Wednesday, April 15, 2009

ONSTAGE: AUNT PATTY, ACT II

(See earlier blogs for background on "Aunt Patty Remembers.")

As I took the tented stage in 1984, traveling around the West portraying Aunt Patty Sessions as part of a NEH touring company, perhaps my keenest pleasure was meeting descendants of Aunt Patty.

Aunt Patty (1795-1892)had ten children in all, most of whom died very young. But three adult children figure prominently in Patty's now-famous diaries: Peregrine, David, and Sylvia (married to Windsor P. Lyon). Peregrine, an important leader in the early Mormon church, had a full cast of wives and enough children to fill a three-room schoolhouse(fifty-something). In our six weeks in the Rockies, our performing group visited five states and twice as many little towns. And in every hamlet, however small, out came several people, clutching genealogy sheets with one hand and a line of children with the other, to announce proudly that here were yet more of Peregrine's progeny.

In Loveland, Colorado, rain kept us from performing outdoors under the little striped tent, so we did our time-travel gig back into the 19th century on the stage of a beautifully restored old movie theater. The plush auditorium was large and rather dark inside, and the audience didn't begin to fill all the seats. It wasn't quite the same casual atmosphere as we enjoyed when the crowd sat on the grass in front of the tent, waving to each other and drinking root beer, their offspring cart-wheeling around the park or ballfield. But in the theater, after we'd finished, a young mother shyly came up with three beautiful girls, ages 4, 6, and almost-8. Could she take a picture of them with "Patty"? Oh, my. Their shining blonde hair gleamed in that dusky theater, their blue eyes looked at me, in my tacky, make-shift "pioneer outfit," with the innocence that is reborn every generation, and I looked and looked at them. Flesh of her flesh. Diaries are one thing, histories, pictures, genealogy charts. But here, in their bright faces, Patty became a reality.

Later, in the middle of Wyoming, the tent was again outside, and smack on the front row sat two fellows in Levis, good Wyoming dust thick on their handsome boots. A generation separated them; everything else tied them together--hairlines, large, sad eyes, creases down the cheeks, the same slope to the shoulders. When they came up afterwards, I could see that the older man had lived a long, long time. The younger man introduced his father and himself. He explained that they had driven most of the day across Wyoming to get here.

"And are you descendants of Peregrine Sessions?" I asked, almost as a formality. Why else drive the high plains to West Boot to see some academic types do their thing?

"No," said the older man. "No, not Peregrine. We're from David's line." A pause. "M'boy here,"--the balding "boy" grinned wryly--"so far's we know, he's the last living descendant of David Sessions, Jr. David Junior, he didn't have so many, um, children as Peregrine. And this fella, he's my only child. No grandkids. End of the line now." And he softly punched his boy on the arm.

The Sessions descendants are a proud lot, and deservedly so. One evening in Utah,a couple of years after the summer tour, I was scheduled to do a solo performance of "Aunt Patty Remembers." That afternoon, in the hotel I got a phone call.

"Are you the lady who's going to talk about Patty Sessions?" asked a man. When I said yes, he replied, "Well, I am an ancestor of hers!"

I took a breath, then asked, "And where, sir, are you CALLING FROM?"

Now as to Patty's daughter Sylvia: It was Sylvia, back in Nauvoo, Illinois, who gave her mother Patty the birthday gift of a small notebook which became the diary of the trek and a treasure carefully tended today in the LDS Church archives. Sylvia married Windsor P. Lyon, a pharmacist and doctor. Sylvia had a daughter named Josephine Lyon Fisher. Josephine Lyon Fisher's progeny included George Fisher. George's daughter Emily graced some of my classes in my professorial days, and later became a cherished friend. Our Corgis have romped together. Among the many reasons I owe large dollops of gratitude to Emily is that she first suggested I become a blogger. (I thought she was saying "blocker.") She set up this blogsite for me, and bails me out when my technological know-how flops. As I write, she is preparing for a West Coast biking marathon and fundraiser. She's a legal-aid lawyer, an amazing poet, a musician, clearly a Renaissance woman. Emily and I exchange information about new books of interest.

Speaking of which, there is a recent book titled Miss Alcott's E-Mail. In the book, the writer, Kit Baake, imagines that she can send e-mail to Louisa May Alcott, the 19th century writer, who then pens back replies, somehow. Now, folks, if anyone patents that technology, will I have some news for Aunt Patty! And I'll start with Emily.

3 comments:

wordsfromhome said...

If Aunt Patty could e-mail, I think she would tell us that she is glad to have Emily hanging on her family tree, and I am glad she is on mine also. We surely did enjoy your rendition of Aunt Patty at the library in Bountiful. I believe you were not feeling at all well that night, but you were absolutely convincing in your performance. It was memorable!

Kit said...

Hi all, delighted to see your travels somehow brought you to MISS ALCOTT'S E-MAIL. History never goes away entirely--it might fade some, but sharp eyes and ears can always find it trailing around. Louisa May Alcott was an amazingly energetic and wonderful woman, and we'd all do well to be re-introduced to her--she was way more than "Little Women" and deserves to be remembered for her whole self. If you read the book, let me know what you think. I'm working on a new one now. Cheers, Kit Bakke

wordsfromhome said...

Kit,
If a book is recommended by both of these outstanding women, I want to read it. In my busy life, most of my pleasure reading is audio style. Have you, or will you be committing this one to CD or through Audible or an other electronic source any time soon?