Wednesday, June 03, 2009

in memory

There are some who would insist I was one of his pets--that I only got the parts I did because he "played favorites." I don't know that this was true, but what I do know for certain is that I wanted desperately to please this man, and still, to this day, wrestle with conflicted emotions regarding my inability to do so.

My high school theater director died yesterday, and my emotions remain conflicted. Make no mistake--I am very sad to hear of his passing. Many of my best memories of high school, if not most, were orchestrated by and filled with this man and his larger-than-life personality. Innumerable shows, trips to New York, French class, co-directing the children's theater--when I flip through my photo albums, he is ever-present, even if not seen. Truly, I am very sad.

Harry Wilcox was an icon in our little hometown outside of Toledo. Perhaps, at least in theater circles, even in all of NW Ohio. It is true that the man could put on a darn good show. He was loved by many, loathed by others, raised to a saint-like status by many more. The man truly had a presence. Eccentric would be an understatement. As round as he was short, Monsieur, as we all called him, could command a room like no one else. And did, frequently.

I was asked, in a college composition course, to write an essay about a teacher who had most impacted my life. I wrote about Harry. It was heartfelt. I wrote, of course, about the positive impact, too close to and too confused by the rest to pay it heed at that time. I wrote about the courage and confidence I'd developed as a result of my days on his stage. About his willingness to drive me (and about a billion other kids) back and forth to practice on his way home so we could participate. About his ability to kick your butt into gear with a great deal of French cursing and feigned frustration, and to pull out of you things you didn't even know you had in you. I wrote about his good side, and the charisma and humor that exuded from that place. I meant it all.

As for the rest, well, I don't have a box to put that all in, still, after all these years. It doesn't seem to fit with the pictures and playbills and trophies. Funny--it didn't fit then, either, but that was part of the confusion. The je ne sais quoi with which I continue to wrestle at moments like these.

What I can tell you with certainty is that I truly loved this man, in my naive, wanting-to-please, high school student way. In all his quirky, irritating, amusing, and sometimes hurtful glory, he was, all in all, a loveable man who cared about his students. And I am terribly sad to hear his run has come to an end.

1 comment:

jrwelker said...

Aw... you made me all misty-eyed... He certainly was larger than life and had a massive impact on sooo very many of us.

When I was teaching writing in Nagoya I wrote an essay about him to use as an example for my students of how to write an essay about a person who has had a really big impact on your life. And he really has. Even tho' I'm in Japan and not France and am not at the moment doing theater. France and the theater maintain a huge place in my heart thanks in very large part to that pushy, lovable guy.

... About five years ago, after he first go sick and recovered, I made a quick trip up to the Ann Arbor area, where he was teaching. He, Jan, and I had a really nice chat chez Wilcox and then he took me to the school he was at to show me the theater and such. It was a weekend day or evening or something so there were very few people there, but when we ran into a colleague of his, he introduced me as an old friend. I really liked that. A lot.