Monday, December 7, 2015


After months of writing and several weeks of detailed rehearsal with my director, Michael Stuart, the show opens tonight at 8:00 PM at the Hyde Park Theatre. I know many of my blog friends don't live in Austin and will therefore be unable to join us, but I hope you'll be there in spirit! I'm eagerly anticipating a big happy house full of enthusiastic, smiling faces for my opening night, but it won't matter...either way, I'm excited and truly honored at a chance to share my personal Christmas stories.

Trevor Lemoine's wonderful poster

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Suddenly...Mum's 90th Birthday

Today would've been my mother's 90th birthday. She died suddenly in 2007. She dropped dead of heart failure as she reached for her meditation chair, prayer books in hand. "She wouldn't have felt a thing," the doctor confirmed. It was a real shock. Although she'd had a bit of an issue with high BP in her last few years, she hadn't been sick, had not, in fact, ever suffered from illness of any kind. She was a vegetarian, never smoked, exercised regularly (walking, hiking, occasional halfhearted aerobics and isometrics) and drank alcohol every day, in the form of a gin martini, the only kind. She called it "a ruin" after the well-known English name for gin, "Mother's Ruin." Happy hour in Mum's house was legendary.

Since her death, I've thought often about the words, "died suddenly" because, when one mentions that a relative has shuffled off in that way, there's always a distinct reaction. It goes like this: "What a good thing she never suffered," or "Thank heavens she passed away without a long-term illness," or even, "You're lucky she didn't drag on for years and years like my [fill in the blank]."

Of course, I'm glad that she never suffered and passed away without being sick and didn't drag on for years, but it took a while for me to feel that way. For ages, I was heartbroken that I never had closure, never had a chance to say goodbye, never got to force one last awkward hug on that beloved round-shouldered body. In fact, our last contact was dreadful, one of those phone conversations you wish you could snatch out of the ether, and do again.

"Hello, Berni. It's Mum."
"Hello Mum. How are you?"
"What, dear? It's a bad line, I can hardly hear you."
"The line seems okay at this end, Mum. Are you holding the receiver up to your ear?
"Mum, have you got your hearing aid in?"
"You'll have to speak up, Berni, I can barely hear you."
Me, shouting: "How are you, Mum?"
Me, shouting: "Are you holding the receiver up to your ear? Perhaps your hearing aid battery has gone."
Mum, laughing: "I'm sorry, darling. I'm starting to think that my hearing aid battery has gone."
Rattle, rustle, crackle, as she checks her hearing aid.
Me, laughing: "Mum, why don't you call me back in a minute."
Mum: "It's no good, dear, I can't hear you. Why don't you call me back in a minute."
Me, laughing hysterically: "But Mum, you called me..."

Line goes dead. I wait two minutes to see if she's going to try again before re-dialing. My call goes straight to her voicemail.

See what I mean? Not an ideal way to bid a final farewell to your favorite person in the world. But I must say, what strikes me in recent years is that this conversation ended in giggles, and if there's one thing we always had plenty of in our household, it was humor. We weren't obviously affectionate or demonstrative, but we did know how to make each other shriek with hilarity. With that in mind, I wish you HAPPY 90TH BIRTHDAY, MUM! And thanks for keeping me laughing until the very end. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Praying for the Mantis

On my front flowerbed this morning, I spotted a tiny praying mantis, and right alongside it, hanging from another leaf, the ghost of a mantis, which I presume is its recently shed coat. As I watched, a large moth landed on the next stalk. I wondered if the mantis was praying that the moth would alight a bit closer. I prayed that it would--I wanted to see how the mantis would go about preparing its meal, as the moth was three times the size of the mantis, and could easily crush its head, just by sitting on it.

Still, it put me in mind of an incident that took place in Tripoli, Libya, just after I'd moved into a tiny villa in the residential area known as Georgimpopuli. In lieu of a Throwback Thursday photo, I thought I'd share that little anecdote.

My Austin front yard, June 2015. Praying mantis on flower stem in the centre. Ghost mantis on the right.

 "On Graham's heels arrived a couple of oil company workers to spray my little villa for pests. When they'd finished and I was showing them out, I noticed an enormous bright green insect on the front porch wall. It was at least four inches long, with a three-foot wing span...all right, the wings spanned about four inches, but that was scary enough for me. I grabbed one of the men by the arm and shrieked so loudly, his eyes nearly popped out of his head; poor fellow had no idea what was wrong. The language barrier didn't help, but with me jumping up and down, gesticulating wildly at the bug on the wall, he finally worked out what I wanted. He transferred the creature into a nearby flowerbed. "Grazie," I said, "Molte grazie!" I moved a bit closer to observe it. "It is beautiful," I said, pointing to the insect sitting innocently on the ground, "but I feel much better now it's ten feet away from me!" 

Unfortunately, I was misunderstood. One of the workers trod on it with his black leather loafer. I didn't want it to die; it was a splendid bug! Bloody language barrier. After they'd gone, I took a good look at it lying dead and realized that it was a praying mantis. I'd never seen one before; it was incredible. It really did look as if it was praying. I still feel guilty for having a living thing murdered. Mind you, had it been a spider, I'd have pulverized it with a shovel, just to be sure.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Ash Sprinkling

On a clear, sunny day exactly eight years ago, my brother and I picked up our mother's ashes from Steele's, the funeral directors on Chesil Street, at the bottom of Winchester High Street, just past King Alfie's statue, over the bridge by the City Mill, and up the hill to the left. Mum died on Sunday 8th April, which also happened to be Easter. Her memorial service, cremation and jolly wake took place on Wednesday 2nd May, rather late because I was in Steel Magnolias at the Austin Playhouse and before I could make it back to England, I had to coach an understudy take my place. And so it was that on Friday 4th May, we carried a big plastic urn up the High Street to our family home in Elm Road.

We were rather surprised at the amount of ash Mum had provided when she was such a little woman who'd shrunk considerably in her later years. Surely these were the remains of a giant. Nevertheless, here was Mum in a big, plastic urn so Bro and I decided that we would take her to some of her favorite coffee houses on the way home. After she retired, it was her habit to walk down town every day, even if she didn't need to, for the exercise, don't you know, and treat herself to a good cup of coffee at one of Winchester's more salubrious establishments. I always liked that routine; I hope I do the same when I retire.

First, since she'd been a tour guide for many years, we held up her ashes as we went by the Winchester Tourist Office by the Guildhall, so she could say goodbye. We lifted the urn as we passed C&H Fabrics which I believe had a little coffee shop upstairs. We visited the cathedral refectory which would've been number one on her list--she spent a lot of time there, after taking tourists around Winchester Cathedral. Finally, we went to what used to be the Spinning Wheel Cafe in the middle of the pedestrian precinct. All of us had loved that little upstairs cafe, right next to the Buttercross. In fact, we had always met outside, before going up the ancient wooden staircase to get our tea and cake. Now we sat on the Buttercross for a brief moment so she could say her last farewell.

When we got home, our sister was there to meet us. We climbed into Bro's car with the urn, also bringing Mum's funeral flowers, and made our way out of town to a particular place in the countryside. Here was the bluebell wood that Mum loved so much, where she'd requested we scatter her ashes. We weren't sure it was legal--in fact, we were pretty sure it was illegal-- but it was Mum's wish and it was too late to try and change her mind now.

We used plastic cups and set to work, scattering and sprinkling far and wide. It took ages, there was so much of it. We were crying in our grief, and laughing at the absurdity. Crying and laughing. Tears and laughter. A Nason family habit. However sad we are, we always find the joy and humor. However happy, we always laugh until tears stream. 

Every now and then, we came together in a central place to re-connect with one another, and compare our work areas---areas that were becoming increasingly grey with ash. When there was just enough of Mum left to take a small amount away with us (Mum's ashes are in the ground beneath a tree I planted in her memory outside our Austin home), we separated out the flowers and spread them all over: on tree trunks, up in branches, and along the natural pathways.

We stood back to survey our work. If we had hoped to carry out our task surreptitiously, we'd failed. There was SO MUCH ash, it was as if a small volcano had erupted and coated everything with its tangible tantrum, then fairies had come along and strewn flowers on top. What should we do? we wondered.

Then with a clap of thunder, it started to rain. We'd been so focused on our task that we hadn't noticed the grim clouds gathering overhead. At first, the rain came down a few drops at a time so we could see each one land upon a leaf or a branch, polka dots on Mum's ash coat. Then it came down more heavily and her white remains slowly disappeared into the earth. In no time at all, she had gone. We ran to the car, knowing that Mum was where she wanted to be. And that we wouldn't get into trouble for leaving her there.

FORASMUCH as it hath pleased Almighty God of his great mercy to take unto himself the soul of our dear brother here departed: we therefore commit his body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in sure and certain hope of resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change our vile body that it may be like to his glorious body, according to the mighty working, whereby he is able to subdue all things to himself.

"Book of common prayer 1599"