81: My Fairy Godmother’s Gift

81: My Fairy Godmother’s Gift

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Messages from Heaven

My Fairy Godmother’s Gift

A friend knows the song in my heart and sings it to me when my memory fails.

~Donna Roberts

Fanye befriended me when I was eight years old. For most of the next twenty-five years, we had fairly constant contact. Something of a Fairy Godmother, she took me out to lunch at least once a month during my teen years. We frequently attended the ballet and the opera together. When I was older, I stayed at her beach house on weekends, and we’d share the time cooking or reading to each other or just chatting. After I relocated to New York to study opera at Juilliard, our visits were more sporadic—but whenever she was in the Big Apple, she’d call and we’d get together.

Fanye had begun life in abject poverty. She had been raised in an orphanage, and as her fortunes improved, she took great delight in acquiring knowledge of the finer aspects of life—fine dining, beautiful clothes, the ballet, the opera. Especially the opera. It thrilled her when I became a singer, and several times I was happily surprised to find her at my dressing room door, backstage at New York City Opera after one of my performances.

I hadn’t heard from her for quite a while when, one day, I got a call from my brother. “Fanye’s son Mark phoned. He didn’t know how to reach you. His mother died. He knew what great friends you were, and asked me to let you know.”

And just like that, my Fairy Godmother was gone. Forever.

Fifteen years passed. Sometimes, at the ballet or the opera, the thought would come to me: Fanye would have loved this. Out of the blue, a wave of sadness would wash over me. And always the questions: How had I not known of her long illness, her looming death? Why wouldn’t she tell me? How could she have left like that, giving me no chance to say goodbye?

One morning as I was waking up, I heard her distinctive voice. “Call Mark,” she said.

Call Mark? I hadn’t seen or spoken to Mark in over forty years. But Fanye had sounded firm, imperative. I looked up Mark’s architectural firm online and called his office.

“Ummm… Mark? It’s Penny.”

“Penny? Penny Orloff?”

We chatted for a short time, and he finally asked me the reason for my call. I took a deep breath.

“Ummm… your mother told me to call you.”

“I’m not surprised,” said Mark. “She makes herself known from time to time.”

I had dinner with Mark and his wife, Eloise, a few days later. Ellie was worried about their younger son, Zach, who lived in New York. An aspiring opera singer, he was having a hard year and facing a major crisis of confidence. The hairs on the back of my neck quivered.

“I don’t know how to help him—he’s seriously considering giving up. We feel so helpless.”

I told them my story. They were astonished. Mark hadn’t known I attended Juilliard nearly forty years earlier, and that I had been an opera singer. He couldn’t have imagined that I had come up against that same crisis of confidence that Zach now faced, and considered throwing in the towel many times, myself. He never knew that his mother had transformed my life, by encouraging and inspiring me many times during the darkest days of my early career.

In a flash, it dawned on the three of us—Fanye had come to me after fifteen years of silence to help her young grandson.

The next day I phoned New York.

“Zach, I’ve known your dad since we were kids. Your grandmother was a great friend to me,” I said. We talked for a long time about his passionate love of singing, his months of discouragement, and his fear that he wouldn’t be able to make a career in opera. I told him about my similar feelings as a young singer, decades earlier, and how passion and persistence had been the magic ingredients that had allowed me to realize my dreams.

And speaking of magic, I told him how his grandmother had come to me in a dream.

“I believe she wanted to introduce us. She seems to have thought we might have a lot to say to each other.”

In the months since that first call, I’ve become Zach’s Fairy Godmother, as Fanye was mine. He and I have spoken many times and e-mailed regularly. I visit him from time to time in New York. His renewed optimism and enthusiasm have taken him to new levels of accomplishment. As his rich baritone voice has blossomed, so has his career. In the short span of four months, he experienced a great success singing in Italy, and returned to New York to pursue graduate studies in the opera department of the renowned Manhattan School of Music.

I felt so blessed to be able to deliver Fanye’s gift of hope to her grandson. But there is more to the story. It would appear that Fanye had a gift for me, too. With a wave of her magic wand, she has transformed my life once again. Her encouraging words, coming out of my mouth, have resonated in my heart. Now in my sixties, and too long silent, I am singing again.

~Penny Orloff

More stories from our partners