It’s Father’s Day, and tomorrow Nancy Lerman — a writer in one of the memoir classes I lead in Chicago — will be on stage at the Goodman Theatre to read an essay about her dad.
This is a big deal! The Goodman won a Special Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre in 1992, and it’s recognized for its artists, productions and educational programs. One of those educational programs is a six-week writing workshop for people over 55 called GeNarrations, where participants develop personal narratives based on themes raised by the Goodman’s mainstage productions.
In the current session, writers are working with The White Snake, a Chinese fairytale about 2 snake sisters who become human. Participants were asked to develop a personal and true story about getting lost and finding your way again, and to do it in a fairy-tale context.
Nancy grew up in New York, and her story opens with her dad driving from Long Island to Manhattan. “Dad knew every corner of the city from Chambers Street to Harlem,” she wrote. “His infallible sense of direction and the Mustang’s V8 engine always got us home, safe and sound.” Nancy was convinced that when she grew up, she’d zip around in her own car, just like her Dad. Only problem? Nancy didn’t inherit her father’s internal compass. “Zip I do, but usually in circles trying to figure out east from west.”
To prove this point, Nancy describes a time she drove me home after our memoir class and inadvertently merged onto the Kennedy Expressway:
“Don’t panic,” I told Beth as I clenched the steering wheel and we merged into traffic. Good thing she couldn’t see me sweating. Beth can’t see a thing. She’s totally blind.”
If only someone had scattered a bag of breadcrumbs for me to follow, marking the right path to her home,” Nancy wrote. Unsure what to do, she stayed the course. “My best navigating is done by landmarks, but nothing was familiar. Exit for The Polish American Museum. Where’s that?
The ride went on for nearly an hour, and after many wrong turns and missed exits, Nancy eventually got off at Harrison and started calling the streets out loud. Wolcott! Loomis! Aberdeen! I reassured her we were driving east.
“Literally, the blind leading the blind, but Beth wasn’t the only one helping me that day,” Nancy wrote. “So was the Universe.” Her father’s name was Jerry Bernard Lerman. Nancy told me that when she gets lost while driving, the initials JB often appear on a license plate ahead to guide her along. That’s exactly what happened on our drive home that day, and I’ll end the post here with the conclusion to Nancy’s essay to explain the rest:
Driving down Harrison with my eyes fixed forward, a JB plate pulled in the lane ahead of me. I explained my little game of highway magic to Beth.
We continued eastward, and within a few minutes another plate showed up in front of us. That one read, “POPSROCKS.” Between Beth and JB and POPSROCKS, I found my way. With a thankful nod to the universe, I safely dropped Beth off at her front door.
You can hear Nancy Lerman read her entire piece at Goodman Theatre in Chicago tomorrow, Monday, June 16. She and other selected GeNarrations writers will be reading at 4 pm, and admission is free.