Watch out for the quiet ones
Laura Suzanne Major is the second child of Karla and Jack Major. I don't recall why Karla and I decided to name her Laura, though I do recall how horrified Karla was when I only half jokingly suggested the name Thursday. Really. It must have been a play on the name of actress Tuesday Weld.
For me, Laura was a great compromise; I even thought it was a name original to the Major family. I was unaware of a Skaneateles, NY, relative who had been Laura Major since 1900. Karla and I both like Suzanne as the middle name, so the matter was settled rather quickly, after a rocky start. Still, I like to remind Laura that she came this close to being named Thursday . . .
An advantage to being a Laura is that the name comes with a special song, which was written by David Raskin and Johnny Mercer for the film noir classic entitled — what else? — Laura.
Turned out Laura Major and the Mercer-Raskin song were a good fit, especially that line about the "laugh that floats on a summer's night." Though the song's next line would have to be changed to "And you see Laura on a horse that goes trotting by." Horses played a big part in Laura's life for the first 25 years or so, as they did in the life of my other daughter, Meridith.
Of my three children, Laura has been the most surprising, probably because she is the most self-contained and the most willing to yield the spotlight. In game show terms, her two siblings were prizes well displayed in advance, while Laura was the mystery prize behind door number two.
SOMETIMES it seems family traits are doled out like items in a will. My mother, a very private person, handed this trait to Laura, who generally goes about her business without verbal detours into every ache, pain or emotional crisis she may have endured since our last conversation. However, she apparently processes life's frustrations a lot better than did my mother, who'd erupt every now and then when she could no longer contain what had been festering inside.
As a child Laura occasionally would stomp off for no reason that was apparent to the rest of us. Whatever the problem, she insisted on working it out alone in her room. Talking didn't make it better.
As an adult Laura is remarkably constant, perhaps benefiting from answers she found thirty years ago during that time alone in her room. My guess is she wouldn't panic in a crisis. She'd probably make a joke about it, a trait she did not inherit from my mother, who simply would have said, "I told you so."
Laura's brother, Jeff, had a two-year headstart in life, and basked in the attention given him, especially by grandmothers who seemed greatly amused by everything he said and did. Well, why not? Jeff's a very funny guy. Had he told me years ago he was quitting college to pursue a career as a stand-up comic, I'd have encouraged him; to me he was creative enough to succeed. Such a career choice certainly wouldn't have surprised teachers who'd been subjected to Jeff's humor since first grade. These teachers generally — but not always — gave him good reviews.
It wasn't surprising that Laura was a quiet child, a perfect audience for her brother. Only occasionally would she see an opportunity she couldn't resist and fire a zinger that stunned Jeff into silence. Briefly. Meridith, born 11 years after Laura, is not a perfect audience for her brother. She enters a room talking and is reluctant to yield the floor.
So it was that Laura was sandwiched between two class clowns. Laura's teachers from kindergarten through high school, while praising her academic work, said she'd fare even better if she contributed more to classroom discussion.
EVENTUALLY she did what a lot of shy people do — she turned to acting, performing in school plays, later doing community theater after she graduated from Mount Holyoke.
Her first performances, however, were years earlier with the Major-Chard Players (or the Chard-Major Players, if you prefer). Members of this elite group were my parents' grandchildren. Whenever all of them were assembled at my parents' home, which, thankfully, was never more than three times in any given year, these grandchildren — Brian and Danielle Chard; Jeff, Laura and later Meridith Major — would turn my parents' living room into an Evening at the Improv for what we called their "routines." This was entertainment only a doting grandmother could appreciate, and this particular grandmother thought at least one of the children — Jeff, of course — was more entertaining than Bob Hope, Woody Allen and Danny Kaye combined. My father, a comedian in his own right, was more comfortable (and natural) playing the role of heckler.
The Major-Chard Players used whatever props were handy, a favorite being what I believe is called a candlestick telephone, which was the standard in the early 1900s. You see them all the time in old movies. With one hand you hold the base (which includes the speaker); with the other hand you hold the earpiece. My father brought one home after the Solvay Process Company discarded it. Laura later borrowed it for her high school's production of "Seven Keys to Baldpate," a period mystery-comedy by George M. Cohan.
ANOTHER ITEM at my parents' home that fascinated my children was Newton's Cradle (aka balance balls), a classic office gift from the 1960s. My sister had purchased it as a Christmas present for my father. It gets its name from Isaac Newton's third law of motion — for every action in nature there is an equal and opposite reaction.
You've all seen Newton's Cradle — five steel balls hung on string. Pull one ball back and let it drop, it swings forward and strikes the others, but only the ball on the other end moves. Pull two balls back, and the two at the opposite end move. Et cetera.
Unfortunately, it never took more than five minutes for my kids to twist those balls and string into what looked like a hopeless tangle. I was the only one with the patience to untangle Newton's Cradle — which I did despite the certainty it would be re-tangled again and again during our visit. However, my efforts weren't wasted. They prepared me for an even more daunting task involving what for several years was Laura's most striking feature — her long, Rapunzel-like hair.
That was a surprise because early indications were she preferred short hair. That's what we concluded when she was about four years old. A neighbor had come to the house to cut my wife's hair. The two women were in the kitchen when Laura went into her room and found some scissors, probably her round-edged children's scissors. She'd started the day with hair that had grown to almost shoulder length, but with those scissors managed to trim about four inches along the right side of her face. She then went into the kitchen to test the reaction to her new look, which was stunning, to say the least.
While it was an interesting hairstyle, Laura agreed with her mother's suggestion that more work was needed. Our hair-cutting neighbor saved the day, giving Laura an even trim all around her head, at which point she could have auditioned for a pre-school production of "Joan of Arc."
Laura never repeated the mistake. Indeed, it would be twelve years or so before she allowed anything more than a slight trim on hair that eventually reached her waist, but never crossed the line into Crystal Gayle territory. No, wait, I almost forgot about the gum-in-the-hair incident . . . which means there was one time in twelve years that she reluctantly consented to more than a slight trim.
The chance of gum getting stuck in it was one of several drawbacks to Laura's long hair. No matter how much time she took, Laura never managed to dry her hair after a wash. She was easy to spot in a crowd. Just look for the girl whose hair was wringing wet.
Pre-teen Laura also had a knack for whipping her hair into a comb-destroying knot monster. That's when she turned to The Untangler. Me. Talk about a father-daughter bonding experience. Actually, the real bonding experience involved the gum. That was a bitter defeat for The Untangler. Laura wasn't pleased, either.
LAURA'S CHILDHOOD included an encounter with one of those dreaded parental expectations. Men want sons to play baseball, women want daughters to be ballerinas. Neither expectation was met in our family, though all three kids gave it a shot. Laura was four when she was enrolled in a ballet school. No tap, no jazz, no gymnastics. Ballet. Period.
She tolerated the lessons which continued for at least two years, but obviously she preferred to spend those hours elsewhere. At age 7 she discovered horses, and from then on "elsewhere" was a stable where she enthusiastically took riding lessons. Riding remained her biggest interest for many years. She competed in horse shows and eventually had a horse of her own.
Laura loves animals, animals love Laura. Nothing excited Jenga, our cairn terrier, as much as a visit from Laura, the only person who allowed the dog to sit on her shoulders and snuffle her hair.
No account of Laura's childhood is complete without mentioning ABBA, the Swedish musical group that for awhile was about as popular worldwide as The Beatles. The whole family enjoyed their music, though Laura and my wife Olinda became the biggest fans. We saw them perform in concert in Boston, actually had passes that got us backstage afterward, but it was late and the scene was a madhouse that wasn't fit for children. So our backstage visit was brief. That was many years ago, but we still play ABBA's music and enjoy it as much as ever.
UPON GRADUATION from Mount Holyoke College Laura was no longer the shy person she used to be. She has kept herself busy with a wide variety of activities, several of which qualified her as our family athlete — playing tennis, competing in triathlons, taking kickboxing lessons.
Years ago she became an avid fan of the Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots, but after being transferred to Charlotte, Laura split her allegiance between the Patriots and the Carolina Panthers, though New England's Tom Brady remained her favorite quarterback. She has since moved to Atlanta and still roots for the Patriots and for Brady.
Like other women in the family — and this I cannot explain — she has her own cue and enjoys playing pool. My sister, Mary, played in a pool league about 50 years ago, before it was the thing to do. Her daughter Danielle has her own cue. So does my younger daughter, Meridith, also has played in pool leagues and several tournaments. This is one of those twists and turns referred to earlier. I don't know where this interest in pool originated. Perhaps from a cousin my parents never talked about. It had to be a girl cousin because Major men are terrible at pool.
A few years ago Laura did another un-Major-like thing — she briefly took up golf. I mean, real golf, not that miniature stuff I played years ago.
But the stunner came in 2007 when Laura announced she was moonlighting at something that wouldn't have surprised me at all had it come from either of her siblings: Laura was doing stand-up comedy.
So far her siblings are the only family members to see her perform. Meridith was genuinely surprised — and impressed by her sister, the comic. And Meridith's never been considered an easy critic, not even where family is concerned.
So now it's official — Laura has won the Major version of Last Comic Standing. Which means that up in heaven there's one very surprised grandmother.