I have no idea whose idea it was. The previous year, when we were Juniors in high school, our classmate Debbie Miller had been a member of the Lebanon Community Theatre (LCTI, the “I” standing for “Inc.”), and it had sounded like a lot of fun. Now Debbie was dearly departed (to New York City), and a bunch of us decided to attend one of the LCTI monthly member meetings. I think this was in November 1966, our Senior year.
And I’m not even sure just who exactly went to that first meeting. Before the school year was over the Elco High School Seniors who had participated in at least some LCTI activities included Maryann Shelhamer, Dennis Keener, Gary Wells, Arlene Herr, Eric Blouch, Beth Horst, Randy Klopp, and probably one or two more that I’m blanking on right now.
I think that meeting was held in the awful barn that they had just bought, and which they were in the process of converting into a performance space. At a later ill-attended meeting that barn was voted an equally awful Pennsylvania Dutch name, Die Rote Scheier (The Red Barn), but thankfully it burned down a few years later and eventually the group obtained a much better performing space at Stoever’s (pronounced “stay-vers”) Dam, where they are still active to this day. But I’m getting side-tracked from my story.
The only thing I recall about that meeting is being approached by Allie (that is, Allyce Mulhern), a woman of a certain age who was a stalwart LCTI booster. She’s the one who had discovered that awful barn to begin with, and she never lost an opportunity to say how much she regretted it. But this evening she was looking for someone to play a college undergraduate in a reading of a short original play that they’d be doing in a few days at Lebanon Valley College. I distinctly remember Maryann pushing me forward and saying something to the effect that if I didn’t do it I might never be given another chance. So I said yes, and that is a story in itself, and not the one I want to tell here. Meanwhile, Gary and Maryann got volunteered to do some sort of Christmas play for an elementary school, I think.
As the school year progressed our loose little group kept on attending meetings, helping out with the renovations of that awful barn, and volunteering for backstage duties on the productions.
I recall an afternoon where Dennis and Eric, I think, were putting up insulation. During the production of the musical She Loves Me, Eric and I were working the spotlights while Arlene kept us company in the booth.
Because we were spread out in several different towns, we carpooled, cramming five or six of us into a car, and since Richland was sort of the end point, I think it was usually someone from Richland, like Randy or me, who most often drove (I might be wrong about that).
On one of those nights on the drive back, we were dropping off Arlene at her home just outside Schaefferstown, and I’m not sure who was left in the car but clearly Arlene Herr was there. And Eric Blouch. I was still there, obviously because I’m the one remembering it. Dennis Keener, I think he was sitting in the back with me, and Randy Klopp must have been driving.
Anyway, when Arlene got out of the car, Eric got out too, or maybe Eric got out to let her out. I’m not sure.
And… Do you remember that scene from Friends in the episode The One Where Everybody Finds Out where Phoebe first sees Monica and Chandler kissing and starts screaming? Well, it was like that. Only different.
Because when Eric and Arlene got out of the car, he planted a big kiss right smack dab on her lips.
And time stopped.
And our inner Phoebes, well my inner Phoebe anyway, started screaming, because we, or at least I, had not had any idea that these two friends were now a couple, an item, if you will. I distinctly remember exchanging a bewildered look with Dennis. Or maybe Randy.
And then Eric got back inside the car, and we drove off, and not a word was said. Because Eric was not the kind of guy that you spoke to about that kiss that he had just planted on Arlene’s lips.
And that’s how we, or at least I, found out about Arlene and Eric.
Shortly after graduation Arlene Herr and Eric Blouch were married with Dennis Keener performing the duties of best man, and all these years later they are still living happily together in Arizona.
Congratulations Arlene and Eric!