The summer of barefoot
Sender: Jim Hammer
Email: calvinjameshammer@yahoo.com
Posted On: 01/20/2015
Year: 1974

The summer of barefoot

As time passes we find ourselves attending more funerals than weddings. I suppose it’s inevitable, but for most of us death seems very far away when we are in high school.

The summer of barefoot was a little over 40 years ago now. It started when I noticed Jim Heatly disappearing from our U.S. Government and Problems summer class. After a short check-in everyday, we could leave Ralph Johnson’s class to do research in the school library. But Jim wasn’t in the library.

He faithfully showed up at the conclusion of each lesson, and he was getting all his assignments done, but he was definitely missing in action during class time. So I followed him. He was skipping over to the hall to work on yet another summer project, Karen Daniel’s theater production of Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park”.

Danny Mendez was the star of Karen’s previous production, and, as was her style, Karen was teaching her students to be teachers. Danny was directing and casting this little comedy popularized by Jane Fonda and Robert Redford in film.

He cast Leigh Foust in Jane’s role…the young, poor newlywed, who wants to remain happy, carefree and run “barefoot in the park.” And he chose Terry Dickison for the serious young lawyer, who has married his free-spirited opposite.

The eternally-funny Tena Behrends snagged the role of Leigh’s mom, and after scrounging around for possible candidates, Danny picked me to play the whacky neighbor. Jim Heatly was too busy working away at tech to take on the role, and Danny didn’t want to direct himself.

That was the same summer we met Bill Hewlett. Bill was a ’72 graduate of MVHS, but he had returned to stage a community production of the much more outrageous musical the “Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
He was trying to put it all together in the Lecture Hall, which seated about 80 people…using lights we were looking for to use in our show. The cozy lecture hall looked like a far better setting for a little classic comedy for four actors and one setting…so somehow we all got together.

Bill and Jim got all the flats and lights in place, and Danny and Karen got the actors ready. It took a lot more practice time than we thought it could take. We performed in the summer, and then brought it back in the fall, for at least five performances, and numerous teasers.

Leigh was a superb professional. She had the largest role, and was the first to learn all of her lines. Her character was happy and bubbly, and she was perfectly cast for the part. Kissing on stage for the first time, “in front of all those people”, was the hardest part, but she and Terry finally made it look natural and unrehearsed.

We made lifetime friends there. Long conversations took us through the endless hours of rehearsals, and we kept in contact with each other between plays as well. Leigh was smart, beautiful and funny. She went on to act in other plays, but this was her big, starring role.

Leigh’s gone now. Her Facebook page remains, and it’s possible to go back and see the condolences and continued birthday wishes from family and friends…

We have seen a few premature deaths throughout the years, but this group has been hit significantly hard. Jim died in a plane crash. Terry followed him. Karen finished a PhD and took on the job as a principal at one of the newer high schools in Moreno Valley. Then she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Leigh is the most recent loss.

I don’t know if there is life after death…or theater plays in heaven. I don’t know if we go on learning in great leaps and bounds…the way we did in high school. But I hope, if there is life…then I hope love exists too, and friendships, and memories of great times and great people…some place where we can all run barefoot in the park.

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