When you’re old (I know the politically correct word is “elderly” or “aging,” but some days I feel old), you reflect on the past. Sometimes you get unexpected help in this necessary task of life review.
The other evening I chanced upon the last half of the movie “Rose-Marie” starring Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald, the hugely popular movie stars of the 1930s. I had never seen the movie before, so I watched, at times with part of me highly critical of this acclaimed movie, but, at other times, through the eyes of that young girl during the depression years with daily reminders that water was precious and money non-existent.
In the movie a handsome Royal Canadian Mounted Police finds a young woman singer lost in the wilderness of Canada, falls in love. While in the woods, he tells her the legend of the song, “Indian Love Call.” A young Indian brave and his love were separated because they belonged to warring tribes, but forever after, he kept seeking her, often certain he heard her plaintive call in the distance, only to paddle frantically down the river to find she is not there.
We Funk children weren’t permitted to go to “worldly” movies, but always attended community events, like variety shows, when local citizens showed off their talents. August O. had a fine voice as did his lady friend, Irene C. They often sang together. Their career reached a new high the evening they sang, “Indian Love Call” at a community concert. The place was packed, the atmosphere joyous and expectant.
My sister Anne describes the event in the book of stories we five siblings compiled about our growing-up in our little immigrant community (Growing Up in Blaine Lake by Five Who Did): “In this rendition, the song, “When I’m calling you...ooo...ooo” starts offstage. Then the lights come on, and the audience sees water, actually a blue bunting banner stretched across the stage. Then, from one side, enters an Indian brave, feather and all, paddling his canoe as it glides through (behind) the water.
“Towards the end of his song, the hero is joined by the ghost of his Indian sweetheart (Irene). Their duet rises to a stirring crescendo in “When I’m calling you—ooo-ooo.” Just as it reaches its zenith, the blue bunting falls and the stalwart brave and his sweetheart are seen sitting in a common tin bathtub pulled by rope. To add to the moment, the rope breaks and the canoe comes to an abrupt stop.
“August continued to paddle, and sing, but he and his ghostly sweetheart weren’t going anywhere. Finally, he stepped out of his conveyance, and walked on ‘water’ so they could bring the "Indian Love Call" to its crowning finale.
“The moment of high romance was destroyed, utterly destroyed, but the audience went wild,” Anne writes.
I realize now after sixty or more years that that acting disaster was more true to life than had the bunting stayed in place and the rope remained strong and steady. Life doesn’t always go according to expectations. Life isn't always moonlight and roses.
The thirties was a time when I and other young girls were in love with romance, with seeing life bigger than it was, removed from the everyday encounters with dust, wearing hand-me-downs and underwear made of flour sacks.
We young girls were enchanted by romance, yearning for the time when a young Nelson Eddy look-alike in red coat and high boots would hold us tenderly, and kiss us gently on the lips – none of this desperate mouth-mashing and lip-sucking that passes for kissing on TV today. Fifty, sixty, a hundred years, forever, he would still be holding gently and kissing tenderly.
We dreamed of a different future than what we might experience. Life after marriage with its full quota of eight-to-five jobs, daily dirty diapers and boiling of baby bottles, shoes too short for growing feet, sleepless nights, sudden illnesses, limited paychecks, did not enter our thinking. Life would be moonlight and roses forever. But it wasn’t. The blue bunting often came down too soon.
But I remember with gratitude the response of the audience – laughter at the incongruity of it all. Blue bunting comes down, but life has to go on. That’s what I recall about the difficult depression years. Despite hardship, limited resources for entertainment, squalid home life for some, life had its joyous sides because we liked one another. We enjoyed one another. And homemade entertainment was the best. We didn’t need money to have enjoyment. We could laugh at disasters. Creativity was born out of want. A good lesson more people need in this time of over-abundance.