Friday, August 27, 2010

Always Leave Them Laughing

The one thing the world will never have enough of is the outrageous.

Salvador Dali
I have so few readers these days that I thought I would indulge myself a bit and write about my grandmother. Those of you who often join me as travelers on the vagabond's journey may enjoy it. I hope so.

Her name was Charlotte Cole. That was her married name and her professional name. She was born in the 19th Century, as were her three children, two boys and a girl, my mother. Charlotte was trained as a youngster to sing, dance and play the piano, she was also given acting lessons..

She married a man who wanted to be a pioneer. So the two of them set off for Nebraska where he built a sod house and was a farmer and rancher. Charlotte gave birth to all of her children in that sod house.

One day she told me about getting supplies form the village. While her husband was working in the fields she would drive an ox cart into town. When the cart was filled there was no room for her so she road back sitting on the ox.

When her husband died her boys were grown and her daughter was a teenager. They moved to Lincoln, Nebraska where my mother finished school. Charlotte taught my mother to sing and dance, and a day came when they joined a traveling theatre company as a variety act. My grandmother was always very young looking so they became the Cole Sisters, a song and dance duo. She had amazing stories to tell about those years.

They played in some very rough places, some of them weren't states yet. Men would come to the theatre with their rifles. The theatres were often very primitive, with little or no sanitary facilities for the actors. There was no such thing as privacy.

One of the skits that was performed involved a Native American being shot and killed by the villain of the piece. Wherever the company went they would hire a local Indian to play the part. In one location he arrived for the show with his whole family and when the villain fired his pistol, once, the entire family fell down.

She told about another time when the entire company got diarrhea during the performance. The only way out was through the back door which was covered by a piece of scenery. As soon as the first act was over and the curtain closed there was a mad dash to the out houses which immediate filled up leaving every one else to use the forest out behind the theatre.

They eventually got to New York City. In those day the motion picture business was located in New York, before Hollywood was born. So Charlotte became an actress in silent films.

She taught me things and encouraged me to go into show business. She was the only one in my family who did.

One of the most remarkable things about my grandmother was her sense of humor. When something struck her funny she would laugh in such a way that everyone around her was infected by it and would laugh along with her even if they didn't know what was funny. One day we were driving somewhere and the wind blew her hat off, right out the window. My brother went chasing after it and each time he leaned over to pick it up the wind would blow it again. After a couple of times watching that she started to laugh. Even though it was her hat she couldn't resist the humor of it and neither could the rest of us. My poor brother eventually saved the hat but didn't appreciate being laughed at.

Another time she was visiting me, my mother and my sister. She decided to take a bath. When she was finished she couldn't get up. My mother and sister tried to get her up but were unable to, she was a bit overweight by this time. So they called me. Charlotte held a towel in front of her, I grabbed her under the arm pits and hoisted her up, then went about my business. Charlotte was unfazed by the whole thing.

The most memorable story about her and her sense of humor happened a few days before she died. She was very independent. She had lived for many years by herself in a residential hotel in New York. One day she called my mother and said to come and get her because she was passing on. We were living in a New York suburb at that time. So we drove into town and picked her up.

This was in the 40's. In those days you didn't enter an upscale New York hotel without being properly dressed. So I wore a tie and jacket. I was 14 years old. Not only that but Charlotte never went out without being immaculately dressed, which meant a nice outfit, her fox fur stole, gloves and a hat with a veil.

When we reached our apartment, which was on the second floor, Charlotte took one look at the stairs and declared that she would not be able to climb them. So I got a chair. We put Charlotte in the chair. Mother got in front, I got behind, and we lifted her step by step up the staircase. Except that every time I leaned over to grab the back of her chair my tie fell in front of her face and she had to blow it away. Well, about half way up the stairs it struck her funny and she started to laugh. Within moments she, mother, I and the two people from the first floor who came out to see if they could do anything, were helpless with laughter.

We finally got her upstairs and into a bed. Two days later she went to the hospital and made her exit. She was 88.

I'll never for get that day. There she was an old lady knowing that she was going off to die and yet she found something humorous about her own passing. I vowed to be like her. If I have to go, that's the way I want to go. Leave them laughing.

Dana Bate
The Vagabond


These are not the right titles..
Please Correct them.
1. Uprising by all the fruits and vegetables.
2. Skipped town with the clarinet.
3. The lizard came out after dinner was over.
4. The Raging Dozen
5. Don't be wary of a female novelist.
6 Me and the chess piece.
7. The long distance runner.
8. Ain't living just grand?
9, Vocalizing with the tempest.
10. There's a ghost backstage at the Met.
11. After this we close down the theatre.
12. Youngsters in the Amazon.



That corgi :) said...

I loved reading about your grandmother, DB. she seemed like such a very wonderful, unique, talented woman! thank you for sharing her with us!


Valerie said...

Your grandmother sounded like quite a character. I read this with a big smile. I wish I had gotten to me her. I really enjoyed this, thank you, Dana. xox

krissy knox said...

I really enjoyed reading about your Grandmother. Not only was she a talented and remarkable woman, she also never, ever let go of her sense of humor, despite what life threw at her. She seemed to have such a zest for life! You were blessed to have her in yours.

Arlene (AJ) said...

Oh what a delightful read about your loving grandmother were indeed blessed to have her for your Grandma. She certainly allowed herself to deal with all life had to offer in a positive, caring, loving manner and her laughing so easily even in her final days, says so much about the special one you were blessed to have in your life and love. May we all be like her when our time comes.

Beth said...

I remember you writing about her previously! What a remarkable woman, and I'm glad you learned from her. Didn't she leave a trunk of her stuff somewhere?

Gerry said...

Anyone who can laugh like that when they know they are about to leave the earth has my vote as a remarkably well balanced woman. I am sure she is still laughing.