Mourning Meg Patterson
Yesterday morning, I learned via Facebook that Meg Patterson died. I first met Meg over thirty years ago. I hadn’t seen her in twenty-five years. And yet, her death (from metastatic breast cancer) still shocked and surprised me.
I met Meg my freshman year of college, at an informational meeting hosted by Princeton’s Program of Theater and Dance. Meg was directing David Rudkin’s play ASHES (about a couple’s attempts to bring a child into their family.) She needed a stage manager, and I’d stage managed plays in high school. In short order, Meg had convinced me to stage manage her production.
Meg was a magical being to me. She was an upperclassman, while I was a mere freshman. She lived in alternative university housing, a hippie-like communal home, where the residents did all their own cooking, managed all their own household disputes (on a campus where the *vast* majority of the student body either ate in university cafeterias or in fraternity-like eating clubs. She followed the rules that made sense to her and broke the ones that didn’t, and she always, always, always was true to herself.
A handful of stories about Meg ring crystal clear in my memory. She traveled to Ireland before her junior year (at a university and a time where no one took a junior year abroad.) She and her boyfriend, David, supported themselves busking on the streets. Meg told me that she’d brew a pot of tea in the morning by throwing a fistful of tea leaves into the teapot and adding hot water. Throughout the day, she’d add more hot water but no more tea — she was on a strict budget. By bedtime, she was drinking pure hot water, without caffeine to keep her awake. Meg knew it was time to come back to the States when the cup of orange juice she’d set on the window sill to keep cool overnight was frozen solid in the morning.
When Meg and I had our first meeting about my stage managing ASHES, she invited me to dinner at her co-op house. I asked what I could bring (feeling so very grown-up), and she said, “A bottle of wine.” I was under age and had never bought any alcohol before, but I traipsed up to the liquor store in Palmer Square, and I bought a bottle of Blue Nun, because that was what I’d seen advertised on TV. Meg made stir-fried vegetables that night. As she held the container of coarse-ground black pepper over the wok, the cap came undone, and the entire contents of the jar spilled into the vegetables. We laughed, and I waited for Meg to toss out the ruined food and start again, but she shrugged, took a spoon, and ladled out most of the pepper. We weren’t about to waste a perfectly good wok-full of veggies.
In one scene of ASHES, the husband is carrying dishes offstage, and he drops them, shattering them. Meg wanted the realistic sound of pottery shattering each night, so she encouraged me to raid the scrap heap from the University’s sculpture classes. Sure enough, there were lots of discards there, and we collected enough plates, vases, and bowls to smash up for the run of the play. One one of those scrap-scrounging trips, I found a glazed bowl the size of my palm; it still holds paper clips and assorted oddments on my desk, and I think of Meg every time I look at it.
Meg and I were vastly different people. We remained friends after ASHES, working on a couple of other shows, hanging out in the lobby of the Theater and Dance building, eating Thomas Sweet’s ice cream from next door. I helped her with some statistics classes she needed to complete in order to earn her sociology degree, way back in the days when we did batch computer processing and needed to retrieve printouts from the distant computer center on campus.
After Meg graduated, we fell out of touch. We saw each other at the wedding of her former boyfriend, a guy I’d dated for about thirty-seven seconds while they were on a break. I occasionally caught hints of her professional theater career on the west coast.
While I considered a professional career in stage management *very* briefly, I knew fairly early on that I would not pursue that course. Instead, I used what I learned as a stage manager in other aspects of my life. I still carry Band-aids and a sewing kit in my purse at all times, and I always have pen and paper. Actors and traveling troupes are featured in nearly every series I’ve ever written, and I made Kira a stage manager in Act One, Wish One. Habits I built with Meg live on in my bones.
She friended me on Facebook a few years ago as she was grappling with her diagnosis of breast cancer, and I read her updates on a regular basis. She was a vehement supporter of all efforts to lead clean, chemical-free lives, and she despised all pink-ribbon awareness campaigns.
I wasn’t surprised when I read that she had died Sunday morning; she’d been in hospice for several days. She died surrounded by family and friends. She was a different person than the Meg I knew thirty years ago, but in all the key ways, she was the same person. I’ll lift a glass (of something better than Blue Nun!) and remember her…