TO BE A STAR


Shirley Temple

In my grandmother’s eyes, I was destined to be a star. Fortunately no one else’s eyes were aimed in the same direction.

Hollywood, in the decade of the 1930’s during the height of the Great Depression, made cheerful, happy musicals; such as those featuring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell, and most important to my grandmother—Shirley Temple. It seemed almost like there was a new Shirley Temple film a month, and we saw them all. If you lived within a radius of 50 miles near Hollywood, especially in the early days, you were aware of the movies wherever you looked. They were cheap, and every kid went to the Saturday matinee for a dime.

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baby parade When I unexpectantly won the Long Beach Baby Parade in my silver lame body suit and cleverly concocted wire top hat, the three women in my family; my mother, grandmother and aunt, decided that I had unforeseen talent. And so I went to dancing class along with all the other untalented five year olds, where we practiced our step, shuffle steps and our five year old struts in our shiny new black patent leather tap shoes, under the watchful eyes of devoted mothers and grandmothers.

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My father was a Navy man, and we lived with my grandmother when he was at sea. Occasionally when he came briefly into port in San Diego my mother joined him and I stayed behind. During those periods, I was sent to stay with my Grandmother’s sister Aunt Georgia.

Aunt Georgia was a serious no-nonsense Yankee, so when I took up residence, my Shirley Temple curls were cut in a Dutch Boy style, and the patent leather shoes were replaced with practical Buster Browns. But on Sunday afternoons we went to the movies to see Shirley Temple.

first day of school kayti lou

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I had a love and a mild talent for singing, and when I was thirteen Grandma again zeroed in on the idea of stardom. I had an audition with a voice coach in Hollywood who worked with Deanna Durbin, who was then making light-hearted films such as “Three Smart Girls” and “Every Sunday” with Judy Garland. She was a Canadian lyric soprano and though I was a mezzo soprano, her coach agreed to take me. There was one small drawback; his fee was out of our price range at that time, and so we opted for a local voice teacher.

I studied for five or six years until I got married when we all had to admit that I was not going to be a star.

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Many years later my husband and I attended a high school class reunion of mine and across the room I recognized my old singing teacher. Still tall and thin, but now wearing a tip-tilted toupee, with rouged cheeks and lips, he seemed strangely pathetic. Rushing over to him I introduced myself by my maiden name. He seemed not to recognize my name, though we had worked together for several years and he had given me choice roles in a couple of operettas. He peered at me a few minutes then said as he turned away “Your voice must not have impressed me very much.”

I was embarrassed, thinking back to the hardship it must have caused my family to raise the money to pay him for my lessons. I glared at him and though both my mother and grandmother had been gone for some time, I said “My mother is not going to want to hear that!” He countered with “Well, you’ve got a sense of humor.”

Sorry grandma—I never got to be a star.

I DON’T REMEMBER


I’ve been forgetting things for years–at least since my late forties. I remember distinctly telling a friend that I was losing words. I didn’t think of it as an indication of advancing age, but as a major catastrophe, since I was always good at words. She smugly passed it off as of no interest to her. I made a mental note to cross her off my Christmas card list.

First it was names, then things I was forgetting. I had just become a grandmother for the first time, so I wondered if that had something to do with it. We had recently moved back home to California, and I was helping Dr. Advice remodel an older home, while teaching at both our local college and at the City Recreation Department, when I found myself pointing and referring to things at each place as “You know, that thing over there.”

When this first happened, I did what everyone does, I scrolled through my mental alphabet trying to hit a familiar letter. In fact, I did this very thing today when trying to remember the name of a woman who had been a girlfriend of a late friend of ours whom I just saw last weekend a large gathering. I remembered that she had had long red hair (it’s grey now) that she used to toss around like a mane. But when faced with trying to remember her name I drew a blank. So I just smiled broadly and exclaimed how glad I was to see her again. Today, while both Dr. Advice and I were deep into the Wall Street Journal, I blurted out “Linda!” My good husband gave me a look which said I had clearly slipped over the brink.

It is a well-known fact that presidents, CEO’s and other ordinary people often sit beside someone with a better memory that theirs and surreptitiously ask the name of the person speaking to them.

I have learned not to get too excited about these things, so I just drop the thought and move on to something else I will probably forget before finally remembering it. I used to think that eventually the correct word would come to me, but now I realize that some things are hopelessly gone forever and that the new things don’t stick. There is a frozen blackberry cobbler which is made by some company I just can’t bring to mind. I know it is put out by a local restaurant, and it is a common enough name, but I’ll be darned if I can keep it in my mind. Each time I discover it, I swear I will always remember, and so I repeat if over a to myself a few times to make sure, but the next time I want to buy it–it’s gone again.

I once knew a woman who couldn’t remember her sister’s name when she went introduce her in a wedding reception line. I even remember her name; it was Adele. She moved away forty years ago. When I gave my first solo performance at my voice teacher’s home, while standing in front of an enormous grand piano, with audience three feet in front of me, I froze, and remembered nothing. Standing beside my handsome groom over 66 years ago in front of an Episcopalian priest, I couldn’t remember what I was supposed to answer, so I so I began to quietly sob.

All this makes me feel sad and a bit wistful, but now mostly it makes me feel old. Is it another symptom besides the physical? I don’t know the answers and if I did, I’ve probably forgotten them. But one thing I do remember is the friend to whom I confessed my word loss forty years ago, who while not a victim of Alzheimer’s, can’t remember a darn thing either!

SUMMER MEANT BLACKBERRIES


blackberries 2 It had been a long time since I had picked Oregon blackberries. Getting tangled in the thorny bushes and scratches on your arms and avoiding hungry bees is part of the fun of trying to fill a pail with the biggest juiciest berries you can get at. It was early in the summer, but the weather was warm, and my mother and I had decided that a blackberry pie would taste pretty good with dinner if we could find enough.

In long-ago years, during the War, I had walked along these back roads alone, picking and eating and not realizing at the time what a gift Mother Nature had given us. In those days I knew all the hidden places berries could be found, but it had been a long time, and now on this return visit, I saw that my mother had discovered new places.

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As we crossed the highway to get to the pasture we passed Uncle Jean’s old barn which was still standing, though a good winter would probably bring it down. He kept two or three milk cows there, and when I came visiting, he would sometimes take me down to milk them. The old smell was still there, and it seemed as if I could hear them shuffling around waiting to be milked. I can still hear my uncle’s toothless French accent warning me “Darlin’ stay away from behind Bessie. She kicks.”
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The pasture was close to the Rogue River, and if you stood in just the right place you could see the river and part of the rock quarry which had been owned by my Dad’s cousin. I often swam in that cold river trying to outdo my two older boy cousins who always bested me in nearly everything. They challenged me to hop on water skis for the first time one day and were flabbergasted when I actually got up and rode all the way to the dam without falling. They bet me I couldn’t do it again, but since I now had nothing to prove I didn’t take their bet, and I never got on water skis again.

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I don’t remember how many berries we picked that day, or if there ever was a berry pie made that night, but sitting in that pasture with my mother, with an errant butterfly hopping a ride on a summer wildflower, and watching a mashed potato cloud passing overhead now and then, made me tell her, “You know, I feel as if I’ve come home again.”