header image

Monday, July 11, 2005

All the World's a Stage

I missed out on last week's Stuff Portrait Friday, and wanted to try to make "Motif Monday," with something on "costumes." Then it occurred to me that I can show some "stuff" from last week's SPF, as part of my "costumes" post. Here you have one of my favorite framed pictures in my house, with "costumes" as a theme:

A framed print of a painting representing the college where Jif and I met and decided to love each other. It was painted in 1987 as part of the college's "sesquicentennial" celebration. Did you know that word? I didn't. It means the 150th year. The print was given to us as an anniversary gift by Jif's parents. It is large, and this house is the first time we've had wall space big enough to hang it on without overwhelming the place. I love it. The people are gathered for "The Commencement," and they are dressed in period clothing that spans the 150 years of the college's life. Isn't that cool?

See, here is a detail with a boy in jeans beside a Civil War soldier . . . a buggy and an automobile, various skirt lengths . . .

And here the graduates march in caps and gowns from the various periods . . . a family plays music from a gramophone, while a boy practices soccer . . . Isn't it clever? I appreciate the acknowledgement of the connectedness of the people who pass through a place over time.

OK, now for the story portion of the Monday Motif, unrelated to the above. This is another little somethin' that I wrote a while ago, for my church autobiography group:

Suppose . . .

When I was in sixth grade, my class presented a play called, "Suppose." In this play, a group of maidens sat discussing how their various talents (weaving, spinning, baking, etc.) would impress the king if he should happen to come to their village. There were 12 maidens, each dressed in a pastel colored long skirt and white blouse, and each boasting about her particular skill. At the end of the line of maidens sat a 13th girl, with a sweet, modest disposition, but no particular talent. Her name was "Plain Jane."

The other girls were always admonishing Plain Jane that she should work harder at self-promotion, just in case a king should come to their town to choose a bride. During the course of this discussion, each girl would go down the line, saying, "Suppose . . . " and the 12th girl would finish the thought with, ". . . a king comes by!"

The teacher in charge of this production was my beloved Mrs. Thornton. As we read "Suppose" together in class, I knew immediately that I wanted to be Plain Jane, only because she would be dressed differently than the other 12 girls. At that time, and pretty much throughout my school years, I liked to avoid conformity in dress whenever possible. As we continued reading the play, it turned out that not only did Plain Jane not have to wear the skirt and blouse "uniform," but a king did come by, and asked Plain Jane to marry him and be the queen! (I think this was because while all the other girls were bragging and showing off their creations, Plain Jane offered the king and his fellow travellers a drink of water.) So, between the different costume and being chosen by the king, now I really wanted to be Plain Jane!

When Mrs. Thornton described the costume she had in mind for Plain Jane, I realized that I already had it. I told Mrs. Thornton about a calico "granny dress" that I had, with a white pinafore trimmed in eyelet lace. She agreed that it would be perfect, and I brought the dress in the next day. I thought the dress and I would be a package deal for Plain Jane, but that's not what Mrs. Thornton had in mind.

She asked Ginny, also known as "Punkin," to come up and try on the dress. Ginny was called "Punkin" by almost everyone but me. The story was that Ginny's mother had conceived her while a teenager in West Virginia, and had denied the pregnancy until it was so obvious that relatives began to say to her, "Then what's that, a punkin?" Ginny's mom would say, "yes," and from that point on, Punkin was her name. In retrospect, I guess it would have been unlikely for me to call her Punkin when I knew that the correct pronunciation was "Pumpkin." Living in a northern state with southern parents was always a linguistic balancing act for me, and I was a bit fearful that some pronunciation I learned from my parents would turn out to be a "hillbilly" pronunciation, and someone at school would tease me.

Anyway, Ginny was Mrs. Thornton's choice, and I pretended not to be hurt by that. Ginny was petite, with light blue eyes, white-blond hair, and very fair skin. She looked like an angel or a porcelain doll, and I can understand Mrs. Thornton's choosing her. The king was played by a tall black boy named James. James had been my friend for many years, and he was a very talented boy. I don't remember whether he could act, but he was a gifted artist and singer.

We all went along preparing for the play. I was one of the 12 maidens. A couple of days before the play, Ginny came in with my dress in a bag, and a note from her mother. Mrs. Thornton read the note and was silent for a moment, then she looked like she could cry. She often referred to herself in the third person, and this day she said to Ginny, "This makes Mrs. Thornton very sad, but Mrs. Thornton understands that this is not your decision."

Then she said to me, "Susie, you will please be Plain Jane. Let Ginny have your skirt and blouse." I was bewildered, but complied. I don't know how we all knew what happened, but we did. When Ginny's mother realized that her punkin would be marrying James, a black king, in front of the whole school, she refused to let Ginny play the part. If James was hurt by this, he didn't show it.

I was confused. Suddenly the part I had wanted so badly was no longer desirable. Ginny had turned it down. If Ginny were "too good" for the part, what did that make me? My mother encouraged me to go ahead with the play, reminding me that James was the same boy I'd been laughing and singing with for years. I did the play, anxious about whether I would be teased for marrying a black boy. I wasn't. I was the star, the chosen one, just as the play was written. James and I walked down through the middle of the assembly together, to cheers and applause.

When I think of this now, I'm struck not only by the racial issues we dealt with more or less explicitly, but also with the message of the play, which we didn't examine at all. The first 12 maidens were producers, achievers, good at something and eager to get recognition for that. They were portrayed as unworthy of the king's attention. The 13th, Plain Jane, was self-deprecating and a servant to the king and his men. This is what a man was looking for in a wife. This was about 1971.

Anyone is welcome to play these themey things; please join in if the spirit moves you:
Kristine is the lovely hostess for Stuff Portrait Fridays, and mrtl is the magnificent mayor of Motif Monday. If you play, let them know, and lots of people will comseeya.

43 heads are better than one . . .

Anonymous MrsDoF said...

There are tears welling up, reading this.
The costumes picture(s)is so nice, and its story of the school through the years.
And the play, and all that happened, and you got to be Plain Jane. sigh

Blogger Ash (Le Shark) said...

That story is great. It's funny how the moral changed so many times throughout the play. I can only hope that, if this play is still being produced by church groups, that it's been spun to reflect a more positive attitude about women, marriage, and the things we do to improve our chances. Is it any wonder that women today still feel that a little bit of self-deprication is necessary to snag a husband? And, that men sometimes agree? (This is, of course, coming from a law student who experiences a strange variety of reactions when a guy hears she is going to be a lawyer. Sometimes it's a flicker of terror going through the eye. Either that, or he hears "$cha ching$" sounds. It's hard to find a middle ground.)

Blogger SierraBella said...

Wonderful story!
Sad that a mother who denied her own pregnancy would look down on a young man of color.
I sort of thought that Plain Jane was chosen by the king for her humility, modesty and kindness... but that's me.

Anonymous peefer said...

I don't know which message I find more upsetting: woman as servant to man-king, or woman as weaving baking stereotype.

I like woman as writer to the global village much better. Lovely story.

Blogger SRH said...

Again I find myself telling you about my relationship with my wife. How odd, but I imagine you get a bunch o relationship talk in the confines of your office, but anyway here it goes.

I am not sure if I have mention3ed this in my comments here before or not, but my wife is biracial. Her mom is white and her father is black. We have a wonderful relationship full of communication (due to her therapistness). My family has been absolutely great about the whole inter-racial relationship that we are in. In fact, the only member of the family that has said anytyhing truly negative is my grandma from my father's side. She said that our children would be "Blacker than the ace of spades." My response to her was, "is that a bad thing?" I have not had the "opportunity" to talk to her since. Anyway... back to the topic I was intending to chat about.

I grew up in Alabama, and on the 1st of the only 4 times we have been down to Alabama in this 10+ yr realtionship we went to the church of my youth, the church that I was incredibly active with, the church that was the solid foundation of my Christianity. I was absolutely stunned by the reception I got. People that I had grown up with, people I had looked up to, people who I thought were basically good people all changed that day. Needless to say, I lost a bunch of "friends" that day, but I am glad that they are gone.

So... from your 1971 experience to my 1996 experience, the South still has a ways to go. We were down there last year, and it was not much better. Oh well.

Blogger WILLIAM said...

What a wonderful story.

Blogger Susie said...

mrsDoF, I don't think I realized the poignancy of the story, you made me read again. There are many layers here; like life. Thanks for your appreciation.

ash le shark, I sympathize with how difficult it must be to be dating today. I will wish for you what I found: someone for whom you don't have to dumb down; someone who is delighted with, not threatened by, your intelligence and your competence, not for how it can benefit him, but for how it is simply part of what makes you you.

sierrabella, I am sure that the playwright would agree with your interpretation. Some balance would have made the message clearer -- the 12 were obnoxiously self-aggrandizing, and Plain Jane appeared to have a low opinion of her worth. I agree, her humility, her willingness to nurture were what could truly have been appealing about her. Of course, I suppose such subtleties were a tad beyond the acting capabilities of 11-year-olds!

peefer, I didn't even think of the stereotypical skills the maidens claimed; a reflection of the fairy tale time and place, I suppose. Thank you. :)

srh, your story hurts my heart -- as a Christian and as someone who still claims to be a southerner. I am sorry. I also feel compelled to add, "And fuck those 'church people.'"

william, thanks a lot :)

Blogger Squirl said...

I love the idea behind that picture that you have. What a sense of connectedness.

As far as Plain Jane, I suppose she could be seen as self-deprecating and a servant. I choose to see her as being herself (her not showing off) and being compassionate (giving water to thirsty people, male or otherwise). That shows more strength of soul than just some poor girl with no self esteem who feels she must be the servant of a man.

So sad about the race issue. My guess is that this could be an issue, even to this day, in the North as easily as the South.

Blogger Susie said...

squirl, I think you're right about Plain Jane. I wish we could have discussed it more back then. I think the finer points of the play were overshadowed by the drama of the last-minute casting change. I like to think I'm more like Plain Jane -- I like to serve and take care of people; at the same time, it was many years before I could "toot my own horn" the way the unchosen girls did. Still not real good at that. Some balance is better, as in all things.

I hope that the racial thing wouldn't be an issue today. But I suppose it could. I imagine if a parent had a problem, they wouldn't be as honest or as ignorant as Ginny's mom was. They would be politically correct enough to make some other excuse, maybe? I don't know.

Blogger LadyBug said...

That was beautiful, Susie.

Blogger Squirl said...

Susie, I hear you about tooting your own horn. I still have that problem. But on the race issue, I still hear comments from people who are not ready for anything besides communities divided by skin color.

Blogger SRH said...

The race thing is still in play in the North as well as the South. It is just more acceptedly overt in the South, and much more clandestine in the North. I am not sure which is better.

Each generation it gets better though. I have hopes for my little one that it will continue to get better.

I completely glossed over the whole subservient woman thing about the play in my initial reading of your tale. There are a multitude of layers to the story.

Blogger WILLIAM said...

By the way...I got so taken in by the plain (barefoot in the kitchen) Jane story that I forgot to comment on the picture. That is a really cool painting. Do you know who the artist(s) is? I love the theme of it.

Blogger Susie said...

Thank you, ladybug :)

squirl, I know that's true. Sometimes I forget; I am blessed to have a little social circle, and a neighborhood, that is well-integrated. Sometimes I think things are the same way outside my little circle; then something happens to remind me that my experience is not typical.

srh, I agree; here's to hoping we all get better.
The more people comment, the more I realize how much "story" is packed into my little story. That's how it is with stories; that's why I love them so much.

william, the painting is called "The Commencement," and it was painted by David Teague, in 1986. I believe he is a Davidson College alumnus; I do not know whether he is an "artist" by profession, or whether he shared this, his hobby, with the college because of being an alum. I agree, though, it is a very clever concept, and beautifully presented.

Anonymous SUB said...

Coming from the Mid-Atlantic and farther North, I was in some culture shock when I decided to go to college in Georgia. This was in the 1960s. At the time I was reluctant to go to a state that was blatantly racist, but that was where the Vet School was. Pre-Vet was in the College of Agriculture, and you did run into people with some race issues. I did find friends with like views to mine, but I also made friends with people who differed with my principles. I did like these people, because otherwise they were decent folks. My friend, M once told me she was upset by the so-called Christians in her church. She said that (and I quote) "if someone from the NAACP sat down in her pew, she would move to another seat, but she did think they had the right to be allowed to attend the service". Reading SRH's comment brought back these thoughts.

Blogger Von Krankipantzen said...

What an interesting story. I can't imagine how your friend, The King, felt through all this.

Anonymous kalki said...

Wow. This is a very thought-provoking post. There are things I could say, but I'm just going to sit here and think about all the things it made me think about. Thanks.

Blogger Snickrsnack Katie said...

Growing up, my parents taught me to be accepting of everyone, regardless of their skin color or ethnicity. They always set a wonderful example, but even growing up in the North, I found that there was still strong racism. The two or three black kids in our school were always set apart - while it wasn't overt, it was a subtler type of racism. Now living in the south, I hear all sorts of hatred spewing from the mouths of people I had considered highly intelligent before. Your story saddened me, but definitely didn't surprise me. It may not be 1971 anymore, but many people still think the same way. I am glad you got to be Plain Jane - I feel bad for poor Punkin that she had to grow up with such an ignorant mother.

Blogger marybishop said...

IDB wonderful post as always, inspiring, thoughtful and thought provoking..thanks

Blogger OldHorsetailSnake said...

Did you get to lie down on the floor so the King could wipe his boots on you? Would have been fitting, female motif-wise.

That is one heckuva great painting, kid. Thanks for the looksee, and the blowups.

Blogger sarahkaplan said...

The painting is beautiful--I love the rendering's of the people, and their dress.

The story was great---but for me
a reminder that even today...even amongst those who claim to be
"P-C" Racism does exist, people
are prejudiced against other cultures, and other religions.

"The above is one of my hot button's."


Blogger eclectic said...

Ow. That whole school play thing just makes me ache. Analyze it, explain it, discuss it, determine not to be overwhelmed by it... whatever, but at the end of the day, it's still a dull ache that doesn't go away. From Punkin, to the male lead, to young Susie, to the hamstrung drama teacher...it's just sore.

Blogger Susie said...

sub, "M" is pretty unbelievable. I do know people like that; make you want to say, "Did you just HEAR yourself?"

kranki, me, too. In fact I googled him today, but his name is a common one, I don't have much hope of finding him. I wonder whether he remembers this, and how he remembers it. He was "Mr. Mellow," never seemed to get upset about anything. I do remember him telling Ginny that he did not hold this against her. That's quite something for 6th grade -- or any other age.

kalki, hi there! Tell me what you think when you're done your thinking :)

katiebbaw, good for your parents. I had a curious situation -- mother very open-minded, father very bigoted. I don't think my father even knew about this situation. In fact, I'd have to say he didn't, because I'm sure he would have had something memorable to say, if he knew. I don't really know whether there's a difference in racism between south and north. Seems I've heard of it more in the south.

thank you, MB

hoss, NO! It was, in spite of the black and white of my story, much more subtle messages than that.

sarah, thank you; it's one of my hot buttons, too. And I appreciate when I can discuss matters of race, culture, religion, openly with those who differ from me. I feel very blessed, as I've said here, to have a diversity in my little world, of people who don't mind talking about such things.

eclectic, it is complex. And of course, I don't remember every detail. I do think Mrs. Thornton handled it well. She was clearly stricken when she read the note, but she did not shame Ginny, while at the same time letting us all know that she was displeased by what had happened. Then she was very matter-of-fact, and to her credit, was not bullied into choosing a same-race couple, or getting permission from other parents before casting the parts. I am reminded almost daily, when humans are involved, some SHIT will happen, and the best remedy is not always clear. But we do our best. (And now I am thinking of some current MAJOR SHIT that I must deal with this week; related only in that people have been behaving BADLY.)

Blogger eclectic said...

How right you are...humans do behave badly from time to time, some more than others. I'll be thinking of you, and the fortunate unfortunates who need wise counsel and are lucky enough to be receiving it from you. I wish you the ability to listen, hear, understand, evaluate and communicate clearly. Peace and love to you!

Blogger Closet Metro said...

Interesting story(ies). Makes me think about how far we've come in thirty years, and in some cases, how we haven't changed at all.

Blogger Random and Odd said...

Okay, I updated my blog and put a back button JUST FOR YOU.

No more Hotel California Blog!!

I love you THAT much Susie...and when I have more than 2 seconds I am going to read this post. I promise.

Oh and...uh...'here's a story of a lovely lady...who was bring up three very lovely girls..all of them had hair of gold, just like their mother..the youngest one in curls.'

Blogger dashababy said...

Kris is evil like that,,, dropping her little song viruses and leaving.

Great post btw.

Blogger kenju said...

It's a very good story, and it made me sad to know the mother had that attitude.

Plain Jane was concerned with others and not so much in herself. That is why she got the king's attention.

Blogger JessicaRabbit said...

Wait, wives are supposed to be submissive and well mannered? Uh oh.....

Blogger this.is.damon said...

First off, I'm signing up for those "Monday Motifs". How do I know what I'm supposed to post about though? Do I just post on the same topic that mrtl posts on?

Secondly, great picture .. very cool concept indeed.

Thirdly, great story ... I can just imagine what the note said to bring the teacher near tears. What strength that teacher had to not be swayed by one idiot. I hope "Punkin's" life was changed positively by this. Sometimes the best example of character is the example that blatantly shows you what NOT to do, and how you SHOULDN'T act.

Blogger momo said...

Really great story, definitely thought provoking. I'd have to agree there were so many dimensions to it. Thanks for sharing it with us!

In my early twenties I moved in with one of my co-workers, who happened to be a black woman. She had friends ask her "How are you going to live with a white girl?" I loved her reply,"The same way I'd live with a white girl!"
We got along great, she was the best roommate I ever had. We are still good friends. Racism is a tragic lose to all who bear "the disease".

Blogger momo said...

Her reply should say, "The same way I'd live with a black girl."

There is something to be said for proofreading!Sorry!

Blogger mrtl said...

Beautiful picture, both the one you posted and the one you drew.

Mrs. Thornton's reaction is commendable, as well as your mother's. If only more children had those role models, even today.

Blogger mrtl said...

I'm back. Wanted to mention something else.

My first year teaching, I got fed up with my first class of the day. Kids got along too well, and something needed to be done. I redid their seating chart, separating the friends and cliques, putting kids together I knew weren't best chums.

It wasn't till I had the kids move around that I saw my seating chart in color. All the white/ Hispanic/ Asian kids were on one side, and all the black kids on the other. They noticed it, too. We talked about it -- I explained my choices -- and we laughed, and decided that going more polka-dotted would be the best course of action. (You know they just wanted to get back close to their friends, but I overlooked that. The first year teacher in me didn't want to make a bad impression, implied or otherwise.)

Looking back, it was a good thing that these students meshed so well together, ignorant of race.

Blogger Susie said...

eclectic, thank you; peace and love are much needed. This is one of those times at work, just when you think you've heard everything . . . you haven't.

closetmetro, I know; we have to keep talking about such things. I think at the very least, talking about our differences and our prejudices is more acceptable. This reminds me of the movie, "Crash," which I haven't seen yet, but am looking forward to.

kristine, I came over, but I still got trapped. Did you trick me? I'll try again. But until then,
What would we do baby, without us?

dashababymama, yes, I know your bratty baby sister is like that ;)

kenju, I think you're right, that was the point; this whole post and the comments remind me of how important it is to discuss plays, stories, etc., with my daughter, so that she does get the full message, not just the apparent, superficial one that is easy for a 9-year-old to see.

JR, NO. You missed the point. Wives are supposed to wear long calico dresses with white eyelet pinafores.

damon, your "thirdly" comment is very astute. Lord knows I have made some choices based on NOT wanting to be like people I have known. Next week's Monday topic is "secrets." Go visit mrtl, she'll be happy you're participating. Every Monday when she does her post, she tells us what the next week's is going to be.

momo, ah, proofreading is over-rated, we knew what you meant ;) I couldn't agree more; we miss a lot when we limit ourselves to only being with those who are like us.

mrtl, that's an interesting story, and unusual, I think. In the schools I've consulted in, and the one my daughter attends, when left to their own devices, students will hang with those of the same race/culture, for the most part (of course there are always exceptions). Someone, either parents or teachers (or both), had done some good teaching with your students to help them be so open.

Blogger Candace said...

I want to know what the 80s people in your painting are wearing!

We did a play in grade school called "William's Doll". Basically, a boy wants a doll, everyone makes fun of him, his parents don't want him to have a doll, but his grandmother gives him one because she knows playing with the doll will help him to be more nurturing. I was the grandmother, and I loved that play. I loved the message that it was OK for boys and girls to do things that weren't just boyish and girly.

Blogger Annejelynn said...

ah man! I called it immediately! "what a totally sexist plot" ~ good for you for seeing the light and knowing better than to cave under racist pressures

Blogger Torrie said...

Hi Susie!


Blogger sarahkaplan said...

Thanks for your post on my blog. I am very thankful for any prayer
from anybody....The God I know.....embraces and loves us all.

I had to read your post again.....You are a great writer but more
so left us with a message and something for us to think about.

I love to "yuck it up" but I also enjoy reading something
which makes me think.

I swear if you had not said in your little bio that you
were a therapist....I would have guessed that you
were in the "help other's field"....Some
of what you say and how you phrase things.
I swear you could be my sister's twin.
There must be some common denominator for those
of you who choose the mental health profession.

A million blessings for what you do both
in real life....and on your blog....


PS. If I get really smart in the
48 hours. I will link my
"dear sister's" blog to mine.

Blogger carlitosreina said...

here in Spain, we usually say: El Gran Teatro del Mundo
It's something like The Big Worlg Theatre-Show. It was a book written for theatre, by Calderón de la Barca. What it says is that the important thing is not the role you have to play within the show; is THE WAY you play it. It doesn't matter if you act as the King or as the slave... How you do it is what defines you.

Well, forget my English. See you in the Blogsphere!!

Blogger Susie said...

misfit, I don't know! Maybe rugby shirts and mall bangs? "William's Doll" sounds like an excellent play.

annejelynn, thank you, love, but you give me too much credit. I think I was quite confused; had a good mom, though.

torrie, hi there :)

sarah, as I expected, you and I know the same God. Your comment really touches me; I can't imagine anything you might say that would be more flattering than being likened to your sister. I gratefully accept those million blessings, and send them back your way. Will keep you in my prayers and eagerly await good news.

carlitosreina, welcome, as far as I know, you're my first visitor from Spain. Your comment is very wise, thank you for that. When my daughter tries out for a dramatic part, and gets a lesser part than the one she had in mind, I tell her that theater adage, "There are no small parts; only small actors." Your comment reminds me that it is true in life, as well. Thank you.

Blogger Ern said...

Chiming in a little late here...I didn't think of the "servitude" aspect of the story until you mentioned it at the end. I (along with some of the others) saw it more as humility rather than self-aggrandizement. But it is interesting that humility is seen as the desirable quality in women, while "tooting your own horn" is more encouraged among boys. Subtly, maybe, but still there all the same.

Blogger Susie said...

ern, yes, that's it. I wish there'd been some balance, and some discussion. Boys are still applauded more for self-acknowledgement (horn-tooting!) than girls are.


Post a Comment

<< Home