As a child, Jean Claire, our middle daughter, always seemed to have a kitten or a sketch pad in her hands. Jeannie drew up drawing, and I loved all the pictures she created. Now that she teaches art, I love seeing her students’ work.
(She had a terrible time learning to ride her little bicycle in the first grade, and a family scrapbook note to her daddy asking him to please help her “roed buy myself” still touches my heart. Little did we dream that she would be riding all over the Midwest in her adult life.)
Our rural school system had little opportunities for art or speech and theater,, although Jeannie took part in chorus and Junior-Senior plays, and finally the school had an art class when she was a senior. In addition to her art work, she had a good voice and a talent for acting. Fortunately, her 4-Club gave her many speaking opportunities, and she was the star at a very young age in their Share-the-Fun skits.
Fast forward a few years after her marriage to Rick Eiler, and Jeannie dropped out of grad school to became a dedicated mother. (I declare that her three children are her artistic masterpieces.) Her first child, Leslie Ellen, set the stage that Jeannie would be required to become a dedicated stage mother. Jeannie has explained that from a toddler on, Leslie would act out anything she wanted to communicate.
Because of her psychology degree, I think Jeannie recognized and was tuned in to her children’s individuality, and she proceeded to encourage them to develop those strengths. I am afraid I was guilty of offering what opportunities I could to our kids but did so more as a generic thing rather than honing into their individual talents and variations. There were swimming and piano lessons for all and eventually some voice lessons for Katherine and Mary Ellen and a few art lessons for Jeannie. Gerry and Mary Ellen both loved sports although I was not a very good sports mother.
All four kids participated and profited from school, church, and 4-H activities. I wanted them to have varied experiences, but failed to provide encouragement for extra effort in any area. I mostly just wanted the kids to have fun, which was not altogether a bad thing. Having fun is very important. I think I simply assumed the children would have to pick and chose and develop their own interests, and they did, which was similar to the way I was reared.
And Jeannie and Rick did this too, for their kids were all exposed to school and sports activities. Rick is a runner and a high school tennis and track coach, so he gave them an example of an athlete who found joy in physical activity, and the kids participated. Jeannie, of course, kept them involved in art projects. But as they excelled in music and theater, by the time they reached high school, that is where their time and energy was used.
Leslie started her acting career at age six in Music Man in Rend Lake College’s summer theater program, and she never stopped until she left home and became a voice major at Belmont in Nashville, TN. Very soon Elijah was old enough to follow in her footsteps and was breaking his leg every opportunity he had. Both of them often got a lead in their school plays and both of them were involved with singing, piano, and constantly performing. Just as Gerry and Vickie’s kids gave us many days of happily watching exciting basketball, volleyball, and softball games, Les and Lige brought us great entertainment in the theater. It was never easy to go over 400 miles to the northern top of the state and we couldn’t go to every performance we wanted to go to, but it was always more than worth it when we managed to make that trip.
When little sister Cecelie came along, she protested being expected to automatically follow her siblings’ activities. Naturally community friends assumed she would be the star her brother and sister were and were telling her so. But like her parents, I tried to hold my tongue, so she was free to choose her passions. She chose violin in junior high and made that a priority in her life, and we were proud. Yet when we drove up for a junior high musical and saw her perform, we knew it would be a waste if she did not continue to use her vocal and drama talents as well. As a freshman in high school, she is still excelling with her violin, but is not averse to participating on the speech team and is now involved in her first high school musical. I am very glad.
The reason I am reflecting all this is that finally Leslie is back on stage. For that too, I am very grateful. She was not able to participate in musical theater at Belmont, and although we certainly appreciated the quality music education she received that landed her a job with a music publishing company and all that she accomplished as a jazz singer, I really wanted her to be able to use her acting and comedienne abilities as well.
And finally the opportunity came when she discovered the Larry Keeton Theater. Located in a former school building, this non-profit Senior Center for the Arts has multiple activities going on including this dinner theater in the former gymnasium. Deciding she needed to become acquainted with this group, Leslie auditioned for their October weekend presentations of Little Women, a new musical based on Louisa May Alcott’s novel, and she was awarded the role of Jo.
With the Columbus Day holiday available, Jeannie made plans to attend on two weekends and to sandwich in helping her sister Katherine during the days between. Of course, I wanted to go if at all possible to hear Leslie sing once more on stage. Rick had a conference, but Cecelie would come with her mother on Saturday, and we’d go on to Nashville. Elijah drove down Friday night, and he could take Cecelie back with him to Bloomington, where Rick would come pick her up on Monday for Tuesday school. Unfortunately, there was van trouble coming down, and Elijah had to go rescue them while Rick arrived to put the van in the repair shop. Thus, it was Saturday night before Jeannie and Cecelie reached Woodsong. So seeing the Saturday performance and attending worship the next morning with Leslie and husband Mike was impossible.
In the meantime, Gerald’s only sister Ernestine and her husband Don also arrived Saturday evening in their camper from Rock Springs, WY, along with their beautiful dog Lacy. So as it turned out, Jeannie, Cecelie, and Elijah were able to all have supper at Woodsong with their Uncle Don and Aunt Ernie, and Jeannie could spend the evening visiting with them. Brianna and Trent soon came over with Trent’s weekend friends Tim Marten and Brock from back in Waggoner country. They picked up Lige and Cecelie to join Sam in Marion for whatever mischief they could cook up. (I never heard a report on that except I know they visited a spook house.) Mary Ellen was over for coffee early Sunday morning to visit Don and Ernestine before the Eilers and I left for our delayed trip to Nashville.
I consider Don and Ernestine among the “artsy” relatives. Ernestine has great appreciation for native American art and culture, and as a seamstress, her mother’s artistic talent is duplicated. A favorite sewn Christmas ornament that she created pleases me each year as it captures her and Don’s essence. Their backyard is a work of art with rock and fossil artifacts they have collected as they have explored the mountains and wilds of Wyoming. Don, a retired English teacher, is a writer, and Ernestine, a retired librarian, is a prodigious reader. I was disappointed I was unable to be there Sunday afternoon when Gerald’s brother Keith and wife Barbara and our niece Vicki Escue came to the farm. I also had to miss the Tuesday morning family breakfast at Jonesboro, but I enjoyed every minute I had with them until they went on down to visit the Union County relatives Monday night. I had assumed they spend at least a week here, but they had some other places they needed to go on their way home to a cat that was missing them.
Jeannie, Lige, Cecelie, and I arrived at 108 Donelson Pike in time for the excellent Sunday dinner before the afternoon musical and enjoyed visiting with the other seatmates at our table. I was eager for that curtain to go up, and I was not disappointed when it did. Leslie was a perfect outspoken determined Jo, and I loved her every line and every song. With all the musical talent available in Nashville, the cast was excellent, the multi-height set effective, and the March sisters—Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy--and their cohorts made us laugh and cry as well as reviewing some Civil War history for us. Finally we were hugging and congratulating Jo, who joined the other cast and their directors Ginger Newman and Jamie London for an after-session with some high schoolers, who had been invited. They each told a bit about themselves and answered the students’ questions. Afterward with her GPS to guide her, Jeannie treated us to for dinner with Leslie and Mike, who met us at the restaurant.
Like Leslie, Mike is a musician and he started to Belmont as a guitar major when the intensive use of his arm prevented him from playing for a year. Graduating Magna Cum Laude in Biblical studies, he had also become a personal trainer and is employed full time in that now. He has written his own e-book and participates in various Strongman events with Leslie cheering him on. If you want to read more about this grandson-in-law, check out this link: http://friendslife.org/uncategorized/volunteer-spotlight-michael-thompson/
We did not want to say goodbye to Les and Mike, but it was a long trip home ahead of us made even longer by road construction closing our entry onto 24West to one lane. Almost an hour we crawled and stopped and started allowing cars to merge when necessary, but Jeannie handled it all with skill. When we stopped for gas, Elijah took over and she got some deserved rest. We arrived back at Woodsong by 11 and went to bed promptly as Elijah and Cecelie had to leave at 5 a.m. to meet Rick in Urbana. Jeannie and I didn’t have to get up that early, and we enjoyed another morning visit with Don and Ernestine before we started on our goal of helping Katherine with some projects.