Local

Lifelong friend found the humor in many situations, no matter which strings were being pulled

They were short and they were pink. They were much too brief to even be called mini-shorts, and to my mind, way too brief for church.

The 60ish gentleman in the seat beside me, sat down with a plop as the pink shorts moved forward in the communion line.

“It’s not fair,” he muttered. “You know how the Bible says, ‘If your eye offends, pluck it out?’ ”

I nodded.

“I’m probably going to go out of here completely blind, and it won’t even be my fault”

Most of us raised in the 1940s and ’50s are dinosaurs, remembering a day when dressing for church meant dressing up as if you were — well — going to church. We covered everything as far up as possible, and down as far as possible. The wearer of the pink shorts, I fumed, hadn’t even covered “possible.”

At times like this, you really need a friend who can give you a bit of good-natured perspective.

My friend Jeanne Charleton could always do that. She would have said with a laugh, “Kid, that poor girl probably dressed in a hurry and put on her baby sister’s clothes on by mistake.”

And we’d laugh, and I’d see that the world was not totally dark.

I’m going to miss that laugh. When my friend Jeanne, founder of the Lakewood Puppeteers, left this world last week, she took a lot of light and laughter with her.

Jeanne was my first friend in Lakewood. We had just transferred from Thailand, when I read iconic columnist Denny McGougan’s story in the Tacoma News Tribune about Jeanne and her puppets. Since I had a puppet troupe in Bangkok, we were natural pals. That was how she signed all of her notes, “Your pal, Jeanne.”

Over the course of 30 years, Jeanne and the Lakewood Puppeteers entertained more than 300,000 delighted children. Audiences ranged from schools and libraries to the governor’s mansion.

Jeanne recruited community members and friends to be puppeteers. Her daughter, Lorraine, and husband, Bill, were part of the show. Bill and Jeanne described themselves as best friends for the 69 years of their marriage.

On many days, after Bill got the stage and equipment set up for performances, he did double duty by wearing a plush octopus puppet that fit over his head with the legs bouncing around his shoulders as he moved. Now that’s love.

When my daughter, Gina, was 6, her father’s death left her lost and desolate. We spent a lot of time with Jeanne and her creations. Gina remembers the puppets popping out of every nook of Jeanne’s house, especially the towering Merlin the Magician that Jeanne had created after research in England. Merlin is nearly 5 feet tall with hypnotic eyes.

Gina recalled, “When I was very little, Jeanne had me look underneath her beautiful Merlin puppet, which I remember as being enormous, and underneath him she had hidden a Danny O’Day ventriloquist figure, with which I practiced ventriloquism and puppetry.”

Gina still has that puppet.

We do what we can with what life hands us. After trying a few nights of frozen entrees, Bill says he’ll have to learn to fix meatloaf and spaghetti the way Jeanne did. Turns out that’s what life is all about. Love and puppets and meatloaf and short shorts.

And making do when everything is gone.

Among the mourners at the Jeanne’s services last week were Dippety Do-Awful Dan the Dreadful Dragon, a scaly masterwork of the Lakewood Puppeteers and, of course, Merlin. Too big to fit inside of a car, Merlin arrived and departed sitting jauntily in the back seat of a white convertible.

Jeanne left behind about 300 puppets and countless children who loved them. My daughter Gina is now a professional puppeteer, and thanks Jeanne for that perfect start.

An exhibition of Jeanne’s puppets, recognizing her life work, will be on display at September’s Puppets for Peace Celebration in Victoria, British Columbia.

A former puppeteer remembers operating a huge Paul Bunyon puppet at the Washington State Fair. The puppet was so tall she had to stand on a ladder, and as the show went on, the ladder began to tilt. The puppeteer became convinced she was going to fall.

Jeanne, busy with other puppets, looked up and said, “Don’t Fall Kid. The show has to go on!”

And it will. That’s a promise.

  Comments