Saturday, November 21, 2015

Beautiful Belle

The curtain opened and there was a brunette peasant girl with apron and her basket going to the village bookstore. I caught my breath. How could that possibly be our youngest granddaughter—one of our three blond granddaughters? First of all, in my mind I often still see her as the tiny little girl who was too shy to sing. And always the blond hair defined her pretty looks. If we had not known that our Cecelie was going to be Belle in Beauty and the Beast at Freeport High School’s fall musical, I don’t think I would have recognized her.

We had traveled all day one more time to see one of FHS’s outstanding theatrical events. Freeport is only 12 miles south of Wisconsin, and going up the length of Illinois is always a challenge. But we have met that challenge first to see Leslie and then Elijah in their plays, musicals, and the traditional Show Time performances. We have missed a few, and I still feel regret over any we did not see even if we have a video. Now it was our joy to see the youngest Eiler sing and act.

We pulled off Interstate 57 to stop at Cracker Barrel in Urbana for lunch and use up a Christmas gift card one of our kids gave us. Then on Route 72 over to Bloomington where the long trek up Route 51 and 39 begins. We look forward to seeing the windmill farms to break the monotony, and there were new ones since our last visit.
Finally at the edge of Rockford, we turn west for the brief last lap of the 400 mile trip. I love the big farm houses along Route 20 going back to a time when farming was more profitable in the region there. Arriving in Freeport, we stopped for flowers and checked into our motel room, and then headed to Jeannie and Rick’s, where Jeannie had chili and sandwiches and yummy pies waiting for whomever and whenever people showed up. Cecelie and her boy friend Ryan had to get to the theater early. Elijah was there from Jacksonville already, and so were Leslie and her husband Mike. Jeannie’s food was good, but the colorful fall arrangements and bright paper ware on the table and buffet pleased me even more. I’d already enjoyed the autumn door wreath and the large pumpkin by the door—Jeannie explained it had grown up this summer from where last year’s pumpkin had ended up! (I had to turn my back to avoid looking at the huge unseasonable Christmas tree in the lobby/lounge at our motel.)

The night before, Leslie and Mike had arrived from Nashville and slept at our house, but they left Woodsong hours earlier than we did since they and Rick were going up to Madison before the musical. There a car was waiting for Leslie that she had managed to buy long distance from two states away thanks to a Nashville friend formerly from Madison and to her dad for checking things out. I had to be impressed that our little lion (Leslie) could deal so well. Leslie’s old car was to go to Cecelie, who needs it to get to work. Somehow Cecelie manages to work at a local consignment store as well as taking her studies seriously. Knowing how hard our children and grandchildren work, I feel irate if anyone talks about today’s youth lacking a work ethic.

Jeannie had secured great seats for us, and we crowded into the almost full house and greeted Cecelie’s other grandmother Rosie and friend Jerome, who always come over from Naperville for these events. Soon warning lights flashed; and before we knew it, a loud voice filled the auditorium introducing the story about to begin

Then the curtain opened and we were transported back in time. The student orchestra always impresses me. Once more it added greatly to the atmosphere whether the scene was happily bucolic or frighteningly dangerous.

Not only did Cecelie and the other students gift us with great singing and acting, but the sets were outstanding this year and created by a technical math class of high school kids and their math teacher. I was sitting by the head of the math department (Rick) and I could tell he was rightfully proud. Both the village set and the villagers’ singing and dancing were delightful even if they did not appreciate Belle’s love of learning. Of course, someone did because there was a book store in the heart of the village.
Even more extraordinary was the set for the enchanted castle with its stairways, upper rooms, and many details that were proof of the skill and care of the students who made it.

The screen that came down for the forest scenes was magical with its three dimensional illusion. Although they did not, of course, I felt the characters were actually going in and out of the big trees on that flat screen.

There is a long tradition of outstanding theater at Freeport going back at least if not earlier to Jeannette Lloyd, who designed the theater. (I think for her doctorate.) After the final stage calls and ovations, we joined the traditional throngs that crowd an upper hallway to hug and congratulate the cast, present bouquets, take photos, and greet alumni from previous shows. (This is one of my favorite parts of the FHS experience.)

There I discovered from a huge banner on the hallway wall that the student orchestra was over 150 years old! In 1864 during the Civil War, someone started at orchestra for the students there! (Many of our high schools in the southern end of the state were not started until the 20th Century.) I would love to know the story of the origin of that orchestra. I am certain some dedicated teacher musician worked overtime to start it just as dedicated teacher musicians have worked overtime to continue its success.

We skipped the after-theater reflection time at Jeannie and Rick’s house because we were tired enough to go straight to the motel and bed. Gerald would let me sleep in the next morning before he left to go back home for some obligations there. I was staying and catching a ride back with Leslie and Mike so I could see the Saturday night show. After we arrived, however, we found out that for the first time in 26 years, there was to also be a Saturday matinee since this show was so great for children—some of whom showed up in Belle dresses. So I saw three of the four performances! I would have loved to see Thursday night’s opening too, of course, but I felt well blessed.

Mary Ellen and her kids, Trent and Brianna, broke away temporarily from the Taylor family plans to stay in Freeport that night and see Cecelie. (As it turned out, Trent did not have to work that weekend after all, so he came too.) Thus, I had one granddaughter on stage and four grandchildren and a grandson-in-law in the audience cheering her on. Housewives don’t always get promotions or noticeable rewards, but I cannot describe the joy and pride I felt for the family love present that night. (And I knew that Cecelie’s other states-away four cousins would have liked to be there.)

Jeannie fed nine of us for dinner before the Saturday night show; and to my amazement, I learned she was hosting the cast party afterwards. Fortunately she had explained to me that she always fixes more food than necessary—just in case. Well, the case was that instead of the 30 or so she expected to come, there was probably 60 or so! She had enough food! Since they have an ordinary size house, I am not sure how there was enough room, but it sounded fun to me. Mary Ellen, Trent, and Bri were able to attend the party and the kids spent the night. Mary Ellen picked them up the next morning. I think the last guests left at 3 a.m., and Jeannie got to bed at 4. Pretty good for such a recent cancer survivor I’d say. Everyone was still high from the fun and excitement of the night before when we gathered to drive down to Cedarville for worship.

I think Jeannie fed eight of us lunch (plenty of left overs) before the siblings had their last visit together. Finally we had to make our exit, and I crawled into the back seat of Leslie’s new car for its journey to Woodsong. The sunset and clouds were beautiful as we drove that long stretch to Bloomington, and then I slept some when darkness came and before we stopped for supper at Effingham.

We were at Woodsong by 10, and Les and Mike went right to bed since they had to get on the road by 6 the next morning. Les had taken the day off to register her car and stuff; but Mike, a personal trainer, wanted to make his 9:30 appointments. (He explained to me that he had someone cover for him until then, but he usually starts meeting clients at 5:30 on Monday mornings.) I told them goodbye as well as good night because I knew I’d be sleeping in. I went downstairs to check email and Facebook and ruminate on the weekend’s fun.

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