What she did do was to assemble an extraordinary step-by-step program of loving reconstruction. First came solace. I sobbed, she soothed. But—in childhood grief, as with the adult variety—solace is beneficial for only so long. Which is why my mother finally wiped my nose and asked, "Don't you want to be in the play, sweetheart?" I did! But I wanted to be one of the three starring lemonade girls! Or nothing!

Yes, she agreed, naturally. But given the reality that I couldn't be a lemonade girl, wouldn't I feel left out to be the only child who wasn't in the play at all? I hadn't thought of that. I hadn't imagined what it would feel like to watch as everyone else had fun putting on a play.

"Sometimes the smallest parts are the most unforgettable," she went on. "What if you and I made sure Mrs. Fields was really memorable?"

As my mother laid out her cunning plan, I could almost feel the tears crawling back up my cheeks. But first, my mother said, I had to apologize to Mrs. Domino for having called her a stupid stupid-head, and humbly ask for my part back. I agreed, shamefaced. The next morning, though, when I made my nervous apology to Mrs. Domino, she was like, "What? Oh, yeah, no problem." It was as if she had no recollection of my massive personal drama. (Thus handing me yet another important life lesson: Nobody's really paying that much attention to your massive personal dramas.)

Over the next month, my mother threw herself into helping me create a Mrs. Fields who would never be forgotten. Or at least that's how it felt to me. Looking back on it now, mind you, it occurs to me that she probably had other things going on besides her 8-year-old daughter's play. She had, for instance, a small family farm to run, a nursing job to maintain, another daughter to raise, and a marriage to attend to. But I didn't notice any of that. Because somehow, in those four weeks, she made me feel as though she had nothing better to do than run my two boring lines with me constantly, as though we were rehearsing Ophelia for the Royal Shakespeare Company. We experimented with accents, motivations, and fancy walking styles. Best of all, at a local thrift shop, we found an awesome Mrs. Fields costume—a vibrant pink vintage ball gown with matching high heels, purse, and sun hat. (A particularly noticeable getup, given that no other kids were wearing costumes.)

Opening day: The play droned to life. Bored parents fanned themselves in the audience, straining to hear mumbled lines. When I exploded onto the stage, as confident as (and dressed rather like) a drag queen, I could feel the crowd pop awake. Towering over the cast, I sashayed toward the lemonade stand and drawled languidly, "May ah have an oatmeal cookie and a glass of lemonade?" (The honeyed Southern accent had been my mother's brilliant, last-minute suggestion.)

The audience hollered with laughter. Still in character, I drawled my next and final line ("Thank yoooouuu!") to the three dumbfounded stars and began my exit. But—not so fast. The audience was still laughing, still loving this 8-year-old Blanche DuBois. And that's when I had a clarion revelation: They still need me! This is when I made the charitable decision to give the crowd just a little more Mrs. Fields. Instead of heading for the wings, I swished back to center stage, dropped an imaginary quarter on the lemonade stand, and ad-libbed, "Keep the change, sugar.

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