A few weeks ago, while driving back from north Virginia, where my niece, Maggie, officially graduated from secondary school, I took my mother to dinner at the Martha Washington Inn in Abingdon.
We stopped in the quiet town to reminisce about my father’s days there as an extension agent and assistant professor for Virginia Tech.
His office was located at the Inn.
A block or so down the street is Barter Theatre, a venue for the performing arts.
I can remember more than one but less than a dozen times I took a date to see a play or musical at Barter Theatre, driving up from northeast Tennessee to show my female companions a bit of culture common to most cultures (but rarely, agar plate cultures).
As president of the Drama Club in our secondary school (for two years!), I felt it was my duty to support the arts.
The Barter Theatre presented mainly light entertainment such as, if my memory serves me well in this moment, I Do! I Do!, a musical that features the song, “My Cup Runneth Over.”
Right now, I cannot remember the names of the performers.
However, we were taught that more than one famous performer cut their teeth on the stage of Barter Theatre:
Patricia Neal, Ned Beatty and to tie this blog entry to a recent death, Ernest Borgnine.
The world is small.
On television, I watched Ernest Borgnine and his crazy cast of characters turn the U.S. Navy into a farcical front for jokes about bureaucratic nonsense, humour during wartime and the general state of the American sitcom exhibited in “McHale’s Navy.”
We all start somewhere.
If an ugly mug like Borgnine’s can become a nationally-recognized figure, anyone can.
We celebrate beauty in women with “Miss [name your region]” contests all the time.
How often could a woman proudly say she made the Ten Ugliest Faces of Hollywood list?
Borgnine did, along with Karl Malden and many others.
When they did, it made me smile and think, “Well, if they don’t care about their looks, why should I?”
You don’t have to be a cowboy or handsome to be successful.
Persistence is the key.
That, and an outstanding personality.
I have both.
That’s why I’m here, remembering my mother, my father, Barter Theatre and the actor who went from Abingdon to Hollywood decades ago, Ernest Borgnine, who became one of my heroes, both local and national, along the way.
My father was my first hero and will be my last. Borgnine was one of many important ones in-between.
May we laugh with our last breath or die trying!