There’s something fundamentally mysterious and abstract about the international dateline in any circumstances, but when you’re in the middle of the ocean and don’t have to account to anybody for hundreds of miles in any direction, it seems a little silly to insist that it’s now Friday instead of Thursday when yesterday was Wednesday. But that’s alright if it makes the timekeepers happy. We float a lot in time as it is.
One night on board ship at dinner we began listing on the back of the dessert menu all the roles Tom as an actor has played in his life. It started when he played the Mad Hatter at the age of about nine. His brother George was the Dormouse and his sister Becky was Alice. He was in plays all through the years at South Kent, then, after the Army, at Princeton, summer stock at Highfield on the Cape. Fellow actors, the directors, incidents involved in a certain production all came briefly to the surface as we went on.
It was fun remembering the one time we acted together, the first year we were married. He played the husband and I played the living wife in Blythe Spirit, community Theatre in Northampton, Mass. It was a great success and we had a good time doing it.
Then the American Theatre Company in Portland, a precursor of the Storefront Theater, came along in the late 1960s. And other productions under other directors – The Inquisitor in St. Joan, Prospero in Peter Fornara’s Tempest. He remembers the excitement at being given that role. It was his last and the only time he ever wept on stage. I’m sure that’s one reason I learned that passage by heart early on.
You do look, my son, in a moved sort,
As if you were dismay’d: be cheerful, sir.
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
( …from the last act of The Tempest)
The next morning, almost exactly at the point the Equator intersects the dateline, we had a sunrise after rain squalls in the night. The sun hurries through those first seconds after becoming visible, straight up, no lingering at the horizon. And setting, it does the same in reverse. Thinking of a summer solstice sunset in Hansville, how the sun coasts along as though reluctant to set, we are startled at the speed and the verticalness of this rising and the corresponding plunge.
I wish we had more pictures of Tom in costume. We have him as Vandergelder in The Matchmaker, the play that opened the new stage at Portland State in the 80’s, and one from an article with the headline quoting him as saying “I am not a poet.” (Photo by Mike Lloyd) He always loved the sign on his door when he was doing a year of Administration: TCBuell, Acting Dean.