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Archive for May, 2018

When I was a kid, I developed an obsession with the 1955 movie of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical Oklahoma!. I don’t actually know why this movie was so interesting to me – I can’t even remember when I first became fascinated but I do know I drove my family crazy by playing that VHS almost daily. And I also remember that even then I had no interest in the character of ‘Laurie’, the female romantic lead. Besides one empowering moment of being a strong independent woman in “Many A New Day,” she generally is kind of a wimp. Given the expected roles of women and the gender norms of the days in which both the Broadway production and the movie were made, I shouldn’t be surprised that ‘Laurie’ was young and pretty and looking for a man to complete her, to dream only of making a marriage and of which handsome man will bid on her pretty picnic basket. In popular culture at those times, the characters that were instead allowed to be strong, independent females were usually older, widowed or spinstered women who could offer the sage wisdom of their years and experience.
Enter the character of ‘Aunt Eller’ in Oklahoma!. Even as a kid I recognized that she wasOklahoma_M (2) just plain amazing! She gets to be sassy and sarcastic, she gets to two-step with the cowboys and look at dirty pictures with them and wave a gun at the town leaders. She gets to be kind and loving to her niece and strong and supportive when things go bad. She gets the funny lines, the scene-saving moments, and the homespun charm of a lovable character.
When my high school put on the production of Oklahoma! in my senior year, I was devastated to learn that I had to choose between the honor of representing my region on a trip to the Model United Nations in The Hague, Netherlands OR to fulfill my dream of bringing ‘Aunt Eller’ to the stage. As my father loves to tell the story, I cried for weeks over this horrible event. In hindsight, I am eternally grateful that I took the chance to travel abroad and to have that incredible and unique lifetime experience in the Netherlands and Russia – BUT I can admit that I also regret missing the chance to be ‘Eller’ for even just those few months.
That regret stems mostly from the fact that now, as an adult, I can understand and honor the type of character and the type of woman that ‘Aunt Eller’s’ creators crafted. As a grown woman with more of that famous life experience and less of the high school naivete, I can more deeply appreciate the strength of this character.
Like her counterpart in Carousel, ‘Nettie Fowler’, ‘Eller’ is the foundation of the town and the support system to whom our lovelorn-clueless-tragic female lead turns to when life falls apart in the climactic moments of the show. Her advice when a character dies and threatens the beginning of ‘Laurie’ and ‘Curly’s’ marriage is:
“If you cain’t fergit, jist don’t try to, honey. Oh, lots of things happen to folks. Sickness, er bein’ pore and hungry even-bein’ old and afeared to die. That’s the way it is-cradle to grave. And you can stand it. They’s one way. You gotta be hearty, you got to be. You cain’t deserve the sweet and tender in life less’n you’re tough.”
As in Carousel, once more, a Rodgers and Hammerstein character reminds us to hold our heads high and to keep pushing forward when life gets difficult.
But to me, the quintessential Eller shines through in this one simple line: “I don’t say I’m no better than anybody else, but I’ll be damned if I ain’t jist as good.” It has taken me a lifetime to learn this lesson well, to realize that I don’t live my life for anyone else but me. I FINALLY have grasped the concept that no one, NO ONE, can sit in judgement of me or my life choices. I’m never going to be a millionaire or a Broadway star or a Rhodes scholar. I’m going to live a quiet life and hopefully make a small difference to someone. I don’t have anything that makes me special or noteworthy – I don’t say I’m no better than anybody else. But I am who I am and the older I get, the more comfortable I have become in my own skin. I have my scars and a chip on my shoulder and a list of mistakes that is 9 miles long. But I will no longer allow anyone to put me down or say that I’m not good enough – I’ll be damned if I ain’t jist as good.
So thank you ‘Aunt Eller’ and thank you Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein for creating happy moments from my childhood and learning moments in my adulthood.

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