Sunday, February 8, 2009


I just woke up from an actor’s nightmare! I was a playing a soldier in a play; it was almost time to go on stage and I could not get my lines. I kept reading them and saying them over and over and even rehearsed backstage and I couldn’t remember the name of the officer I was addressing and the various references or the message I was delivering.

I woke up in a cold sweat!

Now, I’ve never had trouble remembering lines. Delivering them believably, yes – remembering them, no. Don’t ask me to recite anything I’ve ever said onstage now, because once the show is over, my mind becomes a clean slate; but I can remember large amounts of dialog in short periods of time. I have a technique that allows me to do this and a brain that has cooperated in the past (I don’t know if the Lipitor changed all that or not).

When I was a senior in high school, my favorite teacher, Mrs. Amanda Ealleam, my English teacher, assigned poems to each person in my class to memorize. She gave the assignments from the poetry section of our literature textbook, going down the roll alphabetically. When she got to my name, the next poem was four lines. When she got to the name of the slowest learner in our class, Charles Jones, the next poem was eight lines. (I was Charles “date” for an athletic banquet once – meaning we sat together – so he bought me a beautiful sweater for Christmas and last I heard he was a mortician in Fort Worth were legend has it, he built a beautiful home for him and me!)

Anyway, the day before we were to recite our poems, Mrs. Ealleam had Charles and I trade poems. I learned an eight-page poem overnight. I recently looked up the poem, “Death of a Hired Man,” and did not remember any of it. I also learned 66 pages of dialog that included four monologues (one of them was two and a half pages long) in four weeks when I performed in New Works Writers Series “Yellow Man,” directed Dr. Imelda Hunt. The problem was not remembering the lines. The problem Dr. Hunt had was getting me to perform. (I am very hard to direct because I just say lines unless given direction; I truly believe a play is completely under the control of the director and if the director makes no demands of me, I have nothing.)

The point of all this preamble is that I DON’T HAVE TROUBLE REMEMBER LINES! So, why was I having a nightmare about forgetting lines? And why was I playing a soldier? It all made perfect sense in the dream and since dreams are not about what they seem, I will figure all this out. Anyway, I woke up and there was some infomercial on, so I switched to CNN to behold a different kind of Obama B(l)acklash. A former KKK member was apologizing as one of the African-American members of Congress listened.

This man, a Mr. Wilson, seemed sincere and the Congressman accepted his apology with grace and dignity, saying that it was given in the true spirit of non-violence and accepted with that same spirit of forgiveness as demonstrated by its progenitors, Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The scene reminded me of the story of “The Night the Stars Fell” told in a genealogy account:

“Anyone who has studied the history of American slaves in 1800's is familiar with the incident in the early part of the century, known as 'The Night the Stars Fell.'

"Many of the interviews with ex-slaves taken in the 1930's often spoke about ‘Night the Starts Fell’ and this story is also part of my own family's Oral History. Fortunately, for me, while on a trip to Chicago, I met and visited with an elderly cousin, Frances Swader. As a girl, cousin Frances heard the family matriarch, my gr. great grandmother, Amanda Young, speak about this same event--when the stars fell. Cousin Frances, told this story to me and I place it here for further generations to read about and to know of as a pivotal event in the lives of many 19th century slaves.

"Since Gr. Gr. Grandmother Amanda continually told this story, I have, as a result, been able to make a more accurate guess of her birth year. Born a slave in Maury County, Tennessee, Amanda said she was a small girl, when one night while sleeping in the quarters, someone started screaming outside. Her story continues in the manner in which she told it:

‘Somebody in the quarters started yellin' in the middle of the night to come out and to look up at the sky. We went outside and there they was a fallin' everywhere! Big stars coming down real close to the groun' and just before they hit the ground they would burn up! We was all scared. Some o' the folks was screamin', and some was prayin'. We all made so much noise, the white folks came out to see what was happenin'. They looked up and then they got scared, too.

‘But then the white folks started callin' all the slaves together, and for no reason, they started tellin' some of the slaves who their mothers and fathers was, and who they'd been sold to and where. The old folks was so glad to hear where their people went. They made sure we all knew what see, they thought it was Judgment Day.’

"Unfortunately, it would be many years before Amanda would be free from enslavement, and she and her parents remained slaves until the Civil War ended. She was fortunate to have been with her family, and her children had not been sold from her. But this incident stayed with her.

"Only a few years ago, while reading a book of African American quilt makers, I learned about a slave woman called Harriet Powers who made some of the most unusual quilts. This lady's quilts now hang in the Smithsonian. One of the panels of her quilts described in the book, told the story of the Night the Stars Fell. I was immediately excited to see this referenced. I quickly took note of the footnotes that gave a detailed description of the Leonid Meteor shower of 1833, and thus the real date of this event was learned. Between November 10th & 12th in 1833, for 3 consecutive nights, North America was witness to this dramatic shower of stars from the heavens. Amanda was only a child in the fall of that year. Her exact birth date has never surfaced in any records, but this historic reference to a spectacular astronomical event, in addition to our oral history of the Night the Stars Fell, somehow made an estimate of the time of her birth more realistic. Since she was a young girl when this event occurred, I have approximated her age to have been between 7 & 8 years. This would put her year of birth to be approximately 1826. The Leonid Meteor event of the 19th century has been recorded in many astronomy journals as the most spectacular meteor shower to have been recorded over North America to this date. It was also the most vivid memory of Amanda's childhood, which she spoke of, over and over till her death, in 1920.

"Every year on the evening of November 12, in honor of my ancestors I drink a special toast to Amanda and to her family, and to her spirit that continues in our family today, and then I go outside, and watch the stars.”

The event, as chronicled here, was confirmed by a family’s oral history, as well as in the fabric of a quilt. I mention “the night the stars fell” as a story handed down by a slave ancestor of one of the characters in my novel They Just be Killin White Folks (A Vampire Tale of Bloodlust, Terror, and Horror) written uner a pen name. There’s also a “KKK rally” in the novel that’s actually a ploy by some vampires to try to scare the black folks in the small community where it’s set into leaving the area. However, the lynching violence in the novel is real. I cite two recorded lynchings and one that was never recorded that happened in the community where I was born and where I attended school. My mother told me about it. (I also created two fictitious lynchings in the novel as part of the development of one of the characters who is “the embodiment of evil.”)

I don’t know what my dream means quite yet (I’ll figure it out; I’m good at interpreting dreams, as long as I know the person having the dream – so it won’t take me long to figure this one out!); but I am glad that I woke up in time to hear that apology and to see one of the many positive effects of America’s election of its first black President.

FOOTNOTE: I did figure out that dream! It means I have trouble "falling in line" with a regimented "script" for my life and will probably panic and be unable to cope if I'm ever put into a situation where I have to do any of the above - so no more working fulltime for me!

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