In the midst of researching plays and songs for upcoming auditions, I've been reading my Great Uncle George Thoemke's "autobiographical sketch," a slim novel that he wrote for those of us lucky enough to be part of his family.
That's him up there in 1999 with my Mom, me, my Grandma Eleanor, and his wife, my Great-Aunt Gladys.
He wrote his memoirs in 1993 when he was 71, and this delightful little book details his childhood in North Dakota in the 1920s and 30s, his brief experience as a "real-life cowboy," to a brush with showbiz (changing the marquee for films playing in town. Movies were only 5 cents! Can you believe it?). He also covers his experience with WWII:
"I was there on D-Day, June 6, 1944... where we shipped across the rough old English Channel to Normandy, France... We had a fire-fight at a place called Domfront, a French Village. The Germans left Paris. Now it was the Free French turn to march in glory. General Charles de Gaulle was in Paris, and we marched in a show of strength for him... We marched to the famous Arch de Triomphe, and our picture was taken and placed on the 3 cent stamp. We were duly honored, since, as a rule, only the dead appreared on U.S. postage stamps."
His stories make me think of my grandfathers, who also served in the war, and all the crazy stuff they must've gone through. They both died relatively young, though, so many of their stories are unknown. We just have bits and pieces from what others remember, and thankfully, we have old photos.
I love this picture of my Grandpa Daniel, my Dad's Dad.
And I am beyond grateful for my Great Uncle George's journal. He ends his stories in 1955 after his promotion to Captain Thoemke during the Korean War, and how I wish he'd written more!
I remember him telling us kids all sorts of stories, about how my grandma and her sisters were hoping to be the next Andrews Sisters.
Their mother, my great-grandma, was very musical and played the piano. My Great-Aunt Eleanor played the trumpet, Grandma Dorothy (that's her above on the left with a friend) sang and danced and played the trombone, and my Great-Aunt Gladys sang. My Dad always says he feels like me and my brother inherited our musical genes from them.
My uncle also remembered hearing The Singing Nun on the radio, and he was so proud when I won an award for playing her in the New York Musical Theatre Festival.
He and Aunt Gladys and Grandma Daniel would've loved one of the last shows I did Off Broadway, Johnny On A Spot.
It was written in and took place in the 1940s, and I couldn't help but think of them as I did it. That was their time, ya know?
So that's my message for the day: write your memoirs! There are amazing stories we can share with each other! And there is so much to be learned and loved and savored!