Tougher letters to read

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          I’m busy getting ready for my Beaufort 3 Century presentation about Byrne Miller on Friday at the Technical College of the LowCountry. It’s actually been fun, going through the notes I took when I started work on the memoir. And when I found some old TV-station footage of Byrne I was thrilled. I’m going to play a 6-minute piece my former boss, Suzanne Larson, did on Byrne’s work in the schools. It’s a great reminder of what was most important to Byrne. Not the notoriety of running a great dance theater, or hob-nobbing with famous dancers and choreographers. She knew that her legacy would be the seeds she planted – in hearts and minds.

          What amazed me the most about Byrne was her complete honesty in the ways that really matter. Oh she might fib about the marvelousness of a home-cooked meal, but in general she cut to the chase. It wasn’t always charming. She was a self-proclaimed “snob” when it came to the arts and her words could prick and even wound at times.  But she didn’t try to cover them up, or re-interpret the past. Going through her papers at the Beaufort County library, I came across letters that other, less formidable women might have “edited.” Not Byrne. Even when she was about to undergo surgery. I thought this one spoke volumes:

Dear daughter Alison,

As you know, I am a veteran of many hospitalizations, from the paralysis in ’70, to the five spinal surgeries, hip replacement, knee arthroscopy and cataract surgery in the 80s and 90s. Somehow, I’ve always astounded both doctors and nurses by the speed and completeness of my recovery.

So, even at age 82, there is no reason to think there would be a difference. Tomorrow morning, I’m going to Roper Hospital in Charleston for a hysterectomy – uterus cancer. I have no pain. My surgeon has a reputation for the complete recovery of his patients, so I expect to be back at work and play before the week is out.

Since I am a compulsive planner and, after all, 82 ain’t 16, there are some things that you should know…

         She then went on to explain how Duncan would be taken care of and that Alison was not to worry since there was nothing worrying would accomplish anyway. And that she was proud of her. I’m not sure how I would have felt had I received the letter; if I were Byrne’s biological daughter instead of one of her adopted. It’s easier to admire such honesty from afar.

2 thoughts on “Tougher letters to read

    Annie Griffey said:
    September 8, 2010 at 3:19 PM

    One of my last memories of Byrne was when I went to visit her at her Beaufort house. As always she met me at the door with her usual effusive greetings. “My love Annie come in. Make yourself at home” While she tootled off to the kitchen to make coffee, which she brought to me as she usually did…cream three sugars. She sat in the chair in front of me and we spent the next hour sharing stories. She regaled me with the latest scoops on the dance theatre. After a while it became apparent when she sent me to look for a particular album that something was not quite right. Oh boy was it not right. She was unable to see. The result of a fall and botched eye surgery. I was crushed but she was her usual energetic self. It reminded me of an earlier time after Jane had died and she had had all the back surgeries and was nursing Duncan. I asked her why she never complained. ” Well darling, you know the first time you tell someone your sad story they are polite and listen. But if you continue to tell your sad tales eventually no one will want to come and visit you. And that will never do. Not for me” I think about that whenever I begin to whine about some minor issue . I’m afraid that I often hold others to this same standard which let my own biological mother to complain, “You know we can’t all be Byrne Miller” How true.


    Suzanne Larson said:
    September 9, 2010 at 3:09 PM

    Teresa, I would love to read more of Byrne’s letters but must say I am relieved never to have received one after she attended one of my plays! Though, it may have done me good to hear the truth. You have selected a great passage and your writing is brilliant. How desperately young women today need female role models and you share your dear role model so generously with them through your art. I hope many, many young girls read your work because theere aren’t enough Byrne’s to go around.


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