They were maybe seven and nine years old, sitting on one of the round marbled benches, carrying on a lively conversation with their wooden nutcrackers. Their mother, in a black and silver lace blouse stood, looking up at the electronic schedule display. I smiled and was about to ask how they’d enjoyed the ballet when a lump swelled and my throat closed. My body reacted before my memory caught up.
I am with my mother on the steps of the War Memorial Opera House in December 1961. I am six, my sister, Cathy, is nine and big brother, Jimmy, is ten. Mom bends down, holds my coat collar and tells me to obey Jimmy and Cathy. No squirming around and no talking during the performance. She will meet us right back on the steps when the ballet was over.
The performance is magical! The beauty and glitter of the ballerinas, the enchanting music, the fighting rats and sugar plum fairies. Swirling collages of many colors, sparkling silver and glittery gold, and I wish I were the star in my own ballet slippers, on point. That ballet is the most glamorous event of my young life.
My mother barely scraped together the money for our tickets. She could not afford to buy one for herself, and she had my other two brothers at home to care for. Mom was thirty years old with five children, making ends meet on my father’s firefighter’s wages. But the magic of the Nutcracker was a necessity she would not let her older children miss.
Many many years later my mother worked as a volunteer usher at San Francisco Ballet and saw the Nutcracker countless times. She never tired of it or of the opportunity to slip her grandchildren in to watch it with her.
I still have the playbill tucked away with other childhood treasures. The Nutcracker lives for my mom and me every holiday season.