By Elaine Van Develde
“As long as there’s one person on Earth who remembers you, it isn’t over …”
It’s a line from the Rogers and Hammerstein musical Carousel that actor Mandy Patinkin recently recited on 60 Minutes to describe his faithful nightly ritual. Every single night, he remembers those in his life who have passed by naming them and reflecting on something memorable about them.
I believe, like Patinkin, that there’s an awful lot of truth to the words from the play. And I believe that we all need to pay attention to people who pass through our lives for one reason or another, perhaps altering our paths, and remember. Just remember.
All too often I hear from people, “I don’t remember.” Why not? If you care to remember, you will remember.
I care to remember. And I think that 26-year RFH English teacher, singer and actress, wife, mom and grandmother Mimi Hughes cared to remember. I think that, because when you remember people who passed through your life and passed the smallest to the most monumental elements of life onto you, you pass those things onto other people … and the cycle goes on.
You can see that she did this with her own family as well as with the many whose lives she touched in her own life’s journey.
I suppose I just can’t think of a more appropriate way to remember Mimi Hughes than through such words spoken in a musical, of all things. Words and music are much of what she was all about — what she left to me and many others.
And I suppose that she probably had no idea how she affected such a pivotal point in my life and likely many others’ in a similar way. That’s probably because being kind and generous of heart and talent just came so naturally to her — and with such grace.
But, I remember. She is remembered, from that opening act to curtain call, and then some.
Act I …
I remember that first day at RFH, heading to Mrs. Hughes’ English class. I remember seeing this teacher carrying a load of books down the hall and wondering if that was her — my teacher. You could tell that pile was pretty heavy, but she just seemed to float right through the hall with it.
I actually don’t know why I remember this one thing, but I do — the books were always carried in front of her, not slung on the hip or in a bag. Though, she did have a bag.
I remember thinking what a towering presence she had and that she seemed to exude an extraordinary elegance. Then this lady rounded the corner of the classroom to which I was assigned. Yes, she was my teacher. And I thought she was just so cool.
As she unloaded the books on her desk, I also remember thinking that she was just so beautiful and intelligent looking — piercing, focused, but friendly blue eyes; and thick, dark hair with flecks of grey. Sometimes her readers were perched on the tip of her nose, always with the chain attached. And I’m pretty sure she was wearing a strand of pearls around her neck.
She had the looks of a classic movie actress with that intellectual writer’s bent.
She introduced herself and very neatly scrolled her name on the chalkboard. I can still hear her voice — eloquent, with a delicate, deliberately cultured cadence.
From that point on, Mimi Hughes had become a part of my life.
I always wanted to do well in her class, because she was just so kind and encouraging. I never wanted to disappoint her. That sort of unwaveringly kind encouragement blended with the most succinct, somehow soothing, honesty was her special blend of motivation for success. She never seemed to discourage. I remember that.
I remember even taking my English homework to rehearsals for a, nonetheless, community theater production of Carousel.
I just had to impress her with my diligence, non-judgmental as she was.
Act II …
It wasn’t long after that when I discovered that Mrs. Hughes and her family were involved in theater, too. I was doing shows at The Barn Theater and helping out with ushering and running the concession stand; and there they were.
I remember hearing her soprano voice in many a show. OK, so I don’t remember exactly which ones. But I do remember that voice and seeing her on that strange stage — more like bleachers surrounding a bare spot with lights and scenery, which was fabulous.
By the time I was a junior in high school the Hugheses and I were friends. We had done shows together. We were a theater family of sorts.
And that, in an uncanny way, carried onto the stage.
Mark played my husband, the mayor, in Bye Bye Birdie. Poor guy. All I did was scream and faint and he repeatedly scooped me up, bellowing, in his very old-sounding high school voice, “Edna!”
We were all in Fiddler on the Roof together. Nan, with her superb singing talent, played my daughter. Paul was Perchik. Mark was in the chorus, and, I think, Patrick was probably doing a show at The Barn. But that was a stage that was just right down the street. He was the youngest and not yet in high school then.
I was referred to as “big sis” and I was thrilled with the inclusion in the Hughes family.
And there were many more moments on and off stage.
Mimi Hughes and her family continued to figure quite prominently in what, to me, was a very special, sentimental senior year at RFH.
And I remember. Vividly.
We hung out together, popped over to the Hughes house across the street in between rehearsals, where Mimi always welcomed us. We sang around the piano at cast parties and, yes, thought we had hit some criminal pinnacle as we painted that infamous bridge senior year.
There was even one trek, in particular, that I recall with particular fondness, into New York City. Mrs. Hughes drove and we all sang in the back of their Mercedes station wagon. We were on a jaunt to dinner at Asti, that true showfolk restaurant where opera was sung throughout the meal and diners were sometimes invited to join in.
They grabbed Nan from the table, dressed her in some sort of hooded shroud and she appeared minutes later as part of a makeshift chorus.
Oh, and the ride home … Yes, the singing continued, but so did that game of transposing license initials into some sort of title, name or bizarre sentence.
I remember seeing Mrs. Hughes’ hair and grasp on the wheel from the back seat as she gently reminded us and Mr. Hughes, who was also playing, to keep it all wholesome.
Nan even came to see me at college when she was getting set to graduate from RFH.
The connection with the Hughes family has remained. I remember; and am grateful. Just last year I met up with Paul, whose son was in an RFH show, and Patrick.
There were so many moments. So many that made milestones in my life much more meaningful because of my connection to Mimi Hughes and her family.
I do remember. I remember that by the time I graduated from high school, I had decided that I wanted to not only act, but write as well.
I thought it was a pretty cool combination, and Mrs. Hughes, to me, embodied the idea that I could do both in one way or another and be all that much more enriched to pay forward a love of family, theater and life and write about all of it and more.
Mimi Hughes’ memory, like the memory of so many we should remember, is a lesson.
That lesson is echoed in the song Try to Remember from the Fantasticks.
“Try to remember … and if you remember, then follow …”
Rest in peace, Mrs. Hughes. Thank you for bringing your family into my life and enriching it all the more. Though I think your son Paul remembers my mom more for having “tremendous milk” from the Acme (just as important, as it made my mom laugh for years), you are remembered. Your show isn’t over.