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.