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Alive November 2016

AND THEN I WROTE Giving Thanks for Old Memories by Edwin Cohen The number of people who affect our lives can be quite large, although it will vary from person to person. Parents, siblings, other family members, clergy, teachers all contribute to whom we become in our adult lives. Many change our lives, for better or worse, in such small increments that we may not even be aware of them. Often they too are unaware that they have initiated change in people they barely know, may have totally forgotten, or, indeed, never even met. I should like to pay homage to some who affected my life in ways that they probably never knew. JIMMY GRIGGS: Because Jimmy also would be in his mid-eighties and we have not seen each other for seventy plus years, I seriously doubt that he would remember me. While his contribution to my life was not a major life changer, it was important and perhaps even profound. I was small for my age in the pre-teen years, but Jimmy was even smaller. While I could outrun just about anyone and could use my sense of humor against just about everyone, Jimmy just had to act tough, so quite often he would chase me home after school, never catching me, but letting me know what would happen if he did catch me. Third Street in Sunbury, PA, is an unusual street. The Pennsylvania Railroad (we called it “The Pennsy”) tracks run through the middle of the street, southbound on the west or river side, and northbound of the east side, with sidewalks on either side of the tracks. Jimmy and I were twelve or thirteen and he was chasing me north on the east sidewalk when I decided I had had enough running. With no real plan of attack, I was neither fighter nor lover at twelve, I turned, made a stern face, held my clenched fists shoulder high, and started to move toward Jimmy. Drum rolls, organ music, and flashing colored lights are appropriate here because, you got it, Jimmy, my nemesis, turned and ran away from me. He had taught me a lesson about bullies that I never forgot. Nor was I ever afraid of such people again. Better yet, never did I ever have to fight anyone. Although my mouth occasionally got me into trouble, it never failed to bail me out from bullies. Thank you, Jimmy! MRS. MADVIG: Mrs. Madvig was my final senior semester English teacher at Washington High School in Los Angeles. She was, in my opinion, a fine teacher and A L I V E E A S T B 20 A Y n o v e m b e r 2 0 1 6 person, so I did good work in her class. Doing good work in class was not my usual modus operandi. Indeed, I did not do much good or even poor work in most classes unless I liked the teacher and subject. I, like many teens, was lazy, angry, sullen, withdrawn, and, unlike others, with a sharp sense of humor that was often mean spirited. I had just three interests: baseball, basketball, and looking at girls (while scared out of my wits that they might look back). One day in class Mrs. M. had us do a read around of some work long forgotten. When we finished, she said, “Edwin, may I see you after class?” When the bell rang, I went up to her desk where she said, “They are having auditions for a play in room 201 after school today. I think you should tryout.” The guys would play ball without me that day while I “tried out.” The play was an old-fashioned melodrama with two acts one hundred and fifty years apart, so only the vampire appeared in both acts. Guess who got the part of the vampire? Come on, guess! I not only got the part, but I found I could make people laugh without hurting anyone. I discovered the recognition as a person that I longed for. Through my teacher’s simple request to try out, I found my lifelong passion. For the next fifty years plus I studied theater, acted in well over fifty plays, compiled two readers theater full length plays, directed and produced many plays, and, most important, taught theater in high schools for eleven years and in universities for over thirty. Through Mrs. Madvig’s simple request, this poor, unfocused kid experienced a profound, life changing path that led to a productive, positive, and enjoyable life and career. I am sure she had no idea, but thank you, Mrs. Madvig, from the bottom of my cothurni! (Look it up.) STEVE ALLEN: Mr. Allen and I never met or even corresponded. To the great star of television, I was just another of the tens of millions of dedicated, unknown fans. Yet he too, or his old radio program in Los Angeles, had a real and positive influence on my life, an influence that began long before he was a nationally known star. In the spring of 1948 my parents and I were living in Carlsbad, California then a small village along the Southern California seacoast—not the fine, well populated resort it has become. I was seventeen and in my junior year at Oceanside-Carlsbad High School. One evening a buddy and I walked the two miles to Oceanside to see a movie. By the time the movie was over, we had some doughnuts, and walked back to Carlsbad, it was well after eleven o’clock. When I entered our apartment, my father was sound asleep, but my mother was doing something strange in those pre-television days: staying up and listening to the radio. I, of course, asked what she was listening to and was surprised by her answer: “This young guy claims to be a


Alive November 2016
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