When The Story Isn’t What You Thought It Was

Several months ago, we took my mother to see a production of The Music Man by the students of Asheville Christian Academy. It was very impressive–the cast ranged in age from grade school to high school and everyone gave a stellar performance. Sometimes you have to just grit your teeth and get through high school shows, but this one was a pleasure to attend.

Taking my mother to The Music Man started me thinking about an event that happened nearly 50 years ago, and though I wasn’t born yet, the story was one of those that was repeated every so often. It starts with another story of another family, and one that I also think about and want to tell, and it goes something like this:

Once upon a time, there was a daughter who lived with her mother in Asheville. I’ll call the daughter Lida Rose (in honor of The Music Man) and her mother will be Mrs. Rose. There must have been a Mr. Rose at one point, but whether he was dead and gone–or just gone–I don’t know.

Lida Rose was a smart girl, but very sheltered, and her mother–who may have been more than a little crazy–told her stories about men and how bad they were and how she should always be careful because men were just after one thing, etc., etc. For whatever reason, though, Lida Rose had a bit of gumption, and she decided to go ahead and live her life beyond the four safe walls of the little house she and her mother shared.

Sometime in the 1950s, Lida Rose landed a job as a secretary in Washington, DC, found an apartment, and began to try life on her own. According to everyone who knew her, she really liked the city and the job (and I’m pretty sure she liked living away from her mother, too, although Lida Rose was probably too nice to say so when she wrote letters home).

She hadn’t been in DC very long–less than a year–when something terrible happened. A drunken man came to her apartment in the middle of the night, hammering on the door and threatening to break it down and come in. Lida Rose woke up in terror, with all her mother’s horrible warnings ringing in her ears, and the stress of that awful moment caused her to have a stroke that left her partially paralyzed. She had to give up her job and move back home with her mother. The police determined that the drunken man went to her apartment by mistake–he had the wrong address.

When my grandparents moved into the Rose’s neighborhood, my grandmother got to know old Mrs. Rose and Lida Rose and visited them regularly. Sometime in the early 1960s, a traveling production of The Music Man came to Asheville (to the old City Auditorium which eventually became the Civic Center and is now the U.S. Cellular Center). Lida Rose wanted to see it, and asked my grandmother to go with her (Lida Rose didn’t drive). Musicals and shows were NOT my grandmother’s thing, so she volunteered my mother (her daughter-in-law) to go with Lida Rose while my grandmother stayed home and watched my older brother and sister. Mom thought it was a great idea–she loved the movie version of The Music Man–and she was happy to go with with Lida Rose to see a live performance of the show.

They had a good time and my mother still recalls how the opening scene with the salesmen was done with coat racks to suggest the sound and motion of the train. She thought Lida Rose had a good time, too, and enjoyed getting out to see the production.

I can remember visiting Lida Rose and Mrs. Rose with my grandmother when I was about four years old–Lida Rose was very nice, but Mrs. Rose was pretty scary…she had a lot of big teeth and she liked to shock visitors by answering the door wearing nothing but her underwear. Lawsy!

Lida Rose and her mother are both gone now, but life has a funny way of coming full circle. To see The Music Man, we took my mom in her wheelchair because two strokes over the years have affected her balance and vision. She uses a walker at home, but it’s too much to maneuver through crowds or for much of a distance.

So…two women who had nothing much in common besides 1) my grandmother and 2) an affection for musicals also ended up with a third commonality of having had serious strokes. I think of them both and how different their lives were except for these points of intersection. Mostly I think about how Lida Rose got away from her early life, yet ended up being dragged back to what she tried to escape from–sort of like those creepy Final Destination movies or a Tennessee Williams play (take your pick of those).

If you’ve read this far, you’re probably wondering what point I’m going to make. There’s no real point–I just always wanted to tell what happened to Lida Rose because her story hurts my heart, and I wanted you to hear it.

UPDATE: Before I posted this entry, I wanted to check my facts with my parents and ask them if I’d left anything out of the story of Lida Rose. My father had a VERY different version than the one I thought I knew. He said there was a Mr. Rose who was not only a nice man, but a very successful local businessman. When Mr. Rose passed away (not ran away), he left his wife and daughter enough money to live on for the rest of their lives.  My father said that Mrs. Rose was nice, too, and that her strange behavior only began when she was very elderly–probably as a result of dementia.

I thought I was telling the story of Lida Rose in the right way, but I think there’s both more and less to her story than I ever knew. That’s one of the huge dangers of assuming you know the whole story based on bits and pieces, and it’s a humbling reminder that real people aren’t omniscient like the narrators of stories. Whatever the real story was, I don’t know it–and that ends up being the point of this post.

One Comment

  1. Mtnsmith

    I remember visiting Lida Rose and her mother in the mid 1960’s… she rarely got a word in edgewise with the two older women (her mom and our grandmother were both the talkative sort) but I remember her as being an interesting person (my husband would have described her as ‘having her light on.’) She gave me a small cut-glass bottle of toilet water once; eeeek! Mama soothed my horror with an explanation of toilette water vs. that dipped by some madman from a porcelain throne.

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