When I was a child my love of storytelling took so many forms. I loved to read Grimm’s’ Fairy Tales to my grandmother as I sat at her feet and she took a fine comb to my hair looking for dandruff. I loved comic books and later I devoured the magazines like Photoplay with the stories of the lives of the actresses and actors. My love of acting took me further than I ever thought I would go but not as far as that long held dream of starring in a play on Broadway. I longed to crawl into the lives of other people, to be them as least for awhile. On some level I knew I wasn’t movie star material but I had heard the sound of applause; that was the affirmation I needed.
But as a child I didn’t foresee one day acting in a play in the Richard Rogers Theater in Boston, of looking up in the balcony which was so steep it seemed right over my head. I would never have dreamed of 30 years in the media as a news anchor, TV and radio talk show host, always telling stories. I loved interviewing on radio because there was more time than on TV. I sought out and found people I wanted to interview Deepak Chopra before anyone was familiar with his work, Elmore Leonard with his fascinating crime stories, even my teen age idol Eddie Fisher. I saw the handsome young man on his own show sponsored by Coke not the old man who sat in the studio delighting in making me squirm as he told me about his sex life with each of his three wives. Stories don’t always end the way you think they will end.
But it is the stories from my family. I asked so many questions and I have a good memory so I have been able to fill in the blanks in at least some of my family history. What a shock to find the similarities among the lives of my great grandmother, my grandmother, my mother’s and my own. Each of us faced daunting challenges, heartbreak, betrayal and the need to somehow summon strength we didn’t know we had. What a gift I owe them and how grateful I am for their stories. I asked the questions about their lives. They told me some of the answers; other answers I found from relatives, of putting together the pieces of the puzzle. In the weeks before my mother died while she was in the nursing home she hated, before I had her moved to Hospice she told me of some of her childhood memories…of the aqua gown she wore to the prom and how it swirled around her as she danced the Lindy and the Turkey Trot. She told me of the excitement of being the one in her family allowed to turn on the lights for the first time when electricity came to the small Vermont village where she lived.
Of course, there are many questions that are unanswered. Somewhere I believe there is a half brother I have never met, part of a secret life my father led during the years I was growing up. I started to pursue the story. Decades after “the other woman” and my father had died I picked up the phone and called the dead woman’s brother. I was the one who had seen her. I knew her name. “Tell me about my father and Irene”, I said. “Carole, let it go” he said. “They are gone now. There is no reason.” I had called given my name and simply asked the question. It was as though I had asked the question in 1950. It was not just my story. The man I think my dad fathered doesn’t know that we share a father. He thinks he was adopted by a family member. I hang up the phone when I reach him. It is my father’s voice on the other end of the line. I see now the clues that I didn’t see when I was growing up. I feel my mother’s pain and how she wrestled away the power in the family from my father. He allowed her to do that.
Some questions I tried to ask were left on the table. I was a mother of two sons at that time.“Tell me about the problems you and my mother had in your relationship “I said. He averted my eyes. “Oh you talk to your mother about that”, he said. Was the relationship ongoing with the other woman? I will never know.
If I come across as an interviewer when I meet people (which I have been accused of) it I want to climb into that person’s head. Now come the stories of the people I interview for my new venture Carole Nelson Biographies. They hold me enthralled. No one has a boring life. I want that person to leave a footprint, to say:” I was here. This was and is my life, its challenges, its joys; this is what I want people to know about me when I am gone.” I want to help them to do that. My passion of “making on to believe” has continued all these decade since I first listened to and told stories to my imaginary friend Mary Jane. The stories have only become richer. This picture is of my mother and her parents. I could swear my grandmother is crying.