|The Westbrook Experience at Forrest Cemetery, 10/13/13.|
Several months ago I was invited by Sherry Clayton of A Walk Through Time to portray my father, Henry Westbrook Finlayson. I knew when I was asked that it was something that I was supposed to do. I enjoy performing, but not acting. I'd rather have a guitar and sing.
I knew from the start that I wasn't going to write and try to memorize a script. I knew a good bit about dad's life and figured that I would just shave my beard, borrow a wheelchair and ad-lib it.
Back in the early eighties, dad and I were on a trip. Mom had flown to California to visit family there. It was the first time they had ever been away from each other for an extended period of time. While driving to Columbia, SC, I asked dad about his band days. It was something he rarely talked about. His past was a mystery to me. He seemed to have lived this entirely different life before he met and married mom. It was a wonderful trip. I sat there and drove our blue Malibu toward South Carolina and let dad unfold his entire story. That trip, that moment is a special memory for me.
I knew enough to ad-lib dad's story. I had plenty of material stored in my head. It wasn't going to be hard to fill a few minutes. The hard part was keeping it short.
Taking on the part meant shaving my beard. Dad wasn't a facial hair kind of guy. I haven't shaved my beard in over twenty years. That was the sacrifice for me. I waited until the night before to shave it. I found some glasses similar to the ones dad use to wear and donned a hat to cover my bald head. Westbrook after all had a full head of handsome hair throughout his life. If I was going to be dad, I had to cover the shiny dome.
Gina was downstairs after I shaved and dressed the part for the first time. I sat in the chair and rolled up to her. She looked up from what she was doing and her mouth dropped. "How do I look?" I asked. She said, "You look exactly like your dad," she replied. So much so that it weirded her out. So much so that she's not going to be hugging or kissing me until my beard grows back.
Truth is, I didn't realize the strong resemblance. I got out of the chair, leaving the hat and glasses on and walked to the bathroom mirror. There in the mirror was my dad looking back at me. It was unsettling. Almost every facial feature was dad. I gasped.
I got up early Sunday morning. I got dressed and pulled together my props. At the last minute I remembered I had dad's wristwatch. I pulled it out of the drawer and put it on. It was strange seeing it on my wrist. Even my hands look like dads. I loaded the car and drove down to Forrest Cemetery. I rarely go to dad's grave because I never felt the need to visit a place where he isn't. I knew the general area of the cemetery, but had to walk around a bit to finally find his marker.
It was a beautiful morning and I enjoyed conversations with other reenactors and event hosts before the gates were opened for the public. As I sat there in the wheelchair, it felt surreal and awkward. The more I sat there in the quiet and peaceful setting,
the more I relaxed and started to enjoy the day and the moment. I read a little scripture out of dad's Bible. I watched people strolling across the cemetery in the distance in their period costumes. They looked so real and the moment so believable. I thought of the Thorton Wilder's play 'Our Town'. The cemetery scene in the play is my favorite scene. Outside the Forrest gates the real world became distant and the world of the past began to spin into motion.
Two o'clock came and I glimpsed the first visitors walking down the road. I prayed, asking God to give me some seed to cast. If I were going to portray my dad, it had to be a testament, it's what he would've done. I wanted dad to be remembered and give the kind of talk he would've given. I did alright, even though he was a more eloquent speaker than I am. Though he accomplished all he wanted to accomplish in his life, his greatest pursuit was The Kingdom.
I captured his image. I captured his mannerisms. I told his story in an entertaining way. My voice isn't anything like my father's voice. I couldn't sing like my dad sang, but I did represent in a way that one could believe the man once fronted an orchestra. I ended each presentation with the chorus of a song dad sang often when he preached, 'Til I Become Like Thee'.
Like Thee, Like Thee, 'til I become like Thee,
Have though thy way in all my life
'til I become like Thee.
I love you dad.