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The King and Queen of Charleston

60 Weeks of Gratitude - Week 12

A couple of weeks ago I talked about being grateful for my gift of gab. I touched on where that started and ever since I’ve had Tanya and Leonard on my mind. Today, as we approach the anniversary of their deaths, I am grateful for my time with them.

The little theatre at 619 Monroe found a home as the Charleston Alley Theatre not long after that production of Nevertheless and the Lincoln Book Shoppe took over the space at 619 Monroe. I worked in the bookshop all through college. It was an eclectic store that reflected the personality of the owners. I still have gifts from the store that grace my home. Tanya was charismatic, chaotic, and artistic, while Leonard was steadfast, studious, and calm. The front of the store was new books and gifts and the back was used books. It was a favorite place for me for years. Even now, when I walk into a bookstore, I want to find something of The Lincoln Book Shoppe in it. Tanya was a significant influence and to this day I miss her presence in my life. March 13, 2004, is a day that lives trapped in my memory because it was that day when Leonard and Tanya died in a car accident.

I don’t even know how many shows I did at the CAT which closed its doors earlier this year after twenty-eight years. One of the early shows was Lee Blessing’s Eleemosynary, which was one of the few times I was on stage with Tanya. We put it together for Women’s History Month, which seems appropriate now. It was the story of three generations of women. I the ingénue, Judy my mother, and Tanya, my grandmother. She was a force on stage. She was a force as a director. She was fierce in everything that mattered to her, and everything mattered to her. She was full of passion and determination.

When she and Leonard would go out of town I would often house-sit for them. She had a wall of photographs in her kitchen and I remember sitting with the dogs studying them like they were puzzle pieces, and if I could see how they all went together I would be able to understand the enigma of Tanya and Leonard. I was at their house when a friend of theirs stopped over on his way home from a tribal festival. He was of the Blackfoot tribe. I don’t remember his name, but I remember our wide-ranging conversation. He was just one of the many people Leonard and Tanya collected in their lives. She was the first mother I ever knew who had an identity divergent and completely outside of her role as a mother. Of course, her living kids were grown by then, all doing great things in their orbits, and she loved them, but they were not her focus. She was her focus. As long as she had Leonard at her side, she needed little else to fight on.

I never learned what really happened that day in March of 2004. I don’t know if there was a red light involved. I don’t know if there was an at-fault party. I did hear that Tanya died in the impact. Leonard did not. He wrapped his arms around her and when he realized she was gone, he went to join her. That’s how I heard it, I don’t know that it is a hundred percent true, but it feels like there could be truth in it.

I am grateful for the opportunities Tanya and Leonard gave me: to work in their bookstore, share a stage with her, and learn to have a voice from her. I can’t even imagine who I would have been without her powerful presence. I probably would not have moved to California because I wouldn’t have been in love with the theatre the way I was. I didn’t understand that half the magic I gave in every performance came from her. When I first moved to Newnan, I joined a theatre company for one show. That was all it took for me to know that I was done. I didn’t enjoy it the way I had. My life was different, I wasn’t filling free hours, I was stealing hours from the rest of my life to be in the theatre. Memorizing lines was not easy anymore. I had my first ever bout of stage fright and the only remembered instance of being mind-blank on stage.

In my quest to find photos of them, I landed on their page and spent an hour reading through all the tributes left there. It took me back and reminded me that we didn’t just do theatre, we did puppet shows with the most horrifying and magnificent paper mâché puppets you could ever imagine. It reminded me that while I felt like one of their special people, I was just one of the hundreds and we all felt the same. One of my classmates said it best and I’ll leave you with his words:

“Puppets, theater, bookstores, the Uptowner. . .

Every close-knit community has a cast of characters that add to its local flavor and spirit.

The Woods were King and Queen.” – Tobin (Toby) Strader



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