Remembering Cousin Carrie Fisher
The setting was a memorial held for both Debbie Reynolds and Carrie at Los Angeles' Forest Lawn, March 25, 2017.
Dwight, Debbie Reynolds' white Coton pup, snuggled in close between Leslie Reynolds and her dad, Bill. Forest Lawn's Hall of Liberty was being filled with family, friends and fans waiting for the memorial to begin.
Pooch Dwight had his own front row seat as he and Leslie waited for Todd Fisher to present the lives of his famous mom and sister.
"The first time I met Carrie" said Leslie, "I was about 2 or 3 years old and she was about 9 or 10. Long before Carrie was 'Princess Leia', we were just two little girls playing in the back yard of my Aunt Debbie's Beverly Hills mansion, while my parents visited for the day".
Leslie stroked Dwight's fluffy brow as she continued. "Carrie and I were 7 years apart, and when we played together, it was usually 'dress-up'. Carrie would always cast me in the part of being her doll."
Leslie chuckled as she recalled those times together. "I guess you could say I was the original 'Teddy Ruxpin' the talking bear doll in the early days of talking toys. Carrie would grab my hand and drag me all over the house, making up scenarios as we went along, and sharing all the cool things there were to play with."
Leslie winced as she shook her head, "I'm not sure we were supposed to play with a lot of those things, but Carrie, ever independent, seized moments for both of us to dive into mischief."
Dwight jumps onto Leslie's lap. "For instance, the huge train set room; or my aunt's work out room. No, I really don't think we were supposed to be in there at all."
Dwight needs an outside break and we head out to the patio. Cousin Todd gets a hug on the way out.
The spring day was warming, and Leslie shares another memory. "My Aunt's back yard was my favorite. It had three swimming pools--small, medium and large!" She crosses her heart and holds up three fingers to verify the fact.
"Then the crown jewel was Carrie's own two story tree house--so nice that you could actually live in it for real! Boy the fun we had back in those childhood days."
As we headed back into the hall, final touches were being made, and guests from everywhere were filling seats--many wearing wristbands that said "Debbie and Carrie forever in our hearts". Princess Leia's cinnamon bun hair-do dotted the auditorium.
Leslie views the growing crowd, "I guess I grew up admiring Carrie, much like the people that are here today, but with that special family love that never left my heart."
Then Todd Fisher took the stage. "This entire thing I'm calling a show." announced Todd. "Not a memorial, because my girls liked shows--and parties" he said. "So this show is designed as if we were in our living room and all of us a big family, celebrating two amazing women's lives."
A color guard marches the aisle onto the stage honoring Debbie Reynolds' patriotism. Private home videos and snapshots crossed the screen, and background music from "Star Wars" played while R2D2 made a touching appearance.
Interspersed were dancers from the Debbie Reynolds' Dance Studio, giving an adorable performance of "Singin' in the Rain". The Los Angeles Gay Men's Chorus brilliantly sang "True Colors".
Comedian/Actor Dan Aykroyd, once engaged to Carrie, shared fun personal stories; and celebrity Ruta Lee stirred us as she spoke of her love for both women, who brought deeper understanding to mental health issues through The Thalians.
Ben Mankiewicz of Turner Classic Movies relayed his appreciation of Debbie Reynolds passion to preserve the "Old Hollywood", and how he so loved Carrie's uncompromising honesty.
Actor Griffin Dunne, a New York roommate of Carrie's, said she once called him from the set of "Star Wars", complaining about the "stupid" movie she was working on, having no idea how that "stupid" movie would change her life forever.
We laughed, teared-up and applauded, discovering things we didn't know and holding onto things we cherished.
Finally, the grand tribute came to an end, leaving us grateful that we could share in the lives of these two indominable women.
Photographers, camera people and the press were everywhere.
It took a while to get to the car as many extended greetings and condolences to "Uncle Billy" (Leslie's dad; Debbie's brother; and Carrie's uncle).
At an early dinner before our drive back to Tehachapi, Leslie shared one final memory. "Probably one of the most endearing stories about Carrie was told by my niece Heather Reynolds," said Leslie.
"She was 18, and visiting Carrie. The two of them decided to watch Star Wars; and Carrie, never missing a chance to turn the mundane into the whimsical, decided to pump-up the experience. Each time Princess Leia would speak, Carrie muted the sound, and in perfect sync with Princess Leia, spoke out loud each line, never missing a pause, an inflection or a word! That was Carrie; ever creative, always unique.
On the back of the memorial program, there was a quote from Natalie Babbit. "Don't be afraid of death, be afraid of an unlived life."
Well, no one could ever accuse either Debbie Reynolds or Carrie Fisher of not living their lives to the fullest; and we thank Todd Fisher, for giving us such amazing memories, and our own Leslie Reynolds for so generously sharing in hers.
Seems as though generosity runs in the family genes.