Dear Jerry Lewis:
The story about Jerry Lewis and my father at my 16th birthday party is one such example of how a simple gesture can build a lifelong bond. My father’s tender act toward me would be reciprocated many years later when the tables turned and he was in dire need of compassion and tenderness from me.
From the time I was ten years old, I loved Jerry Lewis. After I saw him in three movies, The Errand Boy, The Nutty Professor and It’s Only Money, I was hooked. I loved his smile and how he moved, how he danced, his red cardigan sweater, white socks, loafers, the pinky ring. He made me laugh and I loved his goofy ways. I felt that he gave me permission to be the silly girl I was born to be.
I knew Jerry was married, but I did not care. As a pre-teen, I wrote him long, long letters telling him how much I loved him, but I didn’t mail any of the letters. Except once, I did send a letter, but not one of the epic ones. That one was short and sweet, requesting a signed photograph.
Months later, it felt fantastic to receive an envelope in the mail from “Hollywood, Calif.” It was sitting on the dining room table. The handwriting was cursive and my name was spelled correctly. I’d been sent an autographed photo, color not black and white with Jerry seated on a bar stool, with his token red cardigan sweater and black trousers, red socks protruding from the tip of his pant! I went crazy. How lucky I felt. I loved it! I framed it! And, in his own handwriting too. “To Lorrie, Love Jerry Lewis”.
I continued to write more unsent letters. By the time I was a teenager the fascination to have Jerry in my life was fading a bit. There were adorable boys, who captured my attention in my own neighborhood. But, when it was time for my Sweet Sixteen party… I had been thinking a lot about inviting Jerry Lewis. I asked what my parents thought if I sent him an invitation. They said, “Why not? Go ahead!”
I wanted Jerry to attend, knowing it was a crazy idea. I mailed him a gorgeous invitation that my aunt had designed for me a few months in advance. As I dropped it in the mailbox my thoughts went to his busy schedule. I thought he would need time to rearrange his agenda if he was going to appear. Weeks flew by and still no response. My heart sank. I wanted him there! I wanted him to know how I cared for him and for how long.
As time drew closer, I had to come to terms with the fact that Jerry Lewis would not be showing his face at my party. Disappointed, I decided, there must be a good reason why he could not just be a part of this incredible celebration. Though I recognized I needed to be a grown up about it, it felt difficult to erase Jerry Lewis showing up in person from my heart and mind.
I had a “wishing well” theme for my party. Dad suggested that he construct the wishing well for the gathering so he found an old barrel and crafted it to perfection. He spray painted it with day-glo paint! I wanted to give all my friends parting gifts, which were put into the wishing well wrapped with every kind of wrapping paper I could find. I envisioned them leaning in and choosing whatever size box they wanted.
The shindig was on a gorgeous fall day. I was particularly thrilled that the weather was perfect. An afternoon event in the heart of Center City Philadelphia and it was being held at a very fancy Italian Restaurant called Tarello’s.
All the waiters were young, very attractive and from Italy. The food was a treat, and the owner didn’t mind a huge crowd of screaming 16 year old girls taking over the place for the afternoon. My parents were beaming from the sidelines, and I was having a hard time believing this was real. The time flew as I was about to unwrap my gifts. Enrique the waiter wearing sunglasses and a memorable smile, came to me and whispered in my ear, “You have a phone call.” I could not imagine who would be on the phone. Who else would know to call me here?
I went over to the bar and picked up the phone. Heart racing I said with a dry throaty, “Hello?”
“Hello Lorrie, this is Jerry Lewis.”
It was my dad, trying to disguise his voice. I knew, but I still played along.
“Jerry! It’s so good to hear from you, I squealed.
“I wanted to call and wish you a very happy birthday. You are 16 today. That’s a big deal. Your life is going to be amazing….I just feel it….I’m sorry I couldn’t be there to help you celebrate, but live it up, have a ball….And thank you for thinking of me…”
“That’s so sweet of you Jerry. I wish you could be here too. I sure hope I get to meet you someday.”
“Have a great birthday Lorrie. And, thank you for your thoughtfulness with your invite.”
“Oh my God, Jerry, thanks for calling me!! I do hope to meet you someday! Goodbye! I love you!”
I walked back to the gift table and was immediately surrounded by my friends, asking me a million questions at once. I noticed my father re-enter the restaurant.
“Who was that? Who was on the phone?” my best friends, Judi and Susan Ruth asked as the other girls crowded in unison.
I winked at my Dad. He smiled. I turned to my friends.
“That was Jerry Lewis, can you believe it? He did get my invitation after all and called to wish me a Happy Sweet Sixteen. He said he was calling from the other coast!”
The room exploded. “No! Oh my God! You’re lying–Really? What did he say? You have to tell us every word he said!” My girls crowded eagerly around me, wanting to hear exactly what had taken place. I lost sight of my father. I loved him so much for the thoughtfulness he had shown. Boy, did I feel lucky! I noticed Bernie standing by the door, watching all of us in our squealed excitement. He gave me a gift of feeling so important and special, to have everything I wanted for that extraordinary day.
Fond memories often serve as the thinnest thread keeping a child tethered to his or her tenuous, relationship with their mother or father. If we find the strength and courage to hold on tight, until the healing process is complete, we are often greeted with a resolution that surpasses our inner naysayer, who doubted change could ever occur. If nurtured, the once fragile thread grows as strong and resilient as the umbilical cord that once sustained us.