Have no idea what will come under this heading. Today just wanted to throw out something written a while ago about one aspect of my writing journey. It’s part of many slices that fit into memoir, family history, bio–it isn’t perfect–it just is.
I’m Flo, The Third One
I’m Flo—Flora Nelson Reilly—born in 1996 in a sandwich shop slash used bookstore in Adrian, Michigan, next door to the opera house. I happened to be there because my college daughter was auditioning with the Adrian Opera Company and someone had to drive.
I’m one of four who shares this body, and each of our births was unique in its own way. The first-born, Antoinette, slid through the Canal on August 14, 1941, the day Roosevelt and Churchill issued the Atlantic Charter, although that’s not what made her birth unique. She was the only survivor of three pregnancies, born surrounded by love, fear and rage—the love of a Mother who knew she might die from that pregnancy, and the fear and rage of a Father who could lose his wife because of the child they had conceived.
The second member of the quartet, Tonie, came into being around 1954-55. Bill Haley and the Comets, The Platters, The Four Aces, Four Lads, “Cherry Pink,” and of course–Elvis! Tumultuous years, those—trying to figure out the who and why of me in connection with others my age. Too complicated to explain now—besides, am still not sure I have an answer to the who and why of that era yet.
The youngest of the four, Spicywings, rallied in 2000. Hers was a birth based on pure lust, aging hormones and desperation. Besot with a multitude of health issues, surrounded by a hysterically chaotic family situation, convinced of her own imminent death, Antoinette surrendered her spirit to the Fates; but Spicy burst through anyway, all because of a TV episode of “Buffy” entitled “Lover’s Walk.” She came out with a vengeance for the love of a blond vampire.
But Antoinette, Tonie and Spicy don’t matter here—they can write their own stories later. This one is mine! I’ve chosen to tell it now because there are too many people out there that the damn “normals” have convinced that having more than one person reside in a body is evidence of insanity; that it’s a “neurosis resulting in one personality splitting off into dissociative parts, fighting for control.” That’s bullshit. What’s insane is NOT enabling those personalities to split, because once they are given the opportunity and grab it, they begin the melding process. We’ve been taught to fear the multiples, mock them, treat them as we would a disease. They’re not diseased, just disconnected. They’re not fighting for control. They’re simply seeking cohesiveness. Now I’m not saying ignore their existence–just don’t treat them like the enemy. They contain parts of you that are essential to your becoming whole.
1996, Adrian Michigan was your typical, sleepy little Midwestern town of 22,000 with a Main Street, Rexall Pharmacy, quaint owner-operated shops and the ever-present Ace Hardware store. It boasted one jewel–the Croswell Opera House built in 1866 and hostess to names like Maude Adams, Charles Frohman, Thomas W. Keane, Victor Herbert, James Whitcomb Riley, John Phillip Sousa and Edwin Booth. For a while the Croswell became a movie theater, fighting to stay alive during the Depression years, its various renovations reflecting the significant changes in American entertainment preferences and architectural taste and functions.
Our first night in Adrian we attended a Master Class on operatic acting. The instructor? The Director-Emeritus for the Croswell—a man of many faces—writer, actor, musician, comedian and center square on the Hollywood Squares—Charles Nelson Reilly. He enveloped his students, the ever-present cap firmly implanted on that brilliant head to protect yet another crop of hair plugs. He led the contestants thru arias, showing them that the emotion of the music, while beyond perfection, was still not enough—they had to experience and interpret each note through body language, movement, facial expression. They were more than singing heads who could hit a high-C.
The actual auditions took place the next day and, since they were closed auditions, I had to find some place to be an unobtrusive Mom. Next door to the Croswell I located an inviting used-book/library/sandwich shop. The sandwich of the day was home-cooked honey and ginger-ale baked ham on freshly baked hot dark rye. I ordered lunch and turned when Mr. Reilly and two associates entered and chose a table in the corner. I’d never met a “celebrity” before face-to-face, unless you counted Speaker of the House McCormack, Mayor Richard Daley the First, the White Sox and Cubs, Roy Leonard (ok, so now I’m showing off just a little). I felt a bit panicked, but was compelled to thank Mr. Reilly for the Master Class. He was incredibly gracious, rose, took my hand, asked why I was at the class, and then thanked me for my comments.
I chose an out of sight corner, and began writing in my journal. When Mr. Reilly’s party left, he approached my table asking what I was doing. I responded that I was pretending to be a writer and he gave that wonderful airy laugh of his. Then he slapped his hand down on the table and said, “I know who you remind me of—my agent, Flo! She’s a wonderful woman, but a really bad agent. She only has two clients, me and some guy named Sondheim.” Then he shook my hand and left with a flair that only Charles Nelson Reilly could pull off.
Flo! Flo Sondheim??? Flora! I played with it a bit. Flora–who? Simple. Flora Nelson Reilly For the remainder of the weekend when he saw me either at a performance, waving across a buffet table, or just wandering about he’d shout out “Hey, Flo, how you doing?”
The final performance by the contestants was held that Sunday afternoon, followed by a lovely reception. My daughter didn’t win, but a vote was held of the audience of 900, and she was voted their favorite performer. When she came into the reception area, dressed in her jeans and sneakers, I approached her from one side, unaware that Mr. Reilly was approaching from the other. He took her hand and congratulated her profusely, then spotted me.
“Flo? Is she yours? Oh, my, you are both so fortunate.”
He had NO idea!
I’ve written a lot as Flora Nelson Reilly since that memorable weekend in Adrian, Michigan and meeting THE Charles Nelson Reilly. On his passing I cried, a lot. We only had about 15 total minutes of contact, but they affected me profoundly. I met a man I knew only as a comedian and a “center square” and learned he possessed so many levels of expertise they couldn’t be numbered. Perhaps that’s what that weekend was about—teaching me that I was more than just “Antoinette,” that I went much deeper and that was a good thing.
Flo still exists, but on a much different level. I’m forever grateful that she is my third person. As Flo she allowed me to express me (albeit under a pseudonym), and gave me the freedom to think outside my walls. No matter where I may end up in life, I’ll never lose Flo.
So, welcome those odd people who pour out of your mind at times with crazy stories or memories you didn’t know you carried with you. They don’t mean you’re going insane–and if you are, so what. To quote Henry Chinasky: “Some people never go crazy. What truly horrible lives they must lead.”
Thanks Mr. Reilly!