By Peter Hornbostel
Special to the Rappahannock News
Though he is gone from this world, it just isn’t possible for me to remember Norm Getsinger without a smile on his face, and thus on mine. He managed to do that to all of us without a lot of effort, or so it seemed. As he grew older the smile wrinkles on his face got deeper. That’s about all the passing years showed.
How many of us have seen a man in his 90s dressed up in green as a leprechaun, frolicking on the back of a car in the Saint Patrick’s Day parade? Or the same man playing Scrooge, leaping joyously around the RAAC Theater stage at the conclusion of Dicken’s “Christmas Carol?” He told me, much later, that he had wanted to play Scrooge since he first saw the play when he was 8 years old. Eighty-two years waiting for a part! How Norm enjoyed that part when he finally got it. So did the audience!
Of course there were many other plays in which he starred including Neil Simon’s “What’s So Funny,” Chekhov’s “Marriage Proposal,” Melchior in the “Kings Play,” a king again in “The Shepherds Play.” Norm was such a glorious and enthusiastic ham! He couldn’t resist a part if it was offered to him, or even if it hadn’t been. The last time I saw Norm he was in the audience for the two “Heroes” performances a few weeks ago. “Hey man,” Norm said to me as I came up, “you’ve got to find us a play we can do together.” He was smiling like always but I knew he was completely serious.
“What about your leg?” I asked him, pointing to the leg that had suffered the first stroke a couple of months before.
“I could feel my second toe for the first time yesterday,” he said. “I’m getting better, man. You go find us a play to do together.” I promised him I would.
It wasn’t just drama that Norm loved. There was Jo-an above everything else, even drama. (I don’t blame him for that.) There was music as well. I don’t know as much about that, but I do know that he was the Song Master at the Lions Club, where he and Emerson Williams led the troops in singing rollicking songs from the 1930s and ’40s. He acted as master of ceremonies for the Bland Music Contest at Wendy’s theater every year for kids from all over the county and beyond. Anything which had anything to do with music Norm wanted to help with. And until the last couple of years, he played the piano. I never heard him play, so don’t ask.
Superimposed over all of this was Norm’s academic life. He was a graduate of Harvard in 1941. Some 70 years later, while rehearsing for a play or memorizing his lines in Rappahannock, Norm drove to D.C. every Tuesday for classes at George Washington University. When I met him he had already received a master’s degree in Asian studies; he was working on another one when he left us. He didn’t really want another degree, though. Writing one thesis was enough, he said.
To my knowledge he only missed a class once in his academic career and that was to be here for an extra rehearsal as Scrooge after an earlier one was cancelled due to freezing rain. He took an “incomplete” in the course, he told me, but they let him make it up . . . that’s what he said. For certain, Norm completed many more classes than he needed to receive another degree, if he had wanted one. He didn’t. But I’ll hazard a guess that he knew as much about what was going on in China as any person at the school.
And every other Saturday he spoke about China or U.S. China policy at the Brotherhood of St. Andrew at Trinity Episcopal Church, where he was a faithful parishioner.
Jenks Hobson, the pastor of the church, has mentioned more than once Norman’s journey to another, better place. I am not a religious man. But Friday, I believe, there was a gentle thunderstorm at Old Rag (something I have never seen before), with quiet thunder and a few sparks of lightning. I thought I saw in the clouds high above the mountain a large old freight train crossing the sky in the rain. I wondered if that train was taking Norman to the better place Jenks was talking about.
And I smiled.
Peter Hornbostel is artistic director of the RAAC Community’s Theatre in Washington. Norman Getsinger’s obituary can be seen in the Rappahannock News’ eEdition here.