Gringa Chronicles - and the Oscar Goes To...

by Marsha Ackerman

The Gringa Chronicles

And the Oscar goes to...

Growing up a Gringa in a small state in the middle of the country known for....well, 4 heads on a mountain and wheat....left little hope for being discovered as the next great actress/singer/talent. Although, we are pretty proud of our "own", Daisy Duke " the original, Tom Brokaw (everyone's best friend), and Mary Hart. The majority of us were just ordinary, everyday, citizens, voting Republican, fireworks on the 4th and shunning anything which could be considered..."un-American".

But this 7 year old had her eyes on something more. And after I my thesis on the "Chicken Dinosaur" was laughed at by the Nobel committee, I was ready to prove my prowess in an entirely new way.

The opportunity arose one winter day in Mrs. Hoff's 2nd grade class. I was tied to my desk, again. See, in small town USA, there really was no respect for student rights. In fact, we all signed off on Marshall Law once we entered the school doors. Although I found this to be terribly unfair, it was not my top concern. I would surely argue this case before the Supreme Court in Gringa vs. Mrs. Hoff. But for now, I would live with the humiliation.

Second grade was a journey. One which led me down many different paths. I finally settled in as the funny kid in the class. And with the title, came responsibilities. Among them, being the class clown. I made funny faces behind teachers back, took the long way to my desk while wearing my shiny new Mary Jane shoes, and talked, talked and talked some more. All of these sins brought with them unique punishment. Mary-Jane Gate, found me tied to my desk with a jump rope. The constant jabbering earned me the name "Motor-mouth", and not listening to teacher's instructions cost me Donkey Ears. Yes, Donkey ears. Now, at 7 years old, wearing Donkey Ears is equally humiliating as the dream you have as an adult, when you are in Phys Ed and naked. To add to the horror, Mrs. Hoff not only made me wear these ears, but to make them, out of purple construction paper & tape.

So this day, as I struggled against my jump rope chains, I saw my opportunity to shine like the star I knew was inside me.

"Class", started Mrs. Hoff. I watched her intently. She had a habit of avoiding eye contact with me when I was in full punishment. But I didn't let that stop me, I stared her down, daring her to turn my way...

"Class, we are going to put on a Christmas Play!" Silence as she looked everywhere but my direction....

"I am passing around the script now, please take one and....."

Yeah yeah yeah lady " get to the point! A play a script, are we talking LA, Chicago " wait " I know...Broadway " has to be Broadway...

This is my chance! This is it! This is my destiny...I am going to be...An ACTRESS! Ah " of course! It feels so right....

"Come on " take one, pass it back, it can't be that difficult!" My palms are sweating and my heart beating out of my chest, my destiny " pass it back for God's sake!!!!!

I wait, wait...they are starting to read! WAIT! I throw my hand up in the air... "Mrs. Hoff, Mrs. Hoff, I donnnn"

"Marsha, wait your turn, do not be a motor..." I know I know " motor mouth...

Not this time Mrs. Hoff, I shall not break, Attica, Attica...... "Mrs. Hoff, but I ...."

"Marsha, I told you to wait your turn, do you want to stand....

Oh for pete's sake.....I know " stand in the corner with a dunce hat that I have to craft out of Elmer's glue & smelly markers.

I would get up and get a copy myself, but I can't, I'm doin time in my jump rope solitary confinement.

Head in my hand, think, it wasn't easy for Betty Davis, Faye Dunaway or, well, or even Daisy Duke, but look at them now....DON'T GIVE UP!

And suddenly, I feel a hand on my shoulder, a friendly hand, one I knew very well. My cousin " smiling, handing me a copy of the script, like he was handing a dying woman a glass of water.

We stick together he and I. Always have, always will. We were cousins, but only because we had different mothers. We were one at heart, together forever. And there he was, again, he had my back.

I smiled up at him as I took the script. He's cute; I thought to myself, I'll give him a speaking role.

The story was about a group of travelers, who get stranded on their journey to their families on Christmas. There were only a handful of characters with names other than, Lady on the Right or Child on the Street. And one of them was mine! Mrs. Goodbar!

Ah " the name, so sweet as it rolled off my tongue...oh wait, that was the last bit of Hershey Goodbar... But still the same, it was mine. I love chocolate, and that meant, I'm a perfect fit!

We read through the script, all taking turns at the different characters came to life, right here in Mrs. Hoff's second grade class. As my less talented fellow students read the words " hacks, I thought as I rolled my eyes.... I found myself, dreaming of the day...

"And the Oscar for Best Actress in Mrs. Hoff's second grade play, Marsha!" I would pretend to be shocked, be humble I would have to remind myself. I would walk to the front of the stage in my beaded gown, and the loudest shiniest Mary Jane shoes ever. There would be camera flashes everywhere and the press would be falling all over themselves to get a word, "Marsha, Marsha.......Marsha.......

MARSHA! Weird, that reporter from Vanity Fair sounds a lot like "MARSHA! DO I NEED TO MAKE YOU WEAR DONKEY EARS?"

Sigh, this woman is trying my patience. "No Mrs. Hoff." I say as politely as I can.

She looks at me through those black glasses, they take her entire face, and only her beady little black pupils pop out, as she asks me to read the part of Mrs. Goodbar... "Why does she wear that pink lipstick"? I ask myself....why? How awful, when I'm a movie star, I'm not going to .....MARSHA! READ!

Stardom awaits.

A boy in my class is reading the part of the man in the coffee shop. He reads like he is chopping down a tree, I think. Come on " my turn. Man in coffee shop, stranger in church, boy on street.....and....yes! Yes!!! Mrs. Goodbar.

Deep breaths...make them want it....you will deeply affect them " always, they will remember this momentous occasion...you are about to give the mother of all performances... Get into character...be Mrs. Goodbar, you are stranded, on Christmas,

Inner turmoil, her family will disown her; Santa will never forgive her.... Tear...I feel a tear...

"Whatever will we do?" cried......Mrs. Goodbar

My words linger, I have obviously affected everyone with my emotional retort. Oh my goodness, I am exhausted, so many emotions.....

I look out the window; the school busses are already there. "I will make my decision and announce the roles tomorrow." Barks Mrs. Hoff.... Why that awful lipstick, why the beady little.... Class Dismissed.

After I am unleashed from my chains of hell, I run to the bus. I am a star!

That night at the dinner table, I rule the conversation. And, I'm Mrs. Goodbar, bite chew chew, swallow of milk, and....I think everyone thought I was the best..... Swallow, more potatoes please....and Mrs. Goodbar is the most important.....this is great mom....nice sear on the pork chop...... I'm going to be famous, I know she will pick....... No " I didn't wear the ears today " only the jump rope,

Quite obviously my parents were not aware of my greatness. Clear my plate; brush my teeth...yes, my homework is finished.

Up the 13 stairs to my room. I won't have to do homework when I'm a star...who do they think they are dealing with.

I slip into my pink footie pajamas, climb into bed and begin my prayers... "God bless mom & dad & Jenny, and please give Mrs. Hoff new lipstick, why does she wear that awful..... ZZZZZZZZZZ

"Class, take your seats, announced Mrs. Hoff. I have assigned the roles for our Christmas Play..... The part of boy on a sled goes to Tony! Clap Clap Clap, come on...... the part of lady in a horrible shade of lipstick...... yeah yeah " who cares!

And the part of Mrs. Goodbar goes to........ (I'm going to faint).... Marsha!

Yes! Yes! Yes! I jump " unsuccessfully as my jump rope chains were about me..... I'm a star!

"Now class, take these scripts home, and memorize your lines, we start rehearsals next week."

No problemo Mrs. Hoff! I'm going to be the utmost professional and learn every line by heart.

From that moment on, I lived, breathed, ate and slept Mrs. Goodbar. I was Mrs. Goodbar...

The rehearsals started the following Monday. We learned how to enunciate, to project our voices to the audience, to never turn our backs (in case of photo opportunities). I studied my mark, every line perfection. My journey to the Oscars was well on its way.

The clock began to count down to our opening night. I was exhausted, between rehearsals, homework, making donkey ears, and clearing my plate & washing dishes (note to self, get mom a maid when I win my Oscar). I had little time for anything else. And, I was beginning to feel quite tired and a bit feverish. I was put to bed, without having to clear my plate, a sign of compassion and mercy on me for which I was extremely grateful. The 13 stairs to my room felt like 1300 and my jammies just felt scratchy. And as I crawl into bed, I decide, I must suck it up " the show must go on.

That night was filled with tossing and turning, and brought little sleep. The morning came quickly and with it, brought a surprise.

Measles? Measles???? I look up at my parents faces, but how? I ask, as I scratch the red bumps invading my body.

"I have to go to school, I am the star..." I stare into my mother's face, then my father, back and forth, but neither showed signs of giving in. "I have to go! The play, I have to go, I'm Mrs. Goodbar....." I look directly into my father's eyes, please!!!! My little blue eyes fill with tears. Real tears, I was not acting.

My mother runs a hot bath, and helps my little naked butt covered with itchy red bumps into the suds. This has all the makings of the worst day of my young life. What should I do? I know! I know " I'll, well, I'll pout! Yeah, that's it! I'll pout! That'll show them, I push my bottom lip out as far as I can. Now, for the show topper, blow air out of my mouth and cross my arms while, looking away from my mom. Ha! Take that Measles! Didn't count on that, did you!

I glance at the pink bottle on the bath ledge, even Mr. Bubble isn't fun right now. And I'm sure that the Johnson & Johnson No more tears would not be able to keep me from crying. I am one sad little girl....

The minutes tick by, one by one, and I realize as I look down at my legs, that the hot water, only seemed to invite more of these miserable little bumps. My star has burnt out, and I start to cry.

As I stand in front of my mom, she wraps a fuzzy towel around me. Its ok, you will feel better soon, and then be back in time for the play! God bless her, she is trying her best to make this impossible situation better.

I crawl into my make-shift bed. This was our couch with a sheet over it, pillows, blankets and a box of tissues next to it. Mom always made this bed when I was sick. As if a change of scenery would make being sick seem like a trip. I know in reality it was to watch over us when we were ill, and allow us some entertainment by watching our 1 TV set with the 3 channels.

I laid down; she kissed my head and pulled my blankets around me. I take my script, and hold it close. Just because I am sick, no excuses, I am a professional. I practice my lines......until sleep comes.

A week passes before I am able to go back to school. I have a couple of scars, memories of my tortuous illness. But I am back, better than ever and ready to resume my starring role in our little Christmas Play. I walk into class...stop at the door, and wait; I have to make an entrance. I count to 10, step inside, "I'm ready for my close-up Mr. Deville." Sidle sidle, silhouette..... freeze... but no one looks my way. No cameras, oohs or ahs. Tap tap tap, I' have my Mary Janes on..... tap tap tappety tap....

Something is not right. I should have been tied up by now.....

The day is strange; my friends are avoiding any mention of the play. It was only days away, surely this was on everyone's mind.

Finally, rehearsal. I'm ready. I have been in bed for a week, studying, memorizing, rehearsing.....

"Marsha, please stay behind." What? Stay behind? I'm the star! Has the entire world gone mad???

"Marsha, since you were ill, we had to continue with our play." .... Yes " ok " get to the point Mrs. Hoff.....

She folds her hands, and looks down, deep breath and says, "Melanie will be playing the part of Mrs. Goodbar."

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH I just thought I heard her say Melanie would be Mrs. Goodbar. Oh my gosh " that is the funniest " no way " not possible, Melanie? Oh my gosh " good one Mrs. Hoff " that was rich! Hee hee nothing like a good practical joke!

I search her face for signs of a smile. But none. It was the same Mrs. Hoff with the big black glasses, little beady eyes and that god awful lipstick " good lord, what color is that lipstick, why in the world would you wear......'WHAT? WHAT DO YOU MEAN MELANIE, I, I, ME....ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME! I'M MRS. GOODBAR! I HAVE PRACTICED, MY GOODNESS, I FOUGHT DEATH! I WAS IN THE GRIPS OF HELL AND I CAME BACK " ALL FOR THIS PART, ALL FOR THE PLAY....FOR THE AUDIENCE, THE SHOW MUST GO ON!

"But we have a part for you dear..." she continued. Dear? That's bad " always bad to be called dear " look at what happened to Bambi.....

No air, I am going to faint, I grab the desk, and force myself to speak. "What is the part Mrs. Hoff?" I say in a whisper.

"Well, she begins; her voice is so squeaky, like a mouse. Yes, that's it, she is a cartoon mouse, like Polly, Mighty Mouse's girlfriend " she had bad lipstick too.....

You get to be the grandmother!

The who? The wha?????? The...are you kidding me Polly???????

And my career came crashing down......

It's over, at 7 years of age, I have peaked. Oh woe is me......

I step slowly to the school bus. I don't want to even breathe...I may as well move to the jungle and live with the Apes.....

I find a seat, throw down my book bag, and loosen my scarf, my snow pants, my scarf, ski-mask, mittens and sulk. I don't want to talk to anyone. Just leave me to rot world.....I don't even have the energy to draw a heart on the window which is now fogged over.

I look to my left " and there she is....the show stealer, Melanie.

She looks at me and smiles. "I'm glad you feel better!" she says. Oh " ever the Pollyanna this one.

"Et-Tu Brutus?" I want to scream as I throw gum in her hair.

Instead, I pretend to be hearing impaired " she'll by that....it's called ACTING!

In the end, the show must go on. I had a part, and although my character did not have a name, it had a heart and it was my job to give it everything I had.

Standing behind stage, I peak through the curtains. Wow! Packed house! I see parents, other kids; the reporters and talent scouts probably have a section to themselves. And I see " where are they " oh there they are! My mom, my dad and my little sis. Sitting first row center, there they were. To see me, to see their little star. And although it was December in Eureka South Dakota, my heart was as warm as a crackling fire.

"Whatever will we do?" said Mrs. Goodbar. She didn't shrug her shoulders, and she didn't own the part, but- a decent job none-the-less. And that is my cue.

I walk out on stage, we aren't supposed to wave to the audience, but I shoot my biggest fans my sparkling smile. I see my father, he sits up straight. I know he is proud and I know what he is thinking. I hear it in my heart.... There she is, that's my girl.

I step to stage left...lift the triangle borrowed from the high school orchestra. Ding Ding Ding.... "Gather round children, time for dinner." And that's that....my moment in the spotlight. My catch phrase, my Oscar caliber performance....

I never did get another part in a play, that year or any other. And, I never minded being ordinary. Because I knew, in my heart, I was extraordinary.

Life is a stage, and we are all actors dancing upon it. Isn't that what the greats say? We all have a place, we all have a role. And only we can decide how big or small our roles will be. I stole the show that night. I had my audience on their feet. And as they tucked me tightly into bed, kissed my cheeks and said they were proud of me, well, that, was the only award, I needed.

Copyright 2010 Marsha L Ackerman

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