Memories of Sheila Stone Dill




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from Corbett Harrison

Mom loved to perform, and she once gave me the moon -- more about that moon momentarily. She'd cackle like a witch when we begged her to as kids...and again as adults. At some point, she'd practiced to perfection this sinister laugh (Andy and Bret are likely hearing it right now), and she delighted both our school friends and us with over-the-top performances throughout our entire lives. I think Mom was just one of those people who -- on occasion -- delighted herself by captivating an audience with all the pure radiance she could muster. Ms. Sheila-la was the character she eventually created; she read both crystal balls and picture books to children as Ms. Sheila-la. She threw tea parties where her work friends talked silly and dressed for high society. The perfect purple hat came later to La-la's costume, but it was always there in some form, as witnessed in photo at right.

Sheila Dill in Costume in High School Play Yearbook Photo

In Mom's junior yearbook, I found this fun picture of a seventeen-year-old Sheila Stone performing in a play. In the picture, she is wearing a silly hat, of course. But study her face; it shows off an expression that really captures my mom's radiance -- her love of a performance. She passed that DNA on to all three of her sons, and each had their own moments on a variety of stages.

Mom also made sure she exposed us to professional live theater when we were still impressionable. Mom helped direct plays at our church; she seemed to know where theater was happening in 1970's Fresno. Back then as now, I imagine taking your children to a play couldn't have been cheap, but she always managed to afford us good memories by acquiring tickets. I remember seeing Godspell with her in what seemed an old repurposed building in Fresno, and I remember our front-row seats during CSUF's repertory musicals. In Reno, she gave us The Odd Couple and The Music Man, and from there I was personally hooked by the magic of seeing a good performance from time to time.

That said, here's the story I chose to share in this memory collection. My mother and I once had a huge fight over me going to a musical with her instead of hanging out with my friends at a Christmas tree lot. Of course, this happened when I was a teen, and in general, I was an easy and innocuous adolescent for Mom to endure. Once I turned fifteen and found a job, I toed the line until I graduated high school because not doing so would have cost me said job, which I ended up keeping until graduating college. I think years thirteen and fourteen were the only years Mom and I really had any fights worth remembering.

It was a Saturday morning in December. Let's say 1982. Before I dashed away on my bike halfway across town to work at our Scout tree lot that morning, she told me to be home by a certain time because we were going somewhere that night, and I would need to clean up. That day at the tree lot proved one of the best days ever. Hanging out with friends gave me teen amnesia, and when I called her in the afternoon, asking if I could stay and work until the lot closed that night at 8:00, she was flabbergasted. We argued over a payphone outside an Albertson's for some time. Eventually and angrily, she showed up in her Subaru where we dumped my bike in the back, and drove home in silence so that I could clean up. She had acquired tickets for an expensive play that night. There was no way I was going to change the plan and work late at the Christmas tree lot, because I was the teenager and she was the mother. She won. That was our fight. Now onto the performance...

I don't remember why Doug didn't come -- he may have been working at the paper -- but Mom and Andy and I attended South Pacific in the former Sahara Casino's showroom that night. On the car ride there, I expressed my displeasure of losing the fight in a variety of non-verbal ways from the backseat, but to no one else's interest. My angst was pretty unforgiveable, and even though I was being the pilliest of pills, when we got to the theater I was given the best seat from the three Mom brought. Before the curtain rose, I folded my arms, huffed a lot, and embarrassed my brother, I am certain. As soon as the lights went down, however, a magical world provided by mother -- the world she'd known about from days before I ever existed -- well, it unfolded before Andy and me. Neither of us had ever seen a Rodgers and Hammerstein show, and it was an amazing spectacle in every way.

From the first note of the overture, I was just blown away. The show's more operatic songs drug on a bit for my teenage taste, but -- all was forgiven -- because the actors drove jeeps across the stage, they brought in working showers for a funny song about washing men out of your hair, and a beautiful full moon rose from an ocean backdrop as Bloody Mary sang about the magical island, Bali H'ai. Captivated by that moon, I couldn't look away from a stage covered in performers who were staring over the audience as though they could see the same moonrise we were seeing above them. It was a cool moment. She gave me the moon, my Mom did.

A few months after Mom passed, Dena and I attended the immersive Van Gogh exhibit, which toured through town. We had reserved tickets with Mom months before she had gotten sick. We'd even splurged and bought VIP passes to let us in half an hour before the regular crowds -- a justified COVID precaution, we felt. With our extra ticket and a picture of Ms. Sheila-la, Dena and I arrived as early as they permitted, and we sat alone -- except for the employees -- in a room where heavenly images from Van Gogh's paintings were projected, choreographed to music. There were so many sunflowers, so many starry nights -- and it felt as though they were performing privately for just us for a tiny amount of time. When larger crowd started appeared, Dena and I snuck away before our tears might be noticed.

Sheila was my Mom. Miss Sheila-la was the performer. Both were radiant, and both gave me the moon.

Marc Elliot Hall Henderson, Nevada 

Page created: 14 January, 2023
Page modified: 1 June, 2023

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