Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Memoir: Chapter 44: In demand for student plays if not for the main stage

I hoped that I would be able to help Margie more during her first year at the U of U if I lived with her than I had been able to help Connie, my friend from Escalante, the year before.  She had elected to try a year at the university and secured a room at the freshman dorm.  I had thought she would benefit from living there as there would be many girls she could interact with and might enjoy herself more.  I was too busy to be able to see her often as I was in demand for student productions.  The theater majors were always looking for actors, and since I memorized fast and well I got cast.
I went over a few times to help Connie with some of her English papers, but she became increasingly frustrated with the difficulty she experienced in some of her classes and began to wish she had done something else with the money her Uncle Hymie had left for her to attend college.  We always saw each other at the dances and celebration days in Escalante and Boulder, but there was nothing like them away to school.
I thought it was too bad Connie hadn't decided to go into the nursing program, but she was discouraged by the degree of difficulty she experienced in her freshman classes and gave up on a college education instead.
I hoped that Margie would not get similarly discouraged if I was there to read some of her English themes and help her with those if she needed me to.  I thought she had a good journalistic style, and a good reception from the English teachers seemed to keep her going her freshman year.  Her goal was to become a graduate nurse so it was important for her not to get discouraged the first year while she completed some of her requirements.
And as for me, I was busier my third year in student productions than I had been as a sophomore.  We rehearsed in the afternoon so we could all get home fairly early.  Myrna Mae, a senior theater major, chose Eugene O'Neill's "Desire Under the Elms" for her big student production. She wanted me to play the very long part of the only female in the play, the young wife of the old farmer and the step mother to his two sons. Myrna Mae was never anything but ambitious, but playing this long role turned out to be quite a thankless one since I felt totally incompatible with the fellow playing my old husband farmer.
He was a very earnest and willing actor, but he was simply lacking in authority and appeal for me in the role of my farmer husband.  I knew farmer types very well, but Phil did not! He and Myrna Mae were going to form a theater company as soon as she graduated she told me, so she naturally did not perceive anything wrong with his acting.
I was quite proud of myself for learning every word of the longest part I was ever to have in my life, but Dr. Lees, sitting in the audience through the long damned thing, did not seem to appreciate my efforts.  Instead, I thought the production probably brought him one step closer to his grave, judging from the look on his face throughout.

Another student production earned the dubious distinction of being the least rehearsed of any play I was ever in.  None of us liked the play, so we played around during rehearsal and did not apply ourselves.  When the night came for us to perform in front of Dr. Lees for the theater major's grade, none of us were sure of our lines and were in a constant panic through the eternity we were compelled to try to remember our lines.  I did dimly perceive that one of the actors leaped ahead in the script at least three pages, which I don't think the other actors even detected, but I vainly tried to remember what this actor had left out that might give some coherency to the proceedings.  I think the theater major got a C- on this production and richly deserved it, since she had failed to bring a whip to rehearsal to sting us into rehearsing.
I don't know whether the other actors ever even acted again.  So this was the sort of theater activity that kept me very busy during my junior year, so that I did not have time to put into play the plan I had of telling the truth in all my classes.  I thought this would be a very novel thing to do, since everyone at college it seemed to me were reduced to regurgitating back to the teachers what they wanted to hear, regardless of whether it was meaningful or not.  We students had been doing that in classes I thought since time immemorial.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if somebody dared to break the mold and said hey, this is stupid, this does not make sense.
I did get around to carrying out my plan somewhat in a five credit class I needed in my third quarter.  I was to read and review a bunch of textbooks that were to be used for teaching purposes in high school.  I absolutely delighted in writing exactly what I thought of each text book, even if I couldn't stand them.  I would write, oh this one is absolute garbage.  I had never dared write such a thing about a sacred text book in my entire life, but to my surprise this teacher took my  reviews in his stride.  We did not know each other, so he must have thought I was just a very critical student who just happened to be gifted with the nerve to say what she thought.  I think he gave me a B in the course and made no comment on my acid opinions of most of the books.
I thought oh this is fun.  Maybe this is what I should have been doing all along if I had not been such a craven coward.  I was sorry I had not started on this truth telling policy in my classes earlier, and was looking forward to my senior year when I planned to go into full truth telling mode.  I thought I would surprise myself as well as the teachers the following year.

I also had a somewhat rocky junior year with some of the geniuses I had been nurturing, some referred to me by Sharon, and one I had found on my own.  Sharon had apparently said something to Laurence about my shock at being told he was in love with me, since I would never have guessed it from the way he acted.  He didn't talk to me for a quarter or so, but finally settled for just being a friend and discussing books, which I was sure he would also quit doing as soon as he could find more eager girl candidates for the honor of being his token wife.
John was the other genius I had collected who attracted my attention by telling me his IQ measured over 200, the highest ever recorded in Ohio history.  Nobody believed this statistic, but I was sure John would not have taken so much pride in his achievement if he hadn't been telling the truth.  Besides this was mainly what the poor guy had going for him, since he had also inherited the shambling physique of a big bear, a broad peasant face, and eyes set too close together to convey attractiveness.  He was taking a lot of hard classes, too, which I would never even have gone near, but he was sure a mistake had been made on my I.Q. test.  He could not believe I had scored a lowly 130 points, but I kept assuring him that it was an accurate assessment, sadly, and that I had scored an abysmal 14% on my placement tests in math.  If my I.Q. had just been higher, he thought we should marry and have a number of little geniuses.  It was our duty.
But that winter John called and begged me to meet him downtown he wanted to show me something.  I finally agreed, and he walked me toward the west side along the rail road tracks.  At this point I called a halt and told John I had to go back home at once.  He hesitated but finally stopped dragging me along on this dark mission.  I just did not like the feel of the whole thing and never again agreed to meet John at night.  He had to be content with chatting with me when we met up at school.  Genius did not always mean stability I was finding out.
And Sharon, who also had a genius I.Q., had finally gotten so disillusioned with Ghiselin, she said she was going to start her underground paper on campus for sure.  She asked me to be one of her first contributors. I looked through my writings and gave her a short piece that reminded me of her a little bit.  It was about a fairly young couple having an affair and getting tired of each other, so that not even a daring love affair without benefit of marriage held any excitement anymore.  I pictured this being Sharon's state of mind just before she broke poor Dick's heart and found someone else.  She tells the hapless lover that she does not want anything from him before bed except a glass of milk.  His appeal has waned.  The milk symbolized the virginity she had sacrificed which she wished she had back again since she was no longer enjoying her affair.
Sharon published this little piece I had written long before I met Sharon in her first issue of the underground paper which I simply named "Louise", I think, the name of the young woman.  The next thing I knew Sharon was calling me outraged because she said the Dean of Women, the very one who had tried to refuse me permission to go out and talk to the suicidal Dick, had been shocked at reading my piece, and ordered all of Sharon's underground paper copies picked up, and she was banned from printing any more!
I could not imagine what the Dean of Women was objecting to.  I knew there were still a lot of virgins going to the University of Utah, but why had Louise's affair with her boyfriend gotten to this woman? The affair had not made the young woman happy, I clearly implied.
The Dean of Women did not relent.  Sharon was denied permission ever to do an underground paper again. And it was all my fault, or Louise's. And I had to take a class the coming fall from this woman, which I had been putting off as long as possible. She had quite a bad reputation as a teacher.  I understood now why.
She taught the most important education class I needed for my education degree. I wondered if she would remember me, well, undoubtedly she would, since I was notorious for a day or so as the author of "Louise".

But some of the highlights of the year were going with Margie to Wilson family reunions.  She was happy because she said now that she had declared her major was nursing, Grandpa Wilson was talking to her more frankly than he ever had before.  Grandpa even started to treat me with a little more respect, although he had yet to talk frankly to me.  Margie was the only person I knew of, besides maybe one of his sons that Grandpa did talk honestly to.  He even implied he had not talked to a female in the family like that  for years.
He always seemed to be trying to avoid talking to Mother.  He hated her complaints about Daddy.  She always said that his attitude was that she had married him, against his advice, so she would get no sympathy from him.
Grandma and Grandpa seemed surprised we were staying to Darlene's house so we could get better acquainted with her and her little girl. They seemed resigned to the fact that they were never going to know them very well.  
And that was the year I finally met Varl, Aunt Anne's boy, to a family reunion, who had finally returned from the service, all done with that he said.  He was the handsomest thing I had about ever seen, but best of all we loved each other on sight.  He took me home and we talked for hours.   We even exchanged a kiss or two, but I decided that actually dating him would be a bit much.  Cousin Varl nodded when I said that I thought we were just too closely related to take this attraction further.  He had probably had so many girls in love with him by then, he knew very well he might not be faithful long.
Sometime later I heard from Aunt Anne that he had found a very nice girl he was marrying.  Then I heard that they were having a child, a son, and then another one.  The reason I am telling more of this story was because then I heard that he was drinking and partying again and breaking this wife's heart.  But that spree did not last any time at all. He did not see a truck stopped ahead while driving up the highway with a girl until too late, and plowed into it, and they were both killed instantly. 
I went to the funeral and saw Jerry, the young second cousin who had lived across the street from me when I lived to Great Grandma's, grieving his heart out over his brother, just older than he was, dying way too soon.  He was comforted to see me.  Varl must have told him that he had met me and we shared great rapport. My Wilson cousin soul mate was gone to the other side but that was not the last time, I would ever feel Varl's presence.
One night traveling along that dark highway where he was killed, I felt him in the car, strong as could be.  I said, "Varl, why are you here?"  I had gone along that highway numerous times before and never felt Varl's presence in the car with me. I went around the curve and there was a car with its rear end stuck quite far out on the highway, wrecked.  The people were gone out of it, but the car itself had not yet been removed. Seeing that battered car, I knew that spirits really do exist. "Thank you, Varl,"  I thought.

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