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      Yes, Me Mum was a Naked Model by Mary Ginn

      8888I am not one of the Calendar Girls. In fact, my character Marie, president of the Knapeley Chapter of the Women’s Institute, is absolutely scandalized by the decision of six members to pose nude for an “Alternative” WI calendar with the goal of raising real money to fund a comfortable new sofa for the family waiting room at the rural Skipton hospital where Annie, played by Michelle Lockwood, has spent many tortuous hours while her husband John, played by Thomas Putnam, has undergone treatment for leukemia.



      There is no little irony that two years ago, when I sat as a reader on the HG Artistic Planning Committee, I was less than enthused about including this play in the 2018 season. This is a small town. No matter how tastefully done, what woman over forty would feel comfortable appearing before her neighbors semi-nude? And, frankly I doubted that our audiences would believe the fundamental motivation of the play, that a bunch of 50+ British women would be willing to bare it all to buy a sofa for a hospital. Really?

      I was not sure I wanted to have anything to do with this show. I had seen the movie, which I found charming. But even after reading the subsequent play, I didn’t get why it would be anything but embarrassing on stage. I was encouraged to reconsider and did so based on the assurance that in my role, I would not have to expose my “flappy bits.”

      So yes, I was cast, quite well as Marie, up-tight, humorless, and always concerned about keeping up appearances.

      The other night at rehearsal, Chris, played by Lilace Guignard, speaks to the National Conference of the Women’s Institute saying, “Suddenly I want to raise money in memory of a man we all loved. And to do that I’m prepared to take my clothes off on a calendar…if it meant we’d get that much closer to killing off this shitty, cheating, sly, conniving, silent, bloody disease that cancer is, then God, I tell y’. I would run round Skipton market smeared in plum jam with a knitted tea cosy on my head singing Jerusalem.”

      Another character, Celia, played by Pam Kathcart, at first hesitant to agree to the photo shoot says.”…if my mum hadn’t been too mortified to show doctors her breasts when the time came we’d still have the rest of her.”

      In a sudden slap of grace, I understood the central theme of this play, which had eluded me. “How vulnerable are we willing to be for the common good of all? What will we risk to support our brothers and sisters facing the fight against cancer and other devastating diseases? Are we willing to lay down our “cultural” standard of dignity/propriety to relieve the suffering of others?” I had my V8 moment when my late mother gave me a poke from beyond.

      My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 42 when she was the mother of three, aged 13, 11, and 4. I was the 4 year-old and blessed to have only vague understanding of the gravity of our family’s situation. At the time of her diagnosis, she was told to put her things in order, and given an 18-month prognosis. She then enrolled in a very aggressive experimental Beta-Tron treatment program at Columbia Presbyterian in NYC. She ultimately, had 23 surgeries, lived to be 77, and was the poster girl for the complex “flap surgery” procedure that is now a regular reconstructive procedure for radical mastectomy patients.

      And when I say poster girl, I am not being flippant. In one of our closest Mother/Daughter evenings when I was in college she shared with me that after every stage of her procedures she had agreed to be photographed naked (not nude) for medical journals and books so that students could learn and other women might have hope for more positive outcomes of reconstruction following aggressive radiation treatments. At the time my mother shared this with me, I was in my early twenties. I was healthy, lithe, and, very proud and aware of the beauty of my form. I was also horrified and confused that she could do this. My mother had never allowed me to view her butchered and irradiated body entirely unclothed. But I had seen enough accidentally that I understood these photo sessions were an unfathomable sacrifice of one’s dignity. To this day, I cannot imagine the bravery that it took for her to stand cold and naked before an unknown photographer And it strikes me that “Calendar Girls” brought back to me what she had shared and I had forgotten, (likely chosen to forget.)

      What a gift. I am now at an age where I can understand her willing vulnerability and her selflessness in the cause of advancing science and relieving the suffering of other women.

      I lost my mom 24 years ago on the Friday night before Mother’s Day. I write this in her honor and to report that I know women my age and younger who have benefited from the knowledge gleaned by her willingness to undergo experimental procedures and to have the images of her many stages of her surgeries photographed. Yes, Mom, the deepest message of this play is oh, so right. Thanks, for your gentle reminder of what really matters in this world. You will always be a true and radiant Calendar Girl.

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