The first Tennessee Williams play I read was “The Glass Menagerie.” I must have been in ninth grade at the time. From the poignancy of the delusions the Wingfield family members resort to in an effort to survive the hand life has dealt them to the symbolism of Laura’s treasured glass collection, the play made a deep impression on me as a 14-year-old.
Laura, fragile and ashamed of the brace on her leg, finds comfort in her collection of glass figures, her favorite being the unicorn whose horn makes it different from the other horses, just as Laura’s leg isolates her.
Not long after I read the “memory play” for my English class, my family took a friend and me to the Chattahoochee Valley Fair in Columbus, a yearly treat. The October night air was filled with the odor of French fries and vinegar, cotton candy, and tobacco smoke. Add the flashing colored neon lights from the rides, sideshows, and vendors’ booths, and the fair experience was already magical.
Then smack in the middle of the midway, among carnival workers hawking stuffed animals and cheap plastic toys, I spotted a glassblower.
Unicorns were not as big a part of popular culture then as they became a few years later, so I had to explain that what I wanted was a horse with one horn coming out of the top of his head. The artisan did an astounding job of turning a tube of glass into a beautiful mythological creature, quite possibly making me the only adolescent in Russell County with a blown glass unicorn in 1969.
When Tennessee Williams died in 1983, a friend, knowing how much the writer and his plays had influenced me, sent me flowers. And I still have the unicorn from the trip to the fair fifty years ago.
This past weekend, to celebrate my birthday, my son invited me to the Springer Opera House to see “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” possibly my favorite of Williams’ works. As decades pass, our tastes tend to change and our passions wane, but I am as much in awe of Tennessee Williams’ work now as I was as a junior high school student decades ago.
Marian Carcache welcomes
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