Time Brings Roses: An Autobiography of a Budding Artist
I dedicate this memoir to my spirit guide, my grandmother, Adele Laumann. Although we never met her story stayed alive through my mother. She continues to inspire me each day.
(sitting on stool)
Middle Woman, a version of a story by Orson Scott Card
A. China – a land of immense mountains and deep valleys; a land of enormous wealth and dire poverty. In China there lived a woman by the name of Achiew. Achiew lived neither in the mountains nor the valley but on a farm in the land between. She was neither rich, nor poor; young, nor old. “I am middle woman!” she would proudly say. But her mother-in-law said, “Evil comes to those in the middle and pushes to the edges.”
Every year Middle Woman went on a journey. She either visited her older sister who lived 30 miles to the north or her younger sister who lived 30 minutes to the south. But one year she did not go on her journey. For one year she met a dragon along the road.
(Stand in front of table)
B. Oh, to be 10 years old again riding the roads of my childhood on my Blue Western Flyer. My skin glistening with the evening dew, I’d take Old Blue up the front porch steps to rest for the night. The trellis of roses that laced their way up the sides of the porch opened their arms, as I inhaled their heady scent. So sweet! I picked one tiny bud with its red bunting wound tight.
Running inside, I saw my dad lying down on the couch. The St. Louis Post covered his face as smoke from his Phillip Morris made lazy curly-cues. ¨Look Dad!´´ I shouted. He peeked out at the red bud and dismissed it by saying, ´´That’s nice,´´ and quickly returned to his sports page.
The rose denied I made my way into the kitchen. Mom was putting the last of the supper dishes away, when she saw me. “Oh honey, what a sweet little bud. Let me get a vase with some water.” She went over to the china cabinet and took out a bud vase I made for her in my weekly ceramic class.
For many, many years I took ceramic lessons at Meg and Lyn’s Art Studio. The china cabinet, our dresser tops, every nook and cranny was filled with my ceramics masterpieces –ashtrays, nameplates, mugs, plates, and even a nativity scene. What I didn’t know was that these ceramic love offerings were often the butt of many a family joke.
But this vase was actually kinda cute. I made it for Mother’s day. It was white and had tiny blue and pink roses slipped onto the sides. Mom put in a place of honor - right next to a beautiful vase painted by my Grandmother. She had died several years before I was born, but her beautiful art – fine china, tapestries, oil paintings - still graced our walls. (step toward the audience) My grandmother, Adelia Laumann was the oldest of 12 children. Her parents owned and ran an internationally known boarding house, The Laumann House in East St. Louis in the early 1900’s. All the brothers and sisters worked hard, but since Grandma was the oldest, she was given privileges that the others missed on – art lessons and piano lessons. She was accomplished in both. (step back)
´´Did I ever tell you that my mother planted those roses when she and your Grandpa first moved to Fairview? She had such a way to get roses to bloom.´´ (aside – hand to mouth) Yes, she had told me but that was okay I always enjoyed stories about my Grandma Klein. In some way, it was those stories that brought her to life.
Aside to audience: That’s such a little memory but one that played itself out in many ways when I was young.
(go behind the table and put the rose in the small vase)
That night Two vases sat side by side on a round table. The big one had swirls of green caressing a Grecian girl – her arm seductively reaching for her dark hair. On the bottom it read, Adele Elizabeth Laumann, 1901. Next to it stood a small white vase with pink and blue flowers. On the bottom it read Marilyn Adele Niemann, 1957. It was holding a small, red, rose bud.
´´Did you see what my dad did? ´´
´´Yes, I saw…I heard.´´
´´Why doesn't he like me? ´´
´´Like you child…why he more than likes you, he loves you.´´
´´Then, why doesn't he show it? ´´
´´Oh, he shows it all right – a 1000 times a day, but he is from a long line of Germans that aren't, how shall I put this…very demonstrative.´´?
´´Still, he could have taken the rose.´´
´´That rose needed to bloom. It reached for the hand that would see to it that it blossomed. Otherwise, it would have simply died.´´
“But, I just wish…(sigh)”
A. (sit on stool) When Achiew saw that dragon, thought she would die, so she immediately fell to her knees and put her forehead on the ground. “Please,” she cried, “Do not eat me!”
The dragon smiled and said, “Woman, what do they call you?”
Aschiew did not wish to give the power of her name over to the dragon…yet she could not lie. So, she said, “They call me “Middle Woman.”
(Stand in front of table)
B. By the time I was 11 years old in 1958, I figured out that I was definitely the middle child. I mean, my brothers, Bill and Chris were several years older than I was, while my baby sister, Melissa was several years younger. Being in the middle put me in an odd place.
I remember one year my brother Bill came home from the Air Force for a visit. My dad was beaming…
“Hey, Chris, Bill is home. Let's get a game of bridge going.´´
´´Great,” said my brother Chris, “but who will be the fourth?´´
Reluctantly, Chris said, ´´Hey, Sis, you want to learn to play some bridge? ´´
(to audience) Now, there were only two other people in that room…my baby sister, Melissa, and me. And, I knew he wasn’t asking Melissa. It was another one of those family jokes. Periodically, they'd be without a fourth and they’d ask the same question – “Ya wanna' learn to play bridge?” And, like the dummy hand that I was, I always agreed to play. But, the numbers on the cards swam in front of my face, while my father, a master bridge player, casually made bids while talking about hands that he had played years ago. The bridge games always ended the same way. All three looked at me with sort of pity in their eyes as I began to slink away.
(behind the table – place rose)
C. "They did it again, Grandma! They tricked me into playing that stupid game. Why don’t they play something that I want to play – like Clue?”
´´Your dad and brothers have their talents, but I think sometimes ‘they haven’t a clue’. They are all left- brained and can hold facts and figures in their heads. You on the other hand are right-brained. You see images in your mind's eye. That's a very useful thing when you are an artist.´´
´´But, Grandma, my right brain makes terrible grades – all Cs. My brothers make all A’s.´´
¨Yes, but they have good study habits. And all C’s isn’t half bad – sort of middle of the road. The way I see it you have a choice. You can either keep up with what you are doing or you can pick up a book, now and again, and do your assignments. Then you would be a good student too.´´
But I just wish…(sigh)
(sit on stool)
A. “Ah, Middle Woman, Well, Middle Woman I will give you a choice I can eat you now and be done with it…or I can grant you three wishes.”
Now, Middle Woman looked up and into the eyes of the dragon. “Why,” she said “Why do you give me such an easy choice?”
“Make a wish and find out.”
“All right then,” said Middle Woman, “I will make a wish.” She thought if her wish wasn’t too big the price would not be too heavy to pay. “For my first wish I wish that my family always has just enough to eat.”
“Done!” said the dragon. And in a wink of his eye he was gone. And in a flick of his tail the dragon was back.
“Middle Woman, I have done as you have asked, I have eaten your family. Now, no matter how little or much that farm produces, it will always be just enough.”
Middle Woman cried and beat her breast at the dragon’s trick, but then she remembered she had a second wish. She thought long and hard before she said, “For my second wish I wish that everything in the world be just as it was one minute before I started on this journey.” The dragon was taken aback at this request. “And you must grant me my wish right now. So in a wink of his eye, Middle Woman found herself back home putting her bag on her back. She kissed her family goodbye and stepped out of the doorway. Then she stepped back inside and announced to her family she was not going on the trip this year…for she did not want to take the chance on meeting up with the dragon. But, from that day on, Middle Woman changed. For she knew that she had a third wish and, if ever she really needed it…she would use it.
B. (to audience) Once in a blue moon there was a change in my dad's stern façade. It came unexpectedly in 1959, when I was 12 years old. He asked me to go with him to the St. Louis's outdoor theatre The Muny to see ¨The King and I.´´ His company, Monsanto, had box seats! I had never seen a live production and I was enthralled with the musical. My eyes glued to the spectacle that splayed itself across the vast Muny Stage. On the way home I gushed…
´´Dad, did you see those costumes all red and glittering? And that golden palace, did you see it turn around right there on stage…how did they do that? It looked just like the palace I saw in my geography book. And the songs (sing) Shall we dance? Bom-bom-bom
Shall we dance? Bom-bom-bom Shall we Dance?. And the King! Who was he? ´´
´´Yeah, yeah…when he walked out on stage, I thought I was going to die – so bold, so… so bald! Oops…sorry.´´
´´No need to apologize, ´´ as he rubbed his bald head.
´´Oh daddy, I wish I could be up there on stage.´´
´´Marilyn, there’s more to being a stage actor than learning lines. You have to know how to sing and dance.´´
Hmmpf! My Dad had heard me sing – at church.
´´Yeah, well, I could show that king a few dance moves – I watch American Bandstand! ´´
Aside to audience: Up to that point, that was the longest conversation I ever had with my dad. I found out later that it was my mom who put him up to asking me to the musical. But, that was okay. You see, it was my dad who (even though I couldn’t sing…even though I couldn’t dance) had inadvertently given me my first taste of blood for the theatre.
(Junior Achievement Dance)
B. Another surprise from my dad happened in 1961, when I was in eighth grade. I was my dad´s date for his annual Junior Achievement Christmas dance. I wore a pretty short formal dress. My dad gave me my first corsage - a Chrysanthemum to wear on my wrist. (smell wrist) Mmmm. When we entered the beautiful… elegant Korazan Room at the famous Chase Hotel in St. Louis, I felt like I was stepping into an enchanted land – a huge ballroom with a gigantic crystal chandelier, teenage girls in prom dresses, and a dance floor with a live band. My dad took my hand…
´´Shall we dance? ´´
I was stunned. My dad? Dance?
´´O-okay, ´´ and we were off to the dance floor. A big band was playing a waltz.
´´Just follow me,” he said. “And one, two, three, and one, two, three.”
My father turned out to be rather light on his feet, but…my awkward feet jerked and bucked. ´´Oops, sorry, I stepped on your foot.´´
Aside to audience: Finally, the rhythm of the music found my feet and we glided across the floor. I was Anna. “On a bright cloud of music shall we fly?” The King and I were waltzing across the dance floor, as the fiery lights from the crystal ball cast it's lights and shadows.
A. One day Achiew's house caught on fire, she ran outside but realized her child was caught inside. “Now, she said, “now I will use my wish to wish for the fire to stop. But, she thought, why should I waste my wish, when I have strong arms?” And she ran amongst the flames and brought her child safely outside. And even though she burned every hair on her head, she had saved her child and she still had her third wish.
B. 1965 – my senior year in high school. Our senior play that year was “Oklahoma!”.
¨Mom, Mom, look someone gave me a dozen red roses! No one has ever given me roses!!¨¨
´´Well, actually, that was your dad’s idea. You did a great job. Your dad couldn’t stop smiling when you lit up the stage. ´´
I took that glorious moment to make my big announcement.
´´Mom, Dad…I know what I want to major in…I want to major in theatre! ¨ I literally heard my comment fall like the proverbial black theatre curtain. Then I heard my dad say….”You need to take typing and stenography. Something practical so you can get a job as a secretary.”
What? A secretary!
(Behind table – rose)
“Did you hear what dad said…a secretary? I could never be that organized. I’m going to college next year and I will show my dad that I am college material but… I still don’t know what I want to be.
“Yes, that’s very normal. You see, there are people who seem to know the minute they open their eyes to this world what they want to be. For others it takes time. But whatever path you choose, you will always be an artist.”
“But, I tried so many things – art, two years of music, theatre. What else is out there?”
“Oh, there is plenty out there. Think of your life as an artist palette. It is filled with many colors. You have dipped your creative brush in several…but not all. And, just because those colors didn’t come to life for you, don’t think it has been wasted. One day, trust me…you will find just the right color. And, when you do…you will know it.”
“Yeah, but I just might starve to death before I figure this one out (Sigh)
A. Many years passed and there was a great famine in China. Achiew’s family was near starvation. She thought she would use her wish to wish for enough food until the soldiers came with rice. But then she thought, “Why should I waste that wish when I have strong legs. And she climbed the mountain picking enough berries, roots and nuts to feed her family until the wagons of rice came. And her family was fed and she still had her third wish.
B. Many years passed. It was near Christmas, 1979. I found myself in a St Elizabeth’s Hospital Room. My dad was lying in the bed. His eyes staring not at me but through me.
Dad's blue eyes…the only trait we ever shared…flickered. He looked at me in great surprise and said, ´´Do you see the lights?´´
´´What lights, Dad?´´
¨The lights – they are so beautiful. You should go see them!¨
Suddenly, he was back in the hospital room, he looked at me. Oh, Marilyn, it’s you. I saw the lights.” That was last coherent thing my dad said to me. For in the next couple days…and slowly, slowly… the lights winked out.
For so many years my dad and I spoke a different language. His was all quantitative and qualitative. And, when for the first time he did see images, I didn't understand what he meant. I thought he was talking about the Christmas lights.
However, many years later I knew what he meant. Finally, he was telling me those words I longed to hear. For the first time he was telling me to reach for the stars, to embrace the possibilities, to follow my North Star.
(behind the table – rose)
C. ´´Yes, Marilyn, I know. I greeted your father today. He told me all about your graduating and becoming a teacher (guess you must have cracked a book or two). He told me about the day he gave you away at your wedding and how you made him cry when you surprised him with an “I Love you” and with a big kiss. And he told me how much he enjoyed playing grandpa to your three children.´´
´´Yes, I understand now that my dad really did love me…in a thousand different ways…just like you said. But there is something I need to ask you.´´
“On all your art works around the house I noticed they all were made before 1904. Why is that? ´´
¨Well, I married your Grandpa Joe in 1904, and my life really changed. First, we had your Uncle Roland, and then your Grandpa Joe had this crazy idea of building a house in the middle of nowhere…a new little community called Fairview. (Oh excuse me…Fairview Heights, now) We were the first house built in that new town. There were no stores or anything around. We had to keep chickens and other farm animals just to feed ourselves. Your Grandpa worked as the book keeper at the mine at bottom of the hill and, well, I was just too busy. Then your mama and Uncle Les came along. Now, there was no time, nor money for art supplies. I put my easel and paints and brushes away in the attic and never picked them up again.
¨But, I found way to keep my artist-self alive and well through music. I filled our house with music every day. I played the piano and your Grandpa Joe bought me a baby grand piano that I played every morning. I loved the classics but the most fun was when my four brothers came over. Then I got to play the modern songs and those four harmonized in their beautiful tenors and baritones. Sometimes your Grandpa Joe asked the mine workers to stop by on a Friday evening. Soon the living room rug was rolled up and we have square dances. Your grandpa played a mean harmonica and he called the squares. Oh my, that was fun. I also made sure that everyone in the family played – besides Joe on his harmonica and me on the piano, Roland played the banjo, Les the drums and your mother…your mother on her violin. Oh they said the angels sang when your mother played. Whenever relatives came for a visit we entertained with a Klein Concert! Yes, that house was filled with the joy of music.”
“That’s odd. I don’t remember music in that house at all as a child – no records, no singing and Mom certainly never played the violin.”
“Yes, well, your mother was so greatly saddened at my rather sudden death. She was a young mother at the time, and she had this notion that to play music was somehow wrong. That playing music brought joy…and there was no joy in music without me. So, she put away her violin and bow and never picked them up again. But, an artist will always find a way. So, when she put down the bow, she picked up her pen and she began to write – and write she did – poems, short stories, newspaper articles. Oh, I always did say that she could make music with her words…and someday you will too.”
´´But Grandma I’m going to be 33 years old next year. I feel time is passing me by. What if…what if I never find that color.”
“Oh, you will find it all right. It will come when you least suspect it. Be patient…time brings roses”
I'm too busy…a husband, three kids, a big house and teaching! Even Larry – my own husband said ‘You know what our need…you needed a hobby.’ Imagine that! A hobby!
“Sometimes I feel I can barely hold my head above the water as it is. I just wish that you could…aaaagh!”
A. More time passed and there was great flood. Ascheiw was stranded on top of her roof floating down the river with her only grandchild. Now, she thought, now, I will wish for a boat to save us. But then she thought, “Why should I waste my wish when I can use my wits.” So she took off her skirt and tore it into strips, then she tore off some wood from the roof and wove it together with the strips of material. She placed her grandchild into the basket and carefully entered the raging waters. Using all of her strength she swam to shore…and she still had her grandchild and she still had her third wish.
In 1981, I heard my first storyteller – The Folktellers. Immediately I signed up for a NAPPS workshop on creative storytelling with none other than…Jackie Torrance.
(behind the table – rose)
“Yes, I’m here.”
“Grandma, it happened. Just like you always said it would. I was watching two storytellers and a light beamed down and said, ‘This is it!’ Storytelling! Who’d have ever thought…storytelling! It’s everything I love all wrapped up in one – folktales, literature, history, writing…and even a tad bit of acting.”
“I am so happy for you, but now I’m going to let you in another secret. You see, you have discovered this storytelling color and you will want to work with it until it is just the right shade to complement your personality. But, soon you will discover other colors and rediscover all those other colors that you tried over the years. And when you mix them with your storytelling color…your true artistry will shine through.”
“Oh Grandma, I can hardly wait! (happy sigh)
By 1985 I told many folktales, but one day I began to weave my childhood experiences into a story… Makin Music
Sit in other chair to tell Makin Music
Well, more time passed and by 2012, I began to not only write my stories, but to write plays and direct them. I made murals for my library’s summer reading program, I made study guides for teachers, I even had a book published. And all of it…lead directly and indirectly to my storytelling.
Stand in front of the table holding 3 roses
B. ¨Why, thank you, Drew. These are beautiful roses. Did I ever tell you that I planted those roses in the front yard, when your grandpa built this house 40 years ago?”
“Gosh, Grandma, 40 years ago? You’re old!”
“Well, help your old grannie put some water in this old vase. Look it has my name on it – Marilyn Adele. And this vase was painted by your grandmother – Adele Elizabeth. You know, that’s why your middle name is Adele…Drew Adele.
“I know Grandma. That’s because I’m an artist.
“Hmm, seven years old and you have it all figured out. Took me a tad bit longer.
C. Go behind the table
´´Don't rub it in. It's been quite some time since I talked to you.¨
´´Yes, you've been silent for many years now.´´
´´I’ve been busy.´´
´´Too busy for your grandma?´´
´´Busy in a good way; busy in a way that would make you proud. It was just like you said – time brings roses! It took a while but I finally found my voice, my words, my story.
“Do you know that after all these years I still have your palette and your oils?
I now realize that that was your palette…that I have my own palette…my own set of colors.”
The voices fell silent as the petals on the little bud began to blossom. And in unison, there was an audible "Ahhh!"
A. Now Achiew was an old, old woman. She was placed in a bed in her son’s room. And that night…the last night she heard a voice she hadn’t heard for many a year. “Middle Woman!”
“Yes, Dragon, what is it?”
“Middle Woman, you did make your third wish.”
“Oh Dragon, I have no need for your wishes.”
“But you must make a wish, please, I promise…no tricks. If you don’t make a wish I will surely die.”
“All right dragon, I’ll make my third wish. I wish that from this moment on everyone you ever meet will walk away with a smile on his lips and great joy in his heart.”
And for the first time in a thousand years the dragon smiled and said, “Thank you, thank you Middle Woman.” And he left with great joy in his heart.
Later that night Achiew made her final journey across the threshold. She briefly looked back on what had been her life, (walk to back of table) then she turned and smiled and with great joy in her heart she proclaimed, “I am Middle Woman!”
And now I realize how blessed I was to have my champions and my dragons along my path. They gave me encouragement and they gave me strength. I no longer have a need for wishes…for I too can proudly say, “I am Middle Woman.”
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