American Creed in the Bible Belt Circa 1980's
After viewing American Creed video with a group of educators, I participated in a Socratic Seminar to discuss the themes and ideas expressed in the documentary. The discussion prompted an experience that I had forgotten. An experience I didn't want to remember.
When I enrolled in college after graduating from high school, my husband's family wasn't exactly delighted. None of the women in the family had ever been to college. Beatrice, my sweet mother-in-law, had wanted to be a first grade teacher. But she stayed home to raise her boys. My husband Clarence, the youngest of the four was the next to last to add a wife. (Itself a family violation to marry before the older sibling.) The sister-in-laws and last fiance had never gone to college. They all stayed home to take care of children or worked part-time jobs before getting pregnant. These women were most offended by my educational prospects. They complained that my language and conversation were demeaning to them. I was haughty and thought of myself better than their lowly station. It didn't matter that it wasn't true.
I'm not liking these memories.
I had no idea people like me could apply and go to colleges away from town. I had no clue about SAT, ACT, and Grade point averages. I went to a local community college with enough scholarships and grants to fully fund explorations of theater and vocal performance. I remember sitting in an interview for one of the scholarships. One of the interviewers asked, "What are going to do if you don't get the scholarship." Without hesitation, I quipped, "I'll find another way. My momma did." Their jaws dropped. I'm still not sure what they expected me to say.
My voice teacher thought that I was developing into a coloratura soprano. Something rare and quite lovely to imagine. She took me to conferences, contests, concerts, operas and banquets. She knew this country girl didn't know how to function in high society. "Follow me. Do what I do." And I saw a new world and a different life than I had ever imagined - full of art, and song, and laughter.
But the theater is a demanding master. It required rehearsal time past the business day hours and into the night-time when I was expected to be "wife-ing." One night, as I stood on stage right as Abigail in 1776, pleading in a duet: "Yours...Yours...Yours..."
I saw Clarence enter the auditorium and walk halfway down to the seats where the director monitored our performance. The director turned, first in surprise at the intrusion. Then, glancing to me in an expression I still cannot explain, stopped the music and called me to the chairs where he stood with my angry husband. He told me that I had to go home. I walked out in my 16th century costume and home to my duties. It was 1986.
I finished the semester and performed with the cast. But Clarence did not want me to continue with the theater where his wife would be around people who were gay, perverts, or both. How about music performance? I could be a music teacher? That semester, our studio began what was to become the city opera company with a performance of Madame Butterfly. It was my last opera. I was pregnant. My father-in-law pulled me aside and expressed his dismay at my un-womanly and un-bibilcal approach to life.
He spoke of the risk I put my baby by being away from home and rest at night. He shuddered at the company I kept with the cast. And my husband forbade me to continue as a musician because of the hours and the shame of my associations with people who were now my friends and mentors.
I was submissive.
Mother always said that I had to be able to take care of myself and not rely on a man. Probably because of her own negative experiences. But that call and drive to use education as a tool to survive had been rooted in me through her own narrative and educational victories. I saw her stories in my mind. I heard her voice and the powerful conviction with with she indoctrinated and empowered me to understand from whence my deliverance would come. Perhaps I could not perform in plays to delight an audience. Perhaps I could not trill Lauretta's Aria to an enwrapt elite.
But I could dramatize our reading lessons to engage my students. And I could sing with my students to help them remember lessons. I changed my major to Elementary Education with an emphasis in Reading.
There's certainly a lot that has happened between then and now. And there's more stories to tell about my mother and what she has done to pull our family from abuse, and poverty, and just plain meanness. Through these stories am still "becoming" the version of the American Dream that is possible for me and my circumstances...finding a way to use all that I have been and have not been allowed to be. You'll be hearing more from me.