hsm 2

Bailey VandeKamp accompanies Kaley Iddings and Sam Wadle during a rehearsal for "High School Musical."

All the world’s a stage, a wise man once wrote.

We have our exits and entrances, and in our time, we play many parts, Shakespeare mused.

This crossed my mind last week as I watched young actors rehearse for this weekend’s performance of “High School Musical.” It really hit home as our family mourned the loss of my wife’s brother.

Every family has its quirks. My wife’s clan has its share, and a lot of them were wrapped in plaid and embodied in Ed. Since you’re not supposed to speak ill of the dead, these thoughts will be blessedly brief.

Ed would like that line, I think, because he liked to laugh, especially at himself. As the family sat around my in-laws’ table Saturday, passing around photos of Ed sporting massive sideburns, leisure suits and other fashion crimes of the 1970s, I paused to shudder.

I can’t imagine, I said, looking from the great beyond to see people guffawing over pictures from my past. His wife, Suszanne, was quick to correct me. He’d love to be right there, laughing along with us, she said.

All the same, I vowed to destroy any photographic evidence of my formative years.

Just east of that table was Ed’s special place. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, he’d religiously stand there as we joined hands to pray. By “religiously,” I don’t mean “holy,” but more toward “consistently.” As soon as we prayed our thanks, Ed would be first into the kitchen to load his plate.

As stories poured out with the photos Saturday, I stepped out to catch my breath and wander up the muddy road to the Weller cemetery. Slopping along, I thought about how Ed had done it again. He’d beaten his brothers, sisters and parents to the grave, but that fate came with a benefit. Many folks, myself included, live in hope that a great banquet awaits us when we die. If that’s true, Ed is once again first to the feast. I know he’d enjoy that last laugh.

Up at the cemetery, I met Josh Schneider, who’d come from Melcher to dig Ed’s grave. The tools of his trade reminded me of my first job as a funeral home groundskeeper. Josh let me turn the first shovel. The sod oozed, as did my thoughts about the roles we play.

Two days later the grave would be filled, as would some of Ed’s roles. After his funeral, the church hall was packed with mourners, most of them sharing jokes and stories. The meal was blessed, and Ed’s kids took the first plates.

This weekend, young actors will take the stage at Knoxville High School. I’ve seen them grow from bit parts to supporting roles, some now moving into the spotlight as leads. Like Ed’s kids, they’ve also grown into young women and men. Some might never act again, but all will have some role, small or great, on the world stage.

“All the world’s a stage,” Shakespeare wrote, “and all the men and women merely players.”

Break a leg, everybody!

Pat Finan is the managing editor of the Journal-Express. He can be reached in the newsroom at 641-842-2155 or via email at pfinan@journalexpress.net.

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