you. Louder! Take a deep breath! Pretend your audience is deaf. Push from the diaphragm, don’t choke the sound in your throat, you’ll rip out your vocal cords. Project, project, PROJECT!

Most of us didn’t comment on the notes. We just hung our heads down, nodded when appropriate, leaped to our feet to redo a particular scene when commanded, and learned to deal with constructive criticism. What was it, I wondered, that made normally recalcitrant teenagers take such personally directed criticism in stride and not rebel or argue? Whatever she had done or said to them must have preceded my arrival. In fact, it seemed to me as if students were disappointed if they didn’t get notes from Miss Caudill; it was as if either there was nothing she could do to help them improve or the effort involved was not worth the payoff.

For me, a straight-A student who rarely drew the attention let alone the criticism of teachers, dealing with criticism of any sort was a hard lesson. The only time I’d been punished in school for anything was when the 6th grade teacher had taken it upon himself to paddle everyone in class who had never been in trouble just so the good kids would know what it was like.

Dealing with such constructive criticism served me well later in life, though. Don’t make excuses. Acknowledge the information and move on. Don’t gloat when others are criticized, because your turn will come. Everyone got notes, on every performance. Even Lyn. Especially Lyn. I suspect she even got notes in the car on the way home or at home as well.  Later I learned she probably got an order of magnitude more criticism, both professional and personal, than any of us ever knew.

Miss Caudill, for her part, felt she had pampered Lyn during those years. She loved Lyn with all her heart– I know, because she told me– and felt that Lyn had her aunt wrapped around her little finger and would let her get away with anything. Lyn, on the other hand, felt stifled and trapped –and loved as well– at the time, but loved perhaps from a different perspective.

I knew these things because of all the students in the play, Jane and I spent the most time with Miss Caudill and Lyn due to our ongoing transportation issues. Lyn and I discussed the best strategy to record blocking movements in our scripts. XDSR was Cross Down Stage Right. F-Pet was Face Petruchio. EN-SL was Enter Stage Left. We made notations in the tiny margins left to us in our paperback-novel style version of the script, marks that resembled football playbooks, with a rectangle representing the stage in the space above each new scene, and sweeping arcs showing which actors should go around others.

When she concentrated she would bite half of her lower lip, so the remainder would protrude off to one side.

“I think I have my blocking pretty much memorized,” I said to her one day as we lay on our stomachs on the carpeted area in the back of Miss Caudill’s room, sketching the blocking onto blank sheets of notebook paper. “I don’t think I need to refer to the notes any more.”

“Oh, the notes aren’t for us, silly goose,” she said, looking at me in some surprise. Why had we spent all this time recording everyone’s movements so painstakingly?

Aside from the opportunity to be in close proximity to her, I couldn’t think of a reason right away. Was I missing something?

Half of being smart is keeping your mouth shut so you don’t reveal your ignorance too often.

“The notes are for her,” Lyn noted, tossing her head at Miss Caudill, who was drilling Lucentio and Bianca (played by Benny’s sister Penelope) on pronouncing words in Latin. Hic est sigeria tellus, I remember hearing over and over. I trust you not. “Blocking is complicated. She wants a record of it so she won’t have to start over if she ever does this play again.” She smiled at me. “Besides, figuring out how everyone is moving, where everyone is supposed to be, is kinda fun.” More lip biting. “Check back to see where we had Biondello exit,” she said.

I also learned how to emulate a variety of Southern accents. Texans talk louder than us, and with a deliberate pace that assumed that everyone in earshot would naturally want to listen to what they had to say. Georgians add vowels everywhere and talk slowwwwwly.  You can’t eliminate an accent without being able to hear it and emulate it. The need to eliminate our Southern accents was so obvious to Miss Caudill she just assumed we saw the necessity; doing Shakespeare with a Southern accent would destroy the illusion that you were watching a story written by an English Playwright, and while it would be OK for Italian characters from Verona to speak with an English accent in a play, a southern accent destroys the illusion. This becomes more significant later in the tale, but the story is telling me to get back to the point.

Benny and I practically danced around the stage as he pretended to beat me up. Visitors to rehearsal actually gasped when he tossed me down the stairs, convinced I was injured. Benny and Lyn’s recital of lines took on depth and reflected what felt like, to me, to be an authentic relationship.

Sometimes after rehearsal we would go to Miss Caudill’s house, and she would cook for us as we did our homework and awaited the arrival of our father from whatever far-flung job site he was working at this week, at least when he had a job site to go to and return from.

Miss Caudill was many things, but a housekeeper was definitely not one of them. We moved stacks of papers, boxes of unopened food, bags of dog food for her Saint Bernard, and sometimes her Saint Bernard from chairs to find a place to sit.  Sometimes Lyn would be there, sometimes not. Lyn was a cheerleader and a band majorette and often was out doing one thing or another every day of the week. I remember wishing she wasn’t quite so busy so she would be home more.

Sometimes Miss Caudill scheduled rehearsals of scenes out of chronological sequence just to give her a little time at one activity or another before she was due back at drama practice. Sometimes though, she was there with us, and I asked her once about her seemingly intense relationship with Benny.

“There’s Kate and Petruchio, and then there’s Lyn and Benny,” she said. “They aren’t the same.”

“Of course not,” I replied. “But surely you must at least like Benny...I mean, after all, there’s lots of kissing and hugging and wrassling and fighting in this play...” my voice trailed. “How could you do those things if you didn’t like him?”

“Oh, I do like him,” she said. “And he certainly is a handsome devil.” She sighed, looking off into the distance as if I had just given her a nudge in the wrong direction.  “He’s a sweetheart. All that juvvie stuff he does, acting tough, smoking, that’s just for show. He’s really just a kindhearted fellow with a hard life.”  A shadow crossed her eyes as she shook her head and sighed. Miss Caudill arrived with a plate of meatballs and bread. She didn’t cook many things, but she did make some great meatballs. 

For once I had little appetite, and fiddled with my food, lost in thought. How could I compete with this charismatic, handsome, athletically fit older man? Benny was a junior, three years older than I and nearly Lyn’s age. From Lyn’s perspective, I must have been nearly invisible

No. From Lyn’s perspective, I was not even a term in the romantic equation. I was just a kid.sometimes  I liked Benny– he was something of a mentor to me and I stand in awe of his charisma and skills to this day–but sometimes, I wished he was just a little less talented and handsome.

A few days before dress rehearsal, I walked by C.C.’s room and heard her laughing, hooting really, and peeked inside to see her wiping her eyes. “Oh, Lord,” she said, nearly wheezing from the laughter.

“What?” I said. If it was funny, I was supposed to be involved.

She didn’t answer, but handed a thick yellow piece of paper to Benny, who handed it to me.

It said:



CC and Company presents

William Shakespeare’s Taming of the Schrew

December 8, 1976

Hazard Community College


I didn’t see it at first. We were going to do the play at the local college, which had a real theatre, I was told earlier. So what was wrong with the ticket?

“The Schrew!” She cried. “The SCHREW! Oh, my! Oh, my!”

“What’s the problem? It’s just a spelling mistake,” I asked, not really getting it.

Benny rolled his eyes, and inserted his index finger into a circle he made with his index finger and thumb of his other hand. “Screwed? Get it?”

“No,” I said. A moment passed as gears engaged in my freshman brain. “Oh!”

Which only set off Miss Caudill again, as she could not conceive that I was so innocent that I didn’t get it right away.  I blushed as was my usual habit in those situations (it took me a long time to stop doing that at the drop of a hat) but I noted, once again, that not only was Lyn not laughing at the joke–she was not laughing at me. She was sitting there thoughtfully, and smiling at me, I thought, not at my discomfiture.

At least, that’s what I hoped was happening. As I found out later, I was right.

We got the tickets replaced in time, and moved on to dress rehearsal.

© Jeff Adkins 2014