Kacie Cooper loves doing stand-up comedy at local venues (she just hasn’t made it big yet, like Phyllis Diller). The role of comedy and her mother’s love are woven together in this touching tribute. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns
By (Kacie) Kathy Cooper
From the smile on my face in this photograph, you’d have thought I was in heaven. Well, in a way I was. For I was with not only the great comedian Lily Tomlin, but also my sweet Mama Jeri -- my favorite person in the world.
We had just gotten out of Jane Wagner’s play “Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe.” Lily Tomlin was unbelievable in this one-woman show. She was the only one on stage, all night, and we never stopped laughing that whole night.
It was Lily Tomlin who made me fall in love with the idea of making people laugh. I’m blessed to say that because of Lily Tomlin, I have been in community and college theatre productions and improv shows. I even performed stand up at the same place Lily performed - at the Ice House in Pasadena; only years later. But what a thrill that was.
I spent hours watching Lily on that show ‘Laugh In’ and Mom must have picked up on the idea that I was really excited and interested in comedy. One morning after coming back from a girlfriend’s slumber party at age ten I just kept blabbering to her, “Yeah mom! It was wonderful.” I was doing my own different characters like Lily does and everybody was laughing! I couldn’t believe it.”
As I look back it was actually my Mama Jeri who bought me my first album. It was a comedy album of Lily Tomlin’s with all her different characters - like the telephone operator asking, “Have I reached the person to whom I am speaking?” It also included her infamous 5-year-old Edith Ann who said, “And I don’t have to go to school if I don’t want to.”
My mother and I would listen to Lily’s album together day after day and laugh each time as if it were the first time.
My Mama Jeri was a quiet, gracious woman who grew up in a small railroad town in Thistle Utah, during the depression. And like most people, her life was not always evident of happy times. At age 5 she lost her 12 year old brother in a devastating mountain avalanche, leaving her to grow up as an only child.
Ultimately her parents stayed together after the tragedy, but I don’t believe they spoke much to each other. My mother was very lonely. She always wanted children and eventually had four of us.
During those “Ozzie and Harriet” times when a man went to work and the woman stayed home, my father was often out of work. It was then mom took in ironings from the neighbors and babysat their children, even over the weekends sometimes, often without pay.
It must have been quite challenging when she became perhaps the first female brazier in town of office furniture when she worked at a place called McDowell and Craig in Santa Fe Springs. Brazing is similar to welding. It was hard, hot work. Of course I never heard her complain once.
Then tragedy struck again when I contracted polio at age three. Of course there were several surgeries, but the most amazing thing I remember about it all was the fact that my mother never let on to what she was really going through.
She always kept a very positive attitude about everything, no matter what it was. Now, for the life of me, I cannot recall her ever crying; except for the time my horse died. I think she knew what that horse meant to me. She never once complained. I’ll only remember her smiling. I know it helped me through everything I’ve gone through in life.
I remember one time at one of my weekly physical therapy sessions she had driven me to. We would wait for hours to be seen. This one particular day mom bought me a bag of yummy Fritos.
I asked her, “Mom, would you like some Fritos?” She paused for a minute, looked at me, and then replied, “I sure do! Now take those socks off and give me those free toes.”
That might have been the first time I actually understood a joke. Right there, without knowing, waiting for the doctor, she had introduced me to the world of comedy.
With my debut performance at the slumber party, then finding Lily Tomlin and my Mama Jeri’s support, I’ve had great fun with comedy. Someone was looking out for me - my Mama Jeri. Though she is gone now, I hope I have emulated her style of living to my own four wonderful kids. I hope they can always find a way to smile.
It was my Grandpa Cooper who used to sing to me “Que Sera, Sera,” meaning, “whatever will be, will be.” It’s a great philosophy. Maybe we all could stop complaining about life and adapt a more positive attitude. I believe my Mama Jeri understood life. She had a whole lot of faith, she had a great attitude about life - a positive attitude, and she was overflowing with laughter.
It’s like Ann Spangler’s book, “He Who Laughs… Lasts”…oh yeah.