Updated: Aug 2, 2021
“ Once, during a lively Tupperware party in our living room, where I was helping her serve cake, my mother pulled me aside. “Do you want to do your routine for everyone?” she asked. "
Lily Tomlin sits crossed legged on the floor of the stage and pulls on her feet like a child. It is exactly how she sat in the early 1970’s and her voice is the same yet deeper as she transitions from character to character. 45 years ago her vinyl album “That’s the Truth,” arrived in cardboard in my name from Columbia Record Club. Alone in my room, I played both sides over and over, imitating all the characters until I had the voices down. My mom had a wooden rocker and I would sit and rock as Edith Ann, with my blanket and “doll,” played by my favorite stuffed dog, Mr. Peabody. I would do the entire routine for my mom, who had watched Laugh-In with me and loved to imitate Ernestine, the telephone operator. Once, during a lively Tupperware party in our living room, where I was helping her serve cake, my mother pulled me aside. “Do you want to do your routine for everyone?” she asked. I was a little shy but I wasn’t going to pass on this after all the secret rehearsals. “Will you do it with me?” I asked. “Which one?” she asked. I held up my plate. “Cake” was her favorite Lily Tomlin routine. It made her giggle so hard that just hearing her lose control made me giggle. We went into action. I played the parent, talking monotonously about cake, on and on and on. Mom played the teenager in her bedroom, who keeps opening her door to scream “Stop talking about that cake!!” and then slamming it again. I’m not sure anyone got it, but we thought we were hysterical. Tonight, when I finally saw Lily perform this routine live for the first time, 26 years after the last time I saw my mother, it reminded me of the times we played together, those short years between when she brought me into this world and when I held her on the way out. And I remembered where I get my spirit, how I learned to survive the most painful moments by becoming my own characters, and how much I miss her beautiful giggle.