While I was perusing the Twitter Thursday night, I saw a tweet from a friend that read, “Butterscotch candies give me life.” I chuckled and as a courtesy, I “favorited” it — also known as “starring” in Twitter-speak.
Then a voice in my head responded to the butterscotch comedy and said, “Can we send some of those candies to Robin Williams? Because I already miss him.”
See, it’s funny, because it’s true. If my friend’s claims of the life-giving properties of butterscotch candies are fact, then I’d like to think all of us would be in favor of getting this information to Hollywood as fast as possible.
I thought about responding to her tweet with that thought, but I digressed. I should have tweeted it anyway — I’m sure Williams would have told me to do it if he was supervising — but I just wasn’t up to the task that night in dealing with some humorless dolt who’d likely take the statement the wrong way and assumeI’mcashinginonRobinWilliamsjokes just because he’s on everyone’s minds right now.
But for me, Robin Williams has always been on my mind.
As a writer who often moonlights as a standup comic, improviser and actor, Williams has been a constant inspiration for me since I first heard his voice bring incredible joy and life to a big, blue genie in 1992’s “Aladdin.”
I truly became aware of Williams’ power one afternoon a couple years later when my mom, little sister and I were watching a newly- purchased VHS copy of “Mrs. Doubtfire.”
When Williams, playing divorced-fatherturned- old-British-nanny in a ploy to spend time with his kids, was in the kitchen as Mrs. Doubtfire, joy and uncontrollable laughter filled the Bauman residence.
In an early scene, Mrs. Doubtfire is in her first night on the job and is attempting to prepare a fine meal for her unsuspecting family. The “old English woman” who lost her husband “Winston” to a “beer-truck accident” — because, it was, indeed the “drink that killed him” — leans too far over the stove while attending to food on the back-burner and in a matter of moments, Mrs. Doubtfire’s body-suit bosom catches on fire. Hilarity ensues as Williams deploys his physical comedy chops and grabs two pan lids to snuff out the flames.
Instantly my mom, sister and I were hysterical. Then, as Williams often did, he closed the bit perfectly.
“My first day as a woman, and I’m already having hot flashes,” he deadpanned.
At the time, I’d never heard my mom laugh so hard. There were tears.
It was through my mom’s joy that I found the power of humor and the therapy a good laugh provides.
I grew up more fortunate than most, but we were by no means the richest folks in the Winfield.
When my sister and I were little my mom would clean other people’s houses — usually taking us with her — and my dad got up early in the morning — sometimes at 4:30 a.m. — every day for his hour-long drive to Wichita where he worked as a mechanic for a heavy construction equipment dealership. (He’s almost set to retire after nearly 30 years on the job, and from what I can tell, I think he’s looking forward to it.) My family has a long history of classic blue-collar workers, doing what they can to provide for their families. And sometimes that can mean being on the lower-middle class scale of things. We lived paycheck to paycheck and any emergency expense mattered greatly.
It also didn’t help that a son born in California from my dad’s previous marriage added child support to my parents’ monthly expenses. My parents had a complicated relationship with my dad’s ex-wife, and their custody and child-support battles that concerned an older half-brother strained finances even further.
Sometimes when I was little, my mom would be on the phone in the middle of the afternoon and after the call, escape to her and my dad’s room in tears.
That’s when I knew she had found out the child-support payments had been raised without warning, and that there might be fewer groceries the next payday. Or worse, the phone call could mean a custody battle had been lost.
My parents tried the court system, but had no luck.
Things were hard, sometimes, growing up.
ButwhenRobinWilliams’“Mrs.Doubtfire” burnt her chest on the stove, none of that mattered.
My mom’s sorrows — and thus the family’s sorrows — were temporarily forgotten. He had the gift of transporting people from their places of despair and sadness to places of joy and laughter.
Ever since, I’ve been doing my best to follow Williams’ example by keeping my mom, family and friends laughing.
No matter the details of his death or the sadness I feel because of it, I still remember my mom’sinfectiouslaughduringtoughtimeslike it was yesterday, and to me, that will always be Williams’ incredible legacy and magic.