Saturday, July 26, 2008

Puppeteers

There’s something wonderfully inspiring about people who pursue their dreams.

Randy Pausch, the professor made famous through his ‘Last Lecture,’ was a dreamer who made his dreams come true and facilitated the dreams of others.

My parents were dreamers too.

I have only vague memories of life when things were ‘normal’--my dad coming home at 6:00 p.m. dressed in suit and tie, hair slicked back in 50s fashion. I remember he didn’t smile much.

And then, one Christmas, everything changed.

My dad and a friend built a small marionette stage for my older brother and sister. We have one picture of Karen and Stan with the stage, but then my dad’s dreams took over.

I’ve always wondered how my dad brought his idea up to my mom. Perhaps the conversation went something like this:

‘Mary Kay?’

‘Yes, Ron?’

‘I want to quit my lucrative job as an engineer at Sandia Laboratories and become a puppeteer.’

[silence]

[more silence]

‘You want to what?’


My parents saved enough money to cover expenses for a year. My dad quit his job. And ‘Ron and Mary Kay Puppets’ was born.

They started by performing at local elementary schools with my brother and sister’s stage and marionettes. But my dad was interested in ‘muppet’ style puppets. So my brother, who was ten or eleven at the time, said, ‘I can make those.’ And so he did.

They outgrew the small marionette stage and built a larger stage for the hand puppets. (Eventually, they abandoned marionettes altogether).

Word of Ron and Mary Kay Puppets spread, and soon they were performing at all the elementary schools in Albuquerque, and even in Santa Fe. They were hired by the local PBS station to perform on some local shows which taught children the basics of music. They did television commercials, appeared on the Jerry Lewis Telethon, and, one summer, traveled the entire state of New Mexico performing a show promoting the Santa Fe Opera.

And they became local celebrities.

I loved it when they came to my school, Montgomery Elementary. My classmates would be in awe, ‘Those are your parents? You get to touch the puppets? Really??? Wow!’

There were downsides of being the child of puppeteers. When I wasn’t in school, I had to accompany them to all their shows, and, to my dismay, I had to share them with other kids. Our house was always in a state of chaos--with puppet fir, foam rubber, and ping-pong-ball eyes strewn across what should’ve been the dining room table. My parents wrote all their own music and recorded their shows in the local studio: our den. That meant silence in the house for weeks while they put the shows together. Our family car, a 1965 white Chevy station wagon, was stuffed to the gills during puppet season with the stage, sound equipment, and puppets, leaving only small pockets of room for the family. My parents argued over scripts, over scheduling, over who was funnier, and, most of all, over finances.

But my dad was smiling.

Ron and Mary Kay Puppets eventually came to an end (for various reasons that require another blog entry), and my parents went on to ‘normal’ jobs. But those were the golden years in our household--years filled with fun and creativity and laughter--and dreams fulfilled.

One of my favorite pictures from the puppeteering days omits my parents entirely. It is a black and white photo of children watching one of their shows. Their faces are lit up by the lights from the stage, and you can see that they are entranced--what better testimony to the kind of joy and adventure my parents brought to others?

My brother created an amazing website about my parents that you can find here:the Ron and Mary Kay Puppets®™ Pages





1 comment:

Bezner said...

Now THAT is a great story.