Tip of the Tongue

There’s a reason the Gunches never went into show business.

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Every time one of us gets near a stage, there is some kind of disaster.

This dates all the way back to my-mother-in-law Ms. Larda, when she was a little girl and was forced to take elocution lessons over summer vacation.

Elocution, in case you don’t know, is about public speaking and pronouncing your words as proper as the Queen of England.

This was back in the days when nuns dressed like nuns. Evidently they weren’t busy enough during the summer, so they gave elocution lessons. The idea was to make the kids not talk like yats…to say “toy-let” instead of “terlit,” and “boy-el” instead of “berl,” and “sink” instead of “zink.” Like that. Also “may-o-nayze,” not “mynez.” (Now Larda just says Blue Plate.)

And on Labor Day – school always started the next day back then – they had to give a recital.

Ms. Larda remembers her daddy was grouchy about going – he said Labor Day was for laying on his own couch in his sleeveless undershirt with the fan on, listening to the ball game on the radio. But her mother made him go. And it turned out, he was the only father there. 

The show started with 12 of the older students, each reciting one verse of “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” – and emphasizing alarrrm real loud every time – not “alawm.”

Then some littler ones recited a couple nursery rhymes.

And then there was the play, where little Larda had a major role.

One of the younger nuns, Sister Mary Joyce (we all called her Sister Jerce, which probably inspired her to teach elocution) wrote this play, packing in every single word that they had learned to pronounce correctly. Except toilet, of course. She was too modest for that. 

In the play, the mother asks her son, Burl, to boy-ull water to clean the sssink. (Evidently Sister Joyce didn’t know much about cleaning sssinks.) 

Little Larda – all  decked out in a long white robe – plays Earl’s guardian angel, Starlight (not Stawlight). This kid named Earl Maul plays Burl. And Burl also has a guardian devil named Beelzebub III (a direct descendant of the original Beelzebub, I guess) who tells him to forget about boiling out the sink, and instead run outside and enjoy himself playing marbles with his little friends because “summer is nearing its end.”

Little Larda gives the angelic response, which she had practiced and practiced and practiced and practiced at home.

Up onstage, she blanked out on the lines, and she could see her mother and father and grandmaw lined up in the first row, all silently mouthing the words. 

Then it come back to her, “Do not heed the words of Beelzebub the Third, Burrl!  Heed the words of your worthy mother.”  

But Burl ain’t so smart. He goes outside, leaving water boiling on the stove. His little brother, a short kid named  Lloyd walks into the kitchen, and Beelzebub III tells him to reach up and pull down the pan and see why it’s bubbling. He reaches for it, but Starlight zips off and tells Burl to rush inside and save his brother. Beelzebub III is right behind her, telling him to ignore her or he’ll lose his marbles, which look like pearls. But Burl rushes in anyway and saves his brother. The End.

The audience claps, but evidently not enough to suit Sister Joyce

She steps out on the stage. Looks over the audience of mostly mothers, and announces, in a resounding voice, “These children have performed marvelously. Please give them a STANDING OVULATION!”

For a couple seconds there is complete silence, while everybody sucks in their breath. So Sister repeats, “Let’s have a STANDING OVULATION and Happy Labor Day!”

And the mothers, realizing what she MUST have meant, stand up and applaud and cheer and laugh while the grandmothers who are hard of hearing are asking loudly what’s so funny.  

Afterwards, Larda’s father said he was glad he didn’t miss that. Her mother said  it reminded her to put mynez in the berled potatoes for the Labor Day picnic.