I hope you enjoyed our recent tribute to the Madera Chamber’s Lifetime Achievement Award honorees. J. Gordon Kennedy, Margaret Diebert, David Lee, Bill Coate and the late Leon Emo comprise the 2018 class of recipients.
We at the Tribune are especially pleased to have two of our very own, Bill Coate, and the late Leon Emo, honored and remembered for their many contributions to Madera.
I first met Bill Coate when he and I were part of a production of the politically incorrect “Ten Little Indians,” with the now-disbanded Madera Community Theater in the early 1990s. Written by the great Agatha Christie, the play was released in 1966, and is one of her most famous works.
My character was a mean old biddy named Emily Brent and Bill’s character was a disgraced former Scotland Yard inspector using the name William Henry Blore.
The story is considered a closed-room mystery. The Ten Little Indians in the title represent people who have been invited to an English island for a house party. One by one, the characters in the play and their past transgressions are revealed as they are murdered.
Directed by teacher Eileen Riley, the cast included her husband, the late Tom Riley, who served as MUSD superintendent, former County Counsel Doug Nelson, legal secretary Stefanie Eddings, farmer Rodney Hagopian and Ronnie Fletcher III then working for Mike Pistoresi at Chrysler Marine selling boats.
Opening night, my husband Fred and a friend of ours, Phil Haffen from Atlanta, attended the play. They were sitting in the front row with Ron and Barbara Fletcher Jr., Ronnie’s parents.
When I made my entrance on stage Fred looked at my costume and makeup and said to Ron, my God, she looks like Bruno’s mother. It took a few seconds to sink in and then Ron laughed because apparently, the resemblance was spot-on.
Longtime Madera residents remember Bruno Barratta who owned an army surplus store. A little person who rode a tricycle, his mother also worked at the store.
The dialog between Coate’s character and mine consisted mostly of his character saying something outrageous or laced with a double entendre and my character scolding him with the admonishment, “Mr. Blore,” and him reacting with the one-word response “What?”
The cast of a theater production goes through a bonding experience that is hard to explain to a person who has never experienced it. Rehearsals several nights a week and blocking the cast’s movements on stage take a great deal of practice as well. Late nights and inside jokes bring a cast together and create a deep and lasting bond that continues to this day.
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My relationship with Leon Emo began when I decided to paint my kitchen appliances red. I did research on the best garage in town and contacted Emo’s A-1 Body Shop. When I paid him a visit, where he opined that I probably wanted to paint them almond, which at that time was the current popular appliance flavor. I told him if I wanted them almond, I would buy them almond. He quoted me a price to paint a stove, refrigerator and range hood in 1985 Isuzu Impulse Red.
About six months later, I called to arrange to have the appliances delivered to his shop. I reminded him he had given me a quote and he didn’t remember talking to me, saying many people asked for pricing to paint appliances.
“I want them painted red,” I said. “You I remember.”
I got to know Leon through his columns “Mo’s Musings,” and “Mo’s Meanderings.” When I joined the staff of The Madera Tribune in 1995, our friendship grew as we shared the feature pages of the B Section.
In my desk drawer, I have one of Leon’s business cards with a note written on it. I was a patient at Madera Community Hospital. The note said, “Stopped by @ 2:00 but didn’t want to wake you, Leon.” He left the card on my tray-table.
Many times Leon and I attended public events together, representing the Tribune. Sometimes his gal Viola joined us, other times not. Between the two of us, we usually knew everyone in attendance. We would whisper back and forth sharing the names of our fellow guests.
Losing Leon was tough on all of us. His offbeat sense of humor both on the pages of the Tribune and in person makes me laugh and cry when I think of him. I still miss you, my friend.
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Have a great weekend.
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Readers may contact Tami Jo Nix by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or following @TamiJoNix on Twitter.