08/04/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Christopher Plummer, Mum, And Me

"Christopher is doing King Lear at Stratford, and I'd like us to go." That's how Mum put it when she canvassed her children for our interest in joining her.

This was no ordinary query. If not quite Lear's test of his daughter's love, it was certainly much more than an evening at the theatre. Christopher Plummer had been a persistent ghost in our home. In the early 1950s, my parents were part of a circle of artists and journalists with the CBC at its hub. Christopher was the baby of the group, but always played a starring role in Mum and Dad's stories about parties with lots of drink and passionate singing around the piano. Of course we would go to Stratford.

"Can you write a speech for us? We're giving Christopher Plummer an honorary doctorate." That's how my client put it when he e-mailed me later the same week.

"Love to." I was deep into writing the president's remarks when Mum called to say she'd sent a note to Christopher, with the date we'd be in the audience.

"I told him to listen carefully to the convocation speech, because my daughter wrote it," she said.

"No pressure, Mum!"

"That's what mothers do, dear."

The big day finally arrived and, like Lear, we faced a dramatic storm. Driving rain delayed us, and we missed the curtain. As we stood watching the opening acts on the lobby monitor, I asked Mum if we were going backstage. "You know, I never heard from him."

At a break in the performance, we were ushered to our seats on tiptoe. And then, there he was -- older, but still an impressive figure at centre stage. He quickly had us leaning forward in our seats, eager for every word and gesture.

At intermission, I went looking for the house manager, explained the history, and asked if we might go backstage. He promised to contact the stage manager, who would inquire with "Mr. Plummer." I checked back just as the house lights signalled the performance would soon resume. "Meet him at the stage door," was all he could offer.

"Well," my mother said icily when I returned. "I think not." Fair enough.

We settled into our seats and got lost again in the tragic story of a man whose family breaks apart, who fears the loss of control that can come with age, and who longs to know he is still loved. The actors won our hearts. After a standing ovation, Christopher walked off stage with arms outstretched, capturing the energy of our applause in his own elegant hands. I leaned over and said to Mum, "Oh, let's do it!"

Hoping that the sight of my seventy-something mother, her eye blackened by a recent fall, would move the stage manager -- perhaps by bringing the blinding of Gloucester to mind? -- I made one more attempt. He stood his ground, but offered gently, "There's a waiting area. You won't be standing in the rain."

Mum and I descended the stairs outside the lobby, crossed the loading ramp, and joined a small, excited group. A wave of departing actors greeted us with unaffected faces and warm appreciation for our murmured bravos. Calling out "Good night!" to one another, they seemed less like celebrities than a group of bus drivers just off shift, out of uniform, and eager to get home.

We stood quietly for a moment, close to the stage door. People trickled by. Then, an old man in a sweater and a fleece scarf was nearly past us when I recognized him. "Christopher Plummer, I'm Julia Moulden, and this is my mother, Dollie." "Oh, yes, the note," he replied.

And then my mother and this man from her past stood as closely together as they might have 50 years ago, talking quietly. Too soon, a gangly young man with an autograph book in his hand pressed forward. "Mr. Plummer, I saw your performance this evening." And the moment was over.

Outside, I asked, "What did he say?" Mum said that his first words were the very gracious, "Remind me," and that they'd simply reminisced about old friends, some of whom -- including my father -- were no longer living. Then, we hugged. She cried a little, and thanked me for being so persistent. "I don't like the word 'closure,' but I guess that's what this is."

Holding her in the shadows of the Festival Theatre, as the rain fell softly all around us, she was no longer my mother. She was the pretty young woman who moved to the city to follow her dreams. Who met an exciting group of smart and talented people. Who married one of them, and started a family. In that instant, as I watched her look back on her life and take its measure, I felt I knew her for the first time.

And then, she was all Mum once more. "We'd better rejoin the others, dear. Watch yourself on the stairs, they're slippery."

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Curious about Julia? She gives speeches [ ]. Writes them []. And her latest book is We Are The New Radicals: A Manifesto for Reinventing Yourself and Saving the World (McGraw-Hill, New York). [] For more about the New Radicals, please see archived articles [].