- Narrator, Henry Watson in his late sixties
- Henry Watson, 45 year old, slightly balding computer consultant
- Ethel Watson, Henry’s mother, a lady of the 1950s who always has been the perfect, perpetual house wife
- Janice Johnson, fat 45 year old woman who lives across the street from Henry’s parents. Waitress
I remember when I was young, when my father was still in the Army. He was gone a lot. It seemed like every time he came home there was tension in the air between him and Mom.
Don’t get me wrong. I guess I grew up in a home as close to the Cleavers of Leave it to Beaver as anyone I knew. Sure Mom worked a lot, but her or Dad was always there when I got home from school or on the weekends.
Looking back on it now, I guess I was really lucky. I generally had everything I needed, and my parents loved me and weren’t afraid to show it.
I remember Joe Lonkowski that lived down the street from me. He wasn’t as lucky as me. His father worked at the mill and would usually come home drunk, if he came home at all. He would use Joe and his brothers and sister and his mother for punching bags. He always blamed them for everything that was wrong in his life.
Not my dad, though. Mom and him always took the good and the bad the same. It was always “God’s will,” and with “God’s will” everything that was wrong would be made straight again.
Yeah, we went to church every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and on Wednesday. That is what Baptists did, and when Dad was home he would go with us.
Dad was a strong man: had a lot of steel, as they used to say. I hardly ever saw tears in his eyes, and for a long time I wondered if he ever did cry. He always told me when I was growing up that men didn’t cry, and if they did it was a sign of weakness. You could never let anyone know you were weak, or they would take advantage of you.
We had this dog when I was about nine, not a lot younger than my son is now. His name was Fred. I never knew where the name had come from. Anyway, when Dad was gone Fred was always close to me, but as soon as Dad walked through the door Fred was right there, and didn’t leave his side until he left. Dad always referred to Fred as “the mutt,” and it seemed only grudgingly would give him a pat on the head every now and then or if he was in a real good mood, scratch him behind the ears.
One day Fred ran out into the street in front of the house. I don’t know why. Maybe he thought he saw something. Anyway, he was hit by a car.
Dad looked up when he heard the sound of brakes and the thump and saw Fred lying in the street. He ran out and picked him up in his strong hands. I remember wondering at how gentle he was as he held Fred in his arms, speaking to him softly, telling him everything was going to be alright. Fred looked up at dad with his big brown eyes, as if to say ‘you have to be joking,’ then sighed and that was it. He died as dad held him.
Dad gently carried Fred out to the back yard and laid him down. If you hadn’t known better, you would have thought Fred was sleeping at Dad’s side. Dad sat there for a long time, every now and then reaching over to scratch Fred between the ears. I have never told Dad, but I saw the tears roll down his cheeks and his body trembles as he sobbed… Dad finally got up, went into the garage, got a shovel, dug a hole and gently laid Fred in it. Dad gave old Fred one last scratch between the ears, then covered him up. After he was done Dad came in the house, said, “Stupid mutt,” and sat down to read the paper like it was any other day.
Mom was the “Mrs. Clean” type. You never saw her when she wasn’t properly dressed. I don’t think she even owned a pair of slacks to this day. She was strong in her own way. It’s kind of hard to explain, and I don’t know if I can, but there was a strength to Mom, maybe not one you could measure in physical attributes, but it was there. She was always the one, it seemed, that kept things together. Always made sure the shopping and cooking were done and our clothes were clean. Mom is a good cook, always has been. Even though Dad was a “meat and potatoes man,” she always made meal times interesting. Every now and then Mom would try a recipe out on us that she had found in one of those women’s magazines. Dad would tolerate it, and tell Mom how good it was, even if it stunk.
As I look back on it now, it seems a little strange, but I can’t remember Mom and Dad ever having a fight. I guess if they did, it was where they would make sure I didn’t hear them. Strange, isn’t it?
(Blackout: Old Henry exits and lights slowly come up on foyer scene.)
Set: Entrance hallway with table, telephone on table. Henry is absent mindedly looking through the mail when the phone rings.
HENRY: Hello – – – Oh, hi Mom. What’s wrong? (Henry reacts to the news of his father’s sudden death.) What happened? – – – How? – – – I know – – – I guess we can be thankful for that – – – You could have called me at the office – – – (exasperated) – – – Yes, Mom, I’m sure you didn’t want to disturb me at work – – – I’ll catch a plane tonight – – – no, Mom – – – yes, Mom – – – no, Mom – – – I’m sure Mr. Ferguson will do a good job. Mom, look Mom, we can talk about this when I get there – – – As soon as I can get a ticket. Mom – – – I don’t know. We’ll have to see what Beth says, – – – Okay, love you Mom.
(Crossfade) with musical accompaniment – the spiritual “I’ll Fly Away”
Set: Homey country kitchen, shortly before Henry’s father’s funeral. Ethel is fussing around the kitchen. Henry is sitting at the table nursing a cup of coffee. Ethel looks thoughtfully out the window over the sink.
ETHEL: (still looking out the window) Your father was a good man.
HENRY: (startled) Of course he was, Mom. (gets up and walks over and puts his hand on his mother’s shoulder to comfort her)
ETHEL: I don’t know if I should have chosen that blue suit, but it always looked so good on him. Do you think I should have had him dressed in his uniform? He is entitled, you know, after World War II and Korea.
HENRY: I think the blue suit will be fine. (gets up and walks over and puts his hand on his mother’s shoulder to comfort her.) There will be an honor guard from the VFW post and the flag. I made sure he was going to get his military honors.
ETHEL: Still, I think maybe – – – do you think there will be a lot of people there?
HENRY: Dad was a well liked man.
ETHEL: (distantly) Yes, I guess he was. (nervously wipes the counter top she has wiped already.)
HENRY: What is wrong?
ETHEL: (folds dish cloth and places it over edge of sink.) Why do you think there is something wrong? I’m just upset because George – – – because George died so suddenly. There are so many things to do, and I have no idea where to begin, and you have to go back to work, and Henry, Jr. has to go back to school, and I – – –
HENRY: They can spare me at work for a few days. Henry, Jr. is smart enough to make up the work he might miss – – –
ETHEL: – – – Still – – –
HENRY: (exasperated, but not quite sure he is telling the truth.) Everything will be fine, Mom.
ETHEL: I guess so. Did you see the cake Mrs. Johnson brought in? I swear we have enough food here to last a year. I just don’t know what I’m going to do with it all. (looks at clock and sighs) I guess you had go get Henry, Jr. It’s about time.
HENRY: (pauses at door) You sure you’re all right, Mom?
ETHEL: Of course I am. As all right as I can be right now. (Henry shakes his head and exits. Ethel exits after him.)
(slow dim down and dim up with something like “Crossing the Bar” or “Bringing in the Sheaves” to indicate the passage of time for the funeral and wake.)
Set: Kitchen of Wilson home, three hours later. Ethel is putting away the last of the dishes from the gathering after the funeral.
ETHEL: Well, that is the last of them. I thought the people would never leave.
HENRY: I didn’t realize Dad had so many friends.
ETHEL: (hesitantly) Well, your father had done business with a lot of people, and there were a few of my friends.
HENRY: I’m curious, Mom. Why did we keep coming back here to Maple Street?
ETHEL: It’s our home.
HENRY: We had a lot of homes when Dad was in the Army, but we kept coming back here, and when Dad retired we came back again. This has been the only place I can recall as being home.
ETHEL: When we came back from Germany, your father and I bought this house. Don’t you remember? We lived here while he was in Korea. (runs her hand along the counter top before pouring herself a cup of coffee and sitting down with Henry.) This house is the one constant thing there has been in my life for the past fifty years. What with your father moving around all the time and – – –
HENRY: And what?
ETHEL: Oh, nothing, it’s not important.
HENRY: Why were you always working when I was growing up?
ETHEL: We needed the money.
HENRY: Why? Dad was in the Army. You used the Commissary and the Post Exchange.
ETHEL: (gets up and walks over to the sink.) My, don’t you have a lot of questions today?
HENRY: (looking into his coffee cup) I guess I do. I don’t know whether it’s Dad dying or me being home. We never have been very close. I just – – –
ETHEL: (angrily) I always took good care of you. You always had a roof over your head, food to eat and clean clothes.
HENRY: You always do this.
ETHEL: What do you expect when you tell me I wasn’t a good mother?
HENRY: I didn’t say that. I said we were never close.
ETHEL: (repentantly) I have always loved you.
HENRY: I never doubted that. Hell, I wish I could get one thing right for a change.
ETHEL: There you go, acting like your father again. I can see it’s no use trying to talk to you.
HENRY: (confused) Acting like Dad again? I don’t remember Dad ever losing his temper or getting upset.
ETHEL: There’s a lot of things you don’t remember or choose not to. (sighs) Maybe it’s better that way.
HENRY: (consoling, puts his arm around his mother) You’re upset, Mom. This has been a hard day for you. Why don’t you go lay down for a while? Henry, Jr. is playing with the Johnson boy across the street, and I’ll just go for a walk.
ETHEL: (starts out of kitchen) Maybe you’re right, son. A nap might do me some good. It has been a long day.
(Henry looks thoughtfully at the door his mother has just walked out of, then gets up and leaves through the outside door.)
(Slow blackout with appropriate music to all for scene and mood change)
Set: Inside a coffee shop.
HENRY: (enters and looks uncertainly at a woman sitting at a table, he walks up to her) Janice?
JANICE: (looks up from the book she is reading, then takes a moment to figure out who Henry is.) Henry?
HENRY: I thought it was you. Do you mind if I join you?
JANICE: (hesitates) No, it might be nice to catch up on things. I was sorry to hear about your father. Tell your mom I’m thinking about her.
HENRY: Thank you. I’ll make sure to tell Mom. Your mother brought over a cake.
JANICE: A cake? That sounds like Mom. Her answer to everything is food. Just look at me.
HENRY: (looking her over) You don’t look bad to me.
JANICE: (smiling) I don’t think I’d make homecoming queen now, the way I look.
HENRY: (looking into Janice’s eyes) We all get older, but sometimes I wish – – –
JANICE: (looking back into Henry’s eyes, replies softly) You wish – – – (phone on wall rings, waitress comes from kitchen and answers it.)
HENRY: (suddenly looks away from Janice for a waitress, and speaks loudly) Who do you have to know to get a cup of coffee around here?
WAITRESS OR WAITER: (any age, chews gum) Say, mister. Is your name Henry Watson?
HENRY: Why, yes.
WAITRESS: Well, this here phone call is for you. (Henry looks at Janice)
HENRY: I didn’t even hear the phone ring, did you? (Janice shakes her head. He walks over to take the phone call.) Calm down, Mom. I can’t understand a word you’re saying. – – – What? – – – Stay calm, Mom. I’ll be right there. (He hangs up the phone and walks back to Janice.) My dad’s dog, Fred Four, just ran out in the street and got hit by a car and killed. I have to go take care of things. (He reaches out his hand to Janice.) But there’s something I want to do first. Stand up, please. (Janice stands and Henry gives her a long, tender kiss. Henry puts his hat on and leaves. Janice sinks to the chair and puts her hand to her lips as the stage lights slowly fade to black, with accompanying music “I’ll Fly Away in My Beautiful Balloon.”)
©Copyright by Tina Rice (Date Unknown)