Last year, my mother announced she would be throwing herself a birthday party. The event was a command performance, and, since no one in the family wanted to tangle with Mary Anne, we all dutifully arrived at my mom’s independent living facility outside of Denver in July for the festivities.
My mother arranged all the details, right down to the devilishly delicious chocolate cake, since, like most of us, she carries the chocolate-addiction gene. When it came time for gift giving, she turned the tables, handing out presents to those in attendance: personal possessions she mostly wanted to give to the grand and great-grandchildren. She was 96.
That night, happy with her efforts, she went to sleep with every intention of not waking up. But the next morning, she blinked her eyes open. As she has every day since. Now it’s not that she’s depressed, it’s just that almost all of her friends are dead. And my dad died in 2019. Then the pandemic hit, leaving her mostly alone in her apartment.
In her defense, she rarely complained. “I read the paper,” she explained. “I watch the news. And I read books every day.” Still, she described the lockdown as worse than the Depression and World War II, times that were awful, but where one was not cut off from most human contact.
Which brings me to today. Though my mother thought her birthday party would be her last project, I now know that’s not true.
“I want you to play Eliza Hamilton,” she said on the phone.
I was half-listening at the time. “Wait. What?”
“I want you to play Alexander Hamilton’s wife. I’ll write the script.”
It seems the people at the home were putting together a series of events in honor of the Fourth of July. My mother had just finished reading My Dear Hamilton, a fascinating account of the life of Eliza Hamilton, the Founding Father’s wife.
I wasn’t sure what to say. While I was in plays as a teenager, that part of my life had been packed away for a long time. That changed a few years back when friends talked me into auditioning for a community theater production of Steven Solheim’s Company. When I was offered the part of the acerbic, hard-drinking, thrice-married Joanne, a job that required singing two solos, a spot of tap dancing, and learning to smoke fake cigarettes, I was rather horrified. Still, when the final curtain call was over and my parents sat happily clapping in the audience, I was glad I took the shot.
“Don’t worry about anything. I’ve got a costume.”
“I’m a lot bigger than you, Mom,” I said grasping for a way to say no.
“And I’ll write your lines.”
I had no worries there. My mother earned a college degree from Penn State University, back when women just didn’t do that type of thing. She was a reporter in radio and print in the 1940s, and is the author of several books of historical fiction. Had my mother been born later, I believe she would have foregone marriage and childbearing and would instead be a governor, or a Supreme Court Justice, or President of the United States.
“You will play Eliza in her sixties, long after her husband died,” she said obviously assuming I wouldn’t say no.
“Um…” I could find no easy escape.
“The event is on June 24th.”
I was quiet for a moment.
“I need a project,” she said. “This will be the last one.”
I have the impression that, if all goes as planned and I don’t do something horribly embarrassing, she will once again take to her bed following the event, close her eyes, and—satisfied with her life—she will hope to drift off. Though, knowing Mary Anne, I wouldn’t be surprised if there will be more projects in the future.
In the meantime, I will put on my gray wig and 19th century bonnet and practice my lines.
I’ll let you know how it goes.
The past and present collide when a tenacious reporter seeks information on an eleventh century magician…and uncovers more than she bargained for.
February 2, 2022
In 1939, archeologists uncovered a tomb at the Northern Arizona site called Ridge Ruin. The man, bedecked in fine turquoise jewelry and intricate bead work, was surrounded by wooden swords with handles carved into animal hooves and human hands. The Hopi workers stepped back from the grave, knowing what the Moochiwimi sticks meant. This man, buried nine hundred years earlier, was a magician.
Former television journalist Kate Butler hangs on to her investigative reporting career by writing freelance magazine articles. Her research on The Magician shows he bore some European facial characteristics and physical qualities that made him different from the people who buried him. Her quest to discover The Magician’s origin carries her back to a time when the high desert world was shattered by the birth of a volcano and into the present-day dangers of archeological looting where black market sales of antiquities can lead to murder.
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