The thing that struck me first was the fact that my family and I arrived together just before seven, bought our tickets and went inside. We had never bought tickets for the Sequoia Variety Show. Over the past half-dozen years, we had sold our share of tickets, but we had never purchased any. This was primarily due to the fact that we were, some or all of us, part of that show.
But not last night. We were part of the audience. The next thing I was aware of was how full the auditorium was. For all those years before, I just assumed that the chairs I had set up hours earlier were full with excited onlookers: paying customers. Now I was out there in the dark, standing at the back because it was the only room available.
That's where I watched the show, just to one side of the follow spot that was perched on a table behind me. My wife and son found places to sit, and friends to talk with. I kibitzed with other dads who I had worked with "back in the day." But mostly I watched the show and noticed how much the same it was, and how very different.
It is a variety show, and the Kindergarten girl who sang a flawless acappella version of Elton John's "Your Song" contrasted mightily with the breathless fourth grade girl doing her best Beyonce. This year there were two "air bands," but unlike my son's groups, these featured live vocals. There was a raffle, but this year the prizes were donated movie tickets and gift certificates, a far cry from our fifty dollar cash giveaways.
Standing at the back, I was acutely aware of a phenomenon I had only guessed at in years past: The crowd thinned mightily just after the prizes had been handed out and just before the Dads' Club Act at the end of the show. Watching the parents stomp about onstage in their hastily prepared and roughly rehearsed skit, I remembered years past when I struggled to get line readings and cues caught from a bunch of guys who were already doing valiant service putting on a show from behind the scenes. Now I was asking them to be thespians.
It was a beautiful thing because it was something new, but immediately recognizable. When the lights came up, I shook some hands and congratulated everyone on a job well done as we folded and stacked chairs. And this thought came to me: It's like that first time you go back to your old school after you move on to junior high. You see your old teacher, and there are a whole crop of new kids in your class, and you wonder how you were ever small enough to fit in those desks. Last night I wondered how I ever managed to do that for six years. The answer was simple: I had a lot of help. Not just the men and women and boys and girls who were there at the time, but the ones who came before me.
As winter turns to spring, I look back fondly on the months of preparation and the weeks of rehearsal and the night of the show and then it's over. I miss that seasonal rhythm, but I'm happy now to be just an observer. In the back. In the dark. Applauding.