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Johnny is sitting on a mule named Old Abe. This was taken a few months before he died.

Johnny is sitting on a mule named Old Abe. This was taken a few months before he died.

Yesterday I finished the final edit/redraft of The Lost Boy. It is a play I began years ago based on interviews with Tom. Late one night while I was visiting him at the ranch, he asked me to help him. “Do what?” I asked. He shrugged his shoulders. He didn’t know. He felt that he had an obligation to an ancestor, his great grandmother, Isabelle, and he felt as if he’d not yet met his obligation. In 1885, Isabelle had a son that died. His name was Johnny and he was only ten years old. Isabelle carefully packed a trunk with all of Johnny’s worldly possessions, she wrote notes, and when no one was looking, she hid the trunk in the walls of the ranch house. She told no one. Tom found the trunk 100 years later.

We decided that his obligation was to tell Johnny’s story. We decided that Isabelle wanted to somehow keep the memory of her son alive but her method was a mystery since she told no one about the trunk. Tom shared the trunk with school children and historical societies but somehow felt as if he had yet to fulfill his obligation to Isabelle. Our idea was to create a play. I would interview Tom and write the piece. He would perform it. Along the way a terrific band, Mom’s Chili Boys, composed and compiled music from era.

We had a play with music. We’d solved the mystery of why Isabelle plastered the trunk into the walls. We made a few attempts at doing workshop performances but the piece always stalled or something unforeseen blocked our path. During a living room read/play through, it became apparent that we missed our window. Tom was slipping into dementia and got lost during the read through. He was no longer capable of performing the play. We stopped. We let the play sit dormant.

During Tom’s decline I rewrote the play so I might tell his story. The Chili Boys were my allies and my rock of encouragement and support. They played the music at performances and told the story in a condensed version and gathered some good feedback. Once, we tried to organize another run at doing the play and it hit a wall of resistance. So, it sat for a few years in the projects-that-could-have-been pile.

When Tom passed this fall it was as if the universe that was so dedicated to blocking our path finally said, “Now.” The Chili’s have new music and it is gorgeous. In doing the rewrite I was gob smacked to realize that Tom had to pass before the play would be complete. He wondered how he might honor his obligation to Isabelle and the answer was something he never knew: he had to ask for help, not to share the story but to enter it. As it turns out, The Lost Boy is not about Johnny or Isabelle. It is about how Tom found his way home.

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2 Responses

  1. Such a beautiful tribute to Tom. It brought tears to my eyes. I don’t think I have yet worked through my feelings about Tom’s decline and passing. Perhaps once this project is completed by being on some stage somewhere, it will bring closure for me, too.

    Arnie

    PS – Great to chat the other day. Unfortunately, the connection wasn’t great and I missed some of the conversation. Alas, technology!!!

  2. Yes!! Such symmetry. This makes me super happy. Good luck bringing this project to full fruition.

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