In the recent film A Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor plays a character named Garrison Keillor (he nails it, by the way). At one point midway through the film, a beloved old performer dies backstage. GK is asked why he refuses to offer an on-air eulogy. His reply is classic: “I’m of an age when if I started to do eulogies, I’d be doing nothing else.” [end of digression]
Beatrice is someone about whom I’ve heard many stories over the years. She was the de facto stepmother of a dear friend of mine, and my friend has told me so much about Beatrice that I’ve long felt that I knew her better than I actually did, but I’m going to boil it all down to one story, the night of my one conversation with her.
As you may know, I was for many years the Herald, emcee, and entertainment director for a medieval feast catering company. The most lavish feast we ever put on was a $100 a plate benefit for the Association for Retarded Citizens. It was a 5+ hour feast with act upon act, and even included a full-length play by the Young People’s Theatre of Ann Arbor in the middle of the feast. Someone thought it would be cool to have a gypsy fortune teller there to go from table to table. But we didn’t know anyone who already had a fortune telling act. Then someone suggested Beatrice. This is a little tricky to explain.
First of all, I think of myself as a skeptic, but my skepticism cannot be considered when relating this story; it is immaterial. What I’m about to describe is about the beliefs of other people; my own beliefs must sit on the sidelines for now.
Beatrice was regarded in certain circles as a psychic of no small ability. For her part, she tended to be rather guarded in openly acknowledging this talent. Her usual method of reading someone was to establish physical contact with them. She agreed to be our fortune teller, but all concerned felt that walking up to people and touching them would be a little off-putting, so we devised a scheme – she would pretend to be a palm reader! This would provide her with an excuse to touch her subject. She would then report on what she felt, but would attribute it to the reading of the palm. So you see, she was a fake palm reader, but a “real” psychic!
This all seemed fun and jolly on paper, but the results that night were, well, mixed. The first thing you should understand is that she had one rule – she would not make up what she was telling the people. She would tell people the truth about what she felt. The problem was that she ended up giving a few people really specific information – names, dates, etc. – as well as some bad and disturbing news to a few people, and this was causing substantial consternation among a few patrons. I should mention here that we never asked Beatrice to do this for us again, and I think she was just as glad that we didn’t.
As the feast was winding down, when most of the patrons had left, I sat down with Beatrice and she offered to do a reading on me. She took my hand and cast her eyes down. After a moment, she looked up with a quizzical frown on her face and asked, “Why do you want to be an actor?” – stressing the word “actor.” I must have frowned back at her a little, because she immediately leaned forward to explain herself. “Don’t get me wrong – you can be a very good actor. It’s just that you have the ability to excel in so many different areas, and I’m just curious why you’ve decided on acting.”
“It’s this simple,” I replied, “Acting is the one thing I’ve found that makes me want to work and work on doing it well, yet it never feels like work.”
I won’t recount the entire reading, but there was one other thing she said that has particularly stuck with me. “I see you marrying,” she said. The phrase “Oh, really?” went through my mind, though I did not verbalize it. She continued, “You will marry for love, but much to your surprise, your wife will end up making a great deal of money.” Once again, I thought something that I did not verbalize: “Sounds good to me!”
She made one other, rather disconnected statement that I wish I had asked her to expand upon. “You can be very sweet. You have a soft heart, and it gets you into trouble.” All right. Maybe she didn’t need to expand on that one; I think I know only too well what she meant!
Now of course, the tools of the skeptic can slice these statements of hers into confetti and scatter them to the wind. But I come to praise Beatrice, not to bury her. Whatever else she may have been, this much is certain: she is someone who did a lot of good in her life, and she lent a vital guiding hand to several young people who turned into pretty damn fine adults, so today I bow my head to the east toward Michigan, and wish Beatrice well on her journey. OK, so maybe I did deliver a little eulogy there.
Postscript— My above-mentioned friend, who was practically raised by Beatrice for a substantial part of her childhood, was understandably sad when I spoke to her today, but I could hear her smiling as she said, “So the funeral was on Halloween. That’s appropriate; that’s perfect.”