Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Talented Tuesday: Elizabeth Reed

My aunt . . . well, let me back up here. 

My mother was an intra-family adoption, as I've discussed here before.  So Elizabeth Reed, my mother's adoptive sister, was really her cousin, and my second cousin.  But I always called her my aunt, and she was instrumental in raising me.  So I'm going to continue to be "genealogically incorrect" in this post.

Elizabeth Reed was a registered nurse whose specialty was public health.  She never married.  She was a large woman, and never was successful at losing weight.  But she was a character.  She spent a lot of time on the lecture circuit, mostly within the state of Florida, where she was Director of Health Information for the State Board of Health (now the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services).  And along with her serious speechifying about health and wellness, she would entertain her audiences with monologues.

The art of the monologue ranges from Robert Benchley to Johnny Carson and Jay Leno.  Elizabeth Reed's monologues told a story, or presented a slice of life with a comedic twist.

She would present the natural history of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" as sung by a little girl at a recital, a honky-tonk singer, an operatic diva, and other variations on the theme.  All of the variations were hilarious, and delivered with great gusto.  Another of her monologues showed a hospital volunteer "cheering up" a patient by discussing the competence of the surgeon who operated on him, dietary restrictions, the sounds and smells endemic to hospitals, and other joys.  She had a stock of monologues, and not a one was written down.  They were all stored in her memory.  She told me one day that she had tried to write one of them down, and it looked so dreadful on paper that she never tried to commit one to writing again. 

Unfortunately, she died before the arrival of home videotape, and the usual home-movie 8mm that we had did not have sound.  I would give a lot to have these monologues on videotape.

Not all of them were comedic, though the majority of them were.  She surprised me one day when she appeared at my high school in 1964.  The school's speech and drama teacher, Sabina Meyer, arranged for my aunt to perform a monologue for the speech and drama classes.  My classmates were skeptical, and were making jokes about the whole prospect of a monologue performance -- and my aunt's size -- which were getting me angry.  But then she started the monologue, which was a surprise to me in that it was not a comedy, it was drama, and it was one which I had never before seen. 

The story was an old grandmother who had made the arduous overland crossing to the American West in a covered wagon, and had lost a child "on the plains of Kansas" counseling her teenage granddaughter about life and relationships.  Before my aunt was one-third the way into the monologue, the joking and chatter had stopped and you could have heard a pin drop.  There were even some tears glistening in the girls' eyes.  After the performance, the kids couldn't wait to tell me how much they had thought of the monologue, and that my aunt was great.

Well, I knew that.

One modest individual in a small city in the middle of the Twentieth Century with a talent that could make people laugh or cry.  That was my aunt, Elizabeth Reed.


1 comment:

Kerry Scott said...

This is a lovely tribute to her.