What Car­rie Fisher Taught me About Kind­ness and Au­then­tic­ity

The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT - By Michelle Chaf­fee

Ihave been for­tu­nate in my life to have had ex­pe­ri­ences and op­por­tu­ni­ties that are rare and unique. To have landed in some en­vi­able sit­u­a­tions, not be­cause I had a plan to be there or even the imag­i­na­tion to con­sider it a pos­si­bil­ity but more be­cause I had an open call out to the uni­verse. A call to show me things I was cer­tain I missed hav­ing grown up in ru­ral Min­nesota. To be cer­tain, one of the finest ex­am­ples of th­ese mo­ments of dumb luck is meet­ing Car­rie Fisher.

I had just moved to Los An­ge­les and con­tacted a lo­cal nanny agency look­ing for a po­si­tion for the sum­mer, be­fore sign­ing up for classes in the fall. I had ex­pe­ri­ence, teach­ing preschool, and had been babysit­ting every­one in the neigh­bor­hood since I was about 12 years old. I had heard that nan­nies from the Mid­west were highly sought af­ter so it seemed like the most log­i­cal job to try and land. The first in­ter­view I was sent on was in Bev­erly Hills and I was hired on the spot. I was plopped in the midst of A-list celebri­ties and Hol­ly­wood pro­duc­ers lit­er­ally overnight and meet­ing new ones on al­most a daily ba­sis. While this was ini­tially ex­cit­ing, it quickly be­came clear that this was not a world I was fa­mil­iar with or could eas­ily con­form to. The star­let I worked for had a habit of in­struct­ing me to “get the baby ready” and get in the car without no­tice or any in­di­ca­tion of where we were go­ing. Some­times it was to buy shoes for “the baby” on Rodeo Drive, 10 pairs at a time in dif­fer­ent sizes; some­times we trav­eled to Mal­ibu for a bar­be­cue where tele­vi­sion icons from my child­hood were gath­ered about dis­cussing their lat­est film or tele­vi­sion project. There were mo­ments that seemed sur­real and I tried to blend in or dis­ap­pear as best I could but I usu­ally felt very un­com­fort­able. Never par­tic­u­larly star struck, just awk­ward. Then one day we went to Car­rie Fisher’s house.

I re­mem­ber the first time we drove up Cold Wa­ter Canyon and turned to climb up the twisty hill that led to her es­tate. Color­ful hol­i­day lawn or­na­ments with phrases from “Twas the Night Be­fore Christ­mas” lined the drive on that sum­mer morn­ing. I couldn’t imag­ine who lived there, as ev­ery­thing about the place was so dif­fer­ent from the im­pec­ca­bly man­i­cured, gated nir­vana where I then resided and searched daily for glimpses of some­thing fa­mil­iar or con­ven­tional. We parked the car and walked up to the door where a de­mure woman greeted us who in­vited us in. I be­gan in­con­spic­u­ously scan­ning the room for clues such as framed fam­ily pho­tos, movie posters, awards with name plates or gi­gan­tic self por­traits but I wasn’t see­ing any of the typ­i­cal items I came to de­pend on to ori­ent me or pre­pare me for what to ex­pect. A por­trait of Teddy Roo­sevelt hung over the man­tle. There were stuffed an­i­mals - the real kind - and ev­ery­thing was bright, in­ter­est­ing and beg­ging to be ex­plored. There were stacks of books by the door, not as­sorted books but mul­ti­ple copies of the same book wear­ing a brightly col­ored jacket. Sud­denly, she ap­peared, fresh out of the shower wear­ing a robe, her hair still wet. She ex­tended her hand as we were in­tro­duced and apol­o­gized for mak­ing us wait. She asked if we were hun­gry and of­fered pan­cakes as she es­corted us to a back pa­tio that ran the length of the house. I was first struck by how tiny she was (I am 5’9”) and the fact that she would host any gath­er­ing of Hol­ly­wood moms in that non­coiffed state, im­me­di­ately put me at ease. This was be­hav­ior I un­der­stood, the glimpse of bare hu­man­ity that I had been look­ing for to ease the gnaw­ing feel­ing, I had slipped down the rab­bit hole.

We made the trip weekly to Car­rie Fisher’s house that sum­mer for play­groups that she hosted. It was a respite in a rou­tine that was fraught with a con­stant bar­rage of chefs be­ing fired, mea­sur­ing bath wa­ter tem­per­a­ture to the pre­cise de­gree and im­promptu re­quests to dress up “the baby” and pa­rade her in front of din­ner party guests at any hour of the day or night. In stark con­trast, Car­rie Fisher sat on the floor next to me, her chin perched on her knees and asked my opin­ion on things like mu­sic lessons and op­ti­mal tod­dler nu­tri­tion. She asked about how my mom did things and if I went to church as a child. She talked openly about nor­mal things like her mother judg­ing her choice in cribs or her fa­ther’s most re­cent visit and while, yes, there was a life size Princess Leia cut-out in her court­yard, she never treated any­one like they were in­vis­i­ble or any less im­por­tant than she was. I can’t ex­press how rare that was, there or any place. There was an ease in the way she in­ter­acted with her daugh­ter that was con­sis­tent with what I knew grow­ing up but that I hadn’t wit­nessed in a while. The world didn’t end if there was a scrape or scuffle and she beamed as she watched Bil­lie play, obliv­i­ous to the friv­o­lous gos­sip be­ing strewn about by the other Hol­ly­wood moms. Of all the peo­ple I met in Hol­ly­wood, she had the pedi­gree to be the most pre­ten­tious and dis­mis­sive but she was ex­actly the op­po­site. She seemed cu­ri­ous about how things were done out­side of what she knew di­rectly and didn’t as­sume a life of priv­i­lege meant she had all the an­swers. She was real, flawed and didn’t seem to have the slight­est in­ter­est in wast­ing en­ergy on a fa­cade of any­thing to the con­trary. I looked for­ward to this weekly es­cape as it was a kind of life­line to some­thing nor­mal and good that I saw as sorely lack­ing in most ev­ery­thing else I en­coun­tered. I imag­ine that’s what many oth­ers loved about her too, the real­ness and vul­ner­a­bil­ity.

The stacks of books, I would learn, were copies of “Sur­ren­der the Pink.” She signed one for me and I have it to this day. She will live on as an icon, cel­e­brated au­thor, and cru­sader and much more to those who were clos­est to her. To me, she was con­sis­tently kind when I was try­ing to feel okay in what seemed like a for­eign land. This may seem a small ac­com­plish­ment in com­par­i­son to all she is right­fully cel­e­brated for but it meant the world to me at the time. She was a class act and she will be missed.

Deb­bie Reynolds (left), mother of Car­rie Fisher, also passed away ear­lier this week as she laid plans for her daugh­ter’s fu­neral.

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