We found a show on PBS devoted to the the Fox Theatre in Atlanta. It was wonderful; part history, part legends, part documentary. I enjoyed it, and it served as a trip down memory lane through so many awesome adventures in my childhood. About twenty minutes into the show, I realized I would start my Pop stories at the Fox. It makes good sense.
I'll explain. My Dad (often known as Pop, his grandfather name) is grand with grand celebrations. (I realize I just used the same word twice - it was intentional.) He can magically turn the ordinary into the extraordinary, the mundane into something special, the occasion into an event. And so many times, he did that while he introduced my sister and I to a great, big, interesting world - often at a performance. Many times, as you might imagine, the Fox came into play. If you don't live in the Atlanta area, please click on the link above and investigate this fine theatre. If you live near here, and you've never been there - you must remedy that immediately. That is your homework. Period.
As a child, I had no idea that every kid I knew didn't make frequent trips to the Fox. I assumed that everyone went to see Rudolph Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov, whether or not they were into ballet. I thought all kids saw The Royal Ballet of Everyplace, and for a while, I took it for granted. When the Fox was in danger of being demolished, I figured all children were kept abreast of all that was happening and that most other kids had their own "Save the Fox" t-shirt, like I did.
Didn't most families go to see Chinese Acrobats and the Atlanta Symphony? Surely other kids knew the story about the Russian ballet couple who had been held captive in one room when they tried to defect, but practiced their ballet in the small space they had. Surely others, like me, got to see them at the Fox, on their first tour in America. Surely other parents told their children about this couple's story, shared the tales of their determination and cried alongside their daughters when the couple took to the stage. Surely, they did.
I assumed most folks saw the first running of A Chorus Line and Phantom of the Opera. I figured that most folks took their kids to see Gospel singers bring down the house on a regular basis. (As a side note . . . if you are a singer who is female, a bit past middle-age, African American and a tad on the puffy side, my father will find you and hear you sing.) I just knew that other kids heard boys' choirs from everywhere, rarely missed the Alvin Ailey Dancers and sometimes sat through plays and performances whose names they could barely pronounce. I thought that was the way everybody did it.
Eventually, I got a clearer picture. I noticed that other kids my age didn't talk about their experiences at the Fox, or any one of Atlanta's other performance venues. I began to see that my parents were different, that we did things that lots of other folks weren't doing. And though I'll never know all that went into planning these events and pulling them off without the finances to provide for such, I did start to see that my Dad was different. My eyes opened up a bit more, and I realized that he was consistently affording Jodi and me chances to see tiny glimpses of all that awaited us on this interesting place called Earth.
When we were learning about Martin Luther King, Jr. at school, our family went to his church for a service and saw his home and roamed around his neighborhood. When we reveled in the successes of the U.S. figure skaters, we were there at the Omni to see them in person. When Jodi started taking gymnastics, we started seeing the famous gymnasts live. I took note . . . my parents weren't steering us in the direction of their own lives, exactly, they were providing for us a summary of the many things the world has to offer. We heard authors, listened to choirs, saw circuses, went to concerts, ballets, folk performances, plays and comedies. We went to football games and swim meets and saw the visiting tours of anyone and anything that came through Athens, Ga.
I don't list these things to brag. I list them now, as a thankful daughter and a learning parent. I marvel at the experiences that my folks gave me on a limited budget and on the many ways that they put aside their particular interests to introduce us to the gifts of the world. It's amazing to me, still.
In March, I wrote about the many ways that my mother touched this world, but I write this to begin to tell you the myriad ways that my Dad is changing this place.
Luckily, I wasn't grown when I began to notice all that he did to stretch our minds, our experiences or views of the world. Thankfully, I realized at least some of what he did while I was still young and under his full time tutelage. I remember when I first wondered about 'where Dad came from.' How did a man who grew up poor in Griffin and Forest Park, Georgia learn about all of this? How did he know that all of these things went on in the world, when the adventures weren't part of his daily life?
He grew up with two amazing and loving parents, who adored their three sons. They were poor; and though they brought themselves out of poverty and achieved so much, the majority of my Dad's childhood was filled with hardships. It was filled with love, too. And humor, and appreciation and church and singing and laughing and family. I guess it was filled with enough of all of that good stuff, that he was instilled with a deep appreciation for the individual. He learned about the many parts that make up a whole person. I guess he came to know, maybe earlier than most, how important it was to know folks' stories. I am thankful that he continues to pass that down.
I remember once trying to come up with a way to ask Dad how he came to know about the great, big, wide, interesting world. I was frustrated, thinking I might not have the words to explain exactly what I was asking. He got it, though, and he told me straight out. I hope I remember his words correctly. . .
He said everything opened up for him on a school field trip. He said he remembers being brought on a bus from Forest Park to Atlanta to Symphony Hall with his classmates. He remembers looking around. He remembers noticing the building's architecture, the careful ways the space was created to carry sound and he remembers seeing the people of all sorts who were there to hear the musicians. He recalls marveling at the talent of all of the orchestra members and the conductor and the people in the audience who seemed to understand it all. He explained that he made a choice, right there - he decided that he would know that world, those things. He decided that he would learn what they knew and visit that building again. He would check out this big, wide world.
And he is doing just that, and taking the rest of us along on the journey. Thanks be to God, that he is my Dad, that he dreamt up all that he did and that he introduced me to all that I saw. I KNOW NOW that what I had wasn't the norm. I know now that I was part of something extraordinary. Today, I marvel at how he pulled it off. I wonder how he made it happen, where he got the energy, came up with the money, had the tenacity to keep it going. How could one person introduce that many different things to two little kids from Georgia?
I just hope I remember to take advantage of the 'Save the Fox' t-shirt moments with my own kids. I hope I remember to stay awake enough to see all that happens in this bright, beautiful world and share it with them.