He Wasn't Always A Hero

Howard in Indiana
Howard in Indiana

Sunday was Mother’s Day and I reminded Mom that May 17 is coming up.  Howard would have been 67 years old.

“No,” she said.

Well, yes.

In Mom’s memory, Howard’s either her blue eyed little boy who sang and danced and made up shows or her grown up son who still sang and made up shows (happily, he was relieved of the need to dance at an early age).  We all remember who we wish to remember how we wish to remember them.

I try to remember Howard in all the ways and ages I knew him.  Being his younger, hero-worshiping sister, I didn’t really think of him as ever being a little boy – to a five-year-old, eight is a very adult age.  But in looking at photos and scrapbooks, I see that he had awkward years and wrote heart-felt, cringe-inducing poems and had a need, as do we all, to be seen and admired.  Though perhaps I haven’t always been truly honest with myself about that.

In Babe, a show that Howard and Alan Menken never finished, there’s a song called Hero.  The song is about Babe Ruth but could be about Howard or many others…

He wasn’t always a hero

He was nineteen once like you and me

Yeah, he was green once

And fresh out of Baltimore M D

As I grow older, Howard stays the same.  The years have softened the edge of those awful last months and I only think of them sometimes.  More often, I think of Howard making dinner, or playing a cassette of something he’s written or something he’s heard that he now needs others to hear.  Or even the brother who took me to see Judy Collins in 1964 when she was performing in a coffee house in Georgetown.

I think of him in Children’s Theater Association shows, playing Pinocchio or Aladdin.  I think of him always surrounded by friends, though I know that wasn’t true for him any more than it’s true for anyone else.  I think of his heartbreak at splitting from his first love and his devastation as too many friends began dying.  I think of laughing about our grandparents and getting Mom to sing Summertime.  I think about him glorying in the success of Little Shop and bitterly mourning the failure of Smile.  I think of him traveling to California to work on movies – and to escape New York theater for a while.

And I think of Howard’s future, because even now, there is a future.  The album of God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater will (finally) be out in late July.  Don Hahn is planning to complete his documentary about Howard in late fall.  We are tiptoeing ever so carefully into a possible new Little Shop in New York (shhhh) and I’ll soon be announcing a new project that I hope will honor Howard’s memory.

But for today, we all have memories to treasure – some to keep and some to share.  And that’s really kind of great.