When I was a child growing up, I was often sandwiched in between older or younger cousins. Since both of my parents for the oldest, as was their parents, it seemed to work out but most of my first and second cousins were either older than me, or younger than me. At family gatherings I was either too young to play with the older cousins, or not interested in playing with the younger cousins.
My mother’s younger brothers were 10 and 12 years older than me, and more like older brothers and uncles. Most often, my time was spent with my uncles. Due to hanging around them, I developed an early love for rock ‘n roll music of the 1960s and early 1970s, watching the Smothers Brothers on their portable black and white television set, and listening to the record albums of Bill Cosby.
As I grew older, it seemed most of my friends were actually 10 to 12 years older than me. Although she was always my teacher, Paula Simmons, who graduated with my older uncle, and was my junior high and high school band and choir director, was also a dear friend for many years. From the beginning, she recognized my passion for music and my interest in pursuing it as a career. Therefore, she often invited me to attend various concerts and events at Ball State University, always with the blessings and gratitude of my mother. After these events, we would often join Paula’s college friends and colleagues for a meal, or a coke. This was heaven to a future music teacher who readily absorbed every ounce of conversation that most often did not include me.
Paula was dear friends with Mother, and spent many many evenings at our house preparing marching band shows, junior high spring concerts, and always, the high school’s Variety Show (you would have to see it to believe it!). Many Elwoodites would never have guessed that nearly every music event or marching band season was planned at our dining room table at 825 Main Street. When I entered Ball State as a freshman I knew more about preparing marching band shows and large-scale concerts and productions than any of my contemporaries. In fact, there were many times I assisted area band and choir directors with their programs – something I continue to do 30 years later.
Throughout college I always enjoyed hobnobbing with the graduate assistants who were older than me. Naturally, I loved friends my age, but I always appreciated and absorbed the experiences of those wonderful role models during my college years: Stuart Scott, Wayne Dorothy, Tim Brimmer, Lew Strouse and Elaine Broad. I still apply numerous teaching skills taught by them, and continue to value their friendship today, albeit, mostly via Facebook.
When I began teaching, teachers and staff with whom I seemed most connected were also 10 to 12 years older than me. Despite the age difference, we always seemed so simpatico.
After moving to Dayton in 1990, it seemed that my friends continued to be a bit older than me, and in
the same age range as my uncles. Susan Cook, Debbie McCutcheon and Jim McCutcheon, all associated with music education, became close friends. One of my closest friends, and fellow adoptive parent, Bill Hetzer, and his wife, Kay, are also in the same age-difference racket. In the past few years, fellow theatre director and musician, Suzanne Grote, has joined the ranks.
There were, however, two major friendships with individuals who were significantly older than me.
The first of these two friendships began in 1984 when I was introduced to the legendary stage and screen director, Joshua Logan. At age 19, I was blessed to have this wonderful gentleman as my directing and
playwrighting mentor. Our common passion for the performing arts and musical theater merged our teacher-student relationship into a very dear friendship. Mr. and Mrs. Logan were extremely kind, loving and generous individuals who tended to treat me with great affection, and sometimes, even like a grandson. Mr. Logan’s letters are terribly precious to me as they reflect my own history and youth through the eyes of someone I respected and loved – and still do. They also serve as a reflection of that tender, loving friendship between a man who was actually older than my grandfather and myself. Age knew no boundaries in this friendship, and I learned beautiful life lessons.
In 1985, my college choir director asked me to join his church choir to supplement the bass section. I ended up working with the youth music at this church, as well as teaching a Sunday school class. Many of the youth were also my students at the school, and this afforded me time to also get to know their parents better.
One particular student was a fireball of fun and humor, and Tom seemed like a younger version of me. His parents, Diana and Stan, often invited me to their house for dinner, and often used me as a mentor for their son when they felt they were not getting through to him on certain issues. Their two older children lived with me in the honors college on campus, and Stan and I had a standing lunch appointment each week in the student union. I truly fell in love with this entire family.
It was at this time Diana was returning to school to acquire another masters degree, as well as her doctorate. She was about the same age I am now, 48, and was about 28 years older than me. As Diana was beginning this new chapter in her educational career, she also began making numerous changes in her lifestyle: new clothes, new hairstyle, new friends and a renewed energy in life. Now that I am presently the age of Diana during the transitional time in her life, I greatly appreciate her seeming influence regarding change and transitions as new chapters have begun in my own life.
In 1986, after directing the musical, Evita, I began researching Mary Lincoln as a potential musical writing project. When I mentioned this to Diana, she became terribly interested and began serving as a pseudo-editor and research assistant. We spent countless hours dissecting Mrs. Lincoln’s character, and weighing over 100 years worth of vicious attacks aimed at this brilliant, ahead-of-her-time woman. Before long, our daily meetings that often lasted two hours, sometimes more, turned toward discussions of philosophy, life, and all other imaginable topics that interested us greatly.
It has been many years since I’ve enjoyed these two intense friendships, yet, they continue to cling to my present life, often unfolding in many wonderful, surprising designs as they accompany through my daily life.
Blessed? You betcha!