Love of Life
A plain living room in a small town house. It is a late winter morning in the 1950’s. Anita Mae Trolio lies on the floor, watching television. Suddenly, she calls out.
Mother, I love watching these soap operas. They’re so real. Mother, come in here and see Love of Life. Vanessa Sterling is going out on a date. She is wearing a very flattering dress. A lovely shade of gray. Wonder what it looks like in living color. Mother, did you see those color television sets in LOOK Magazine? Wouldn't it be nice to have one of those...we could see the real color of Vanessa's dress...I’ll bet it’s like a dream come true…
Mother explodes from the kitchen, knife in one hand and a large onion in the other.
Anita, you ding dong! Can you shut your trap long enough for me to finish peeling these onions? Do you think fried onion rings appear out of thin air? Grow on trees? For Lord's sake, you'd think you were on the TV yourself, the way you blabber on so much. Now turn off that crap and turn on WHAT’S MY LINE? Bennett Cerf is on all week. It’s a very special week…
Love of Life isn't over yet.
Either turn on WHATS MY LINE? or get in your room and finish your homework. Your grades could certainly be improved. I think this here red onion is smarter than you. How many more years are you going to sit idle in the fourth grade -
But Mother! I never get to see this soap opera…
Not another word out of you. Oh Lord, why did it have to snow so much today that the snow plow couldn't get up here to Potpie Lake? Why did the schools have to close today, of all days? Of all weeks! Bennett Cerf is on WHAT’S MY LINE. Change the channel, dammit!
(Anita gets up and changes the channel, we hear music laughter and applause)
(She collapses back to the floor)
Oh, good, I didn't miss too much of WHAT’S MY LINE.
(Mother sits, jabbing the knife into the onion. She is quickly taken over by the program.)
Mother, which one is Bennett Certs? The dumpy guy or the bald guy?
His name is Cerf, not Certs, the one on the left, wearing the bow tie. He is good looking, and funny, too. Imagine on a date with him, laughing the night away
Oh, Bennett. I wonder if he likes fried onion rings. Do you, Bennett? Care to try MY fried onion rings?
He's a funny looking guy, Mother. I wonder if he has kids my age. Are they on television, too, Mother? His kids? Huh? Huh?
Anita, please, I am trying to enjoy Bennett Cerf. If I knew that you were going to be this annoying today, I would have shoveled you a route down Potpie Hill to school myself. Here, read the TV Guide.
(She tosses the TV Guide at Anita)
Oooh, Helen Hayes is the special guest. Helen, you are one glamorous woman. Your hair all done up. When I meet Bennett Cerf, I will wear my hear like that. What's her line, I wonder…
(She reads from TV screen)
“I wear two wristwatches." My, that is a line, if I ever heard one. I wonder if Helen Hayes laughs at Bennett Cerf. Why, she is looking him straight in the eye, and not laughing. If I were there, I’d be on the floor laughing.
(Anita flips absently through the TV Guide.)
Oh, Bennett, take me away from Potpie Lake and into your world of finery and sophistication. We could stroll down Park Avenue, dine at Twenty One, and enjoy our sponsor-related parting gifts. You could read to me from one of your books by the fountain at the Plaza.-
Mother, look, there is going to be a writing contest. A writing contest with prize money. With the prize money, I could buy us one of those new color television sets.
What are you saying, you can't even spell your own name, let alone win a writing contest. What could you possibly write about anyway...Ooh, Bennett, if I wasn't married to that drip of a husband, I would walk out of this miserable house, past Potpie Lake, down Potpie Hill, rush to New York City and whisk you off that stage.
You can’t go nowhere, Mother. The snow plow can’t get up here.
The Ford Motor Company is sponsoring a Writing Contest. We have a Ford station wagon, and a Ford television set. I have an advantage already. I could win. Seeing Vanessa Sterling’s dress would be a dream no more.
It’s a Philco Ford television, if you want to get specific. What a stupid dream, Anna Mae.
(Her eyes are getting watery)
Oh, Bennett, you make my eyes water...tears of joy…you bring so much happiness to a simple woman…take me!
What could I write about? Ford Cars? No, everyone else will do that.
(Leans back in her chair)
A commercial. Thank heavens. I don't know how much more Bennett Cerf my heart can take. Anita, run upstairs and get me a cool washcloth. I’m feeling a little warm.
(Fans herself with the onion)
Ford...Cars, Trucks...Ford City...Ford’s Theater, nooo...
(Sounding it out)
Phi-lco Ford, Ford Phil-co!
(She tries to snap her finger)
Mother, that's, it, I’m going to write a play about Henry Ford’s brother Phil and his company and I am going to win that contest. Color TV, here we come! Finally we will see what color dress Vanessa Sterling is wearing on her date! My dream will come true
Sure you will, and I’m going to bear Bennett Cerf's child. Forget the washcloth. Run in the kitchen and get a bowl for these onion rings. What a nitwit you are, Anita. By the time you get a color television set, Vanessa Sterling will be dead and buried. You ding dong. There will never be a color television up here at Potpie Lake and long as you are alive…get your silly head out of the clouds. Dreams never come true…Oh WHATS MY LINE is back on…oh Bennett, take me away.
(She swoons in her chair)
(at kitchen door)
Just you wait and see, mother, just you wait. Some dreams do come true.
END OF SCENE
The same room. Forty years later. Mother is sitting in a wheelchair, wearing her hat and coat.. The room is almost bare. After a beat, ANITA comes down the stairs.
Well mother, the upstairs is empty. Like you never lived here. Over fifty years of life, of memories, all packed up and moved away.
I can’t believe it. Old Potpie Lake is becoming a ski resort. And this old house is becoming a ski lodge. Wouldn’t your father be surprised? He built this house for me, all those years ago. In the middle of nowhere. On Potpie Hill.
What would really surprise him is how much the developer paid you for the house and land. You’re rich, Mother!
Lot of good all this money is. What can I do with it all at my age. I’ll just keep it right where it is, in the savings and loan for you. You need it, much more than I do. With both our names on the account, just in case…
That waitressing job isn’t going to last forever. Not that there is anything wrong with it.
Not now, Mother, we have to get you down the hill. What a day for it to snow so hard. I should have put chains on my tires. I really should save up for a set of snow tires.
Those few occasions that I am down the hill, in town, and the senior ride bus drives past your restaurant, I say to the other people in the bus. “That’s where my daughter, Anita Mae, works. She has been waiting tables there longer than any other waitress.” It brings a tear to my eye.
I bet it does.
(Looks around room)
It still looks the same, the same rug, and the same curtains.
They’re going to have to do a good bit of plastering to get these walls in shape, look at this hole behind where the TV used to be.
The TV was the only thing that could cover up that hole, it was so big. Why just last summer, I could hear a few mice in that hole. I had to turn the TV up to drown them out.
(Goes over to hole in wall)
I’m sure it’s too cold for mice to live in there. .They must have gone to the basement. By the furnace. They’ll be black as soot.
(Looks in hole)
Don’t see a nest…
(Sticks hand in)
Can’t feel nothing…what the…what this?
(She pulls out a faded old envelope)
Uh, we should be going, dear, it’s going to take a while to get my chair down that slippery hill.
(Brushes off envelope)
What? What the...
The Ford Motor Company, Writing Contest, Dearborn, Michigan. This envelope is over forty years old!
(Rips open envelope)
It’s my submission for that writing contest! The contest I was sure to win!
Mother you were supposed to mail this for me, forty years ago! How could you do that? You ruined my life?
I ruined your life? I think you did a good job of ruining it all by yourself. Dropping out of high school, marching in those silly protests, having a baby that you had to give up because the father walked out on you, never to come back. I was the disgrace of Potpie Hill and beyond!
I could have won that contest, Mother, and become a successful famous writer. I could have even been on What’s My Line. With Bennett Cerf! Those silly dreams of yours, Mother. He would have taken one look at you and run the other way! If he didn’t, he was the dumbest man on TV!
How dare you speak of the dead like that? I do not have to take this, Anna Mae Trolio. I don’t need you now, or will in the future. I can very well get don Potpie Hill on my own, and soon after I will go to the savings and loan and take your name off my savings account. You had better hurry back to work, you’ll need those tips!
(She angrily rolls off)
I don’t need you either…
(She unfolds the letter and reads around,, as if she is i front of the panel of judges)
Philip Ford, by Anna Mae Trolio, Age 12
We all know about the famous Henry Ford, who invented the automobile, but very little is known about his twin brother, Philip Ford.
Henry and Phil were born at about the same time, in Michigan, on a weekend, which was good because their mother had the day off from the factory that she worked at. Both boys were very smart. Henry liked to play with screwdrivers and wrenches and gasoline and Phil enjoyed dressing up his older sisters dolls and recreating scenes from famous books, like Gone With The Wind , Scarlet Letter and The Bible.
One day, while playing with his sisters dolls, Phil said to his mother, “Mother, I wish there was a way to let everyone in town see me playing with my sisters dolls. “ His mother, who already knew what the rest of the town thought of Phil playing with his sisters dolls, replied. “Phil, you could sit in the town square and play with your sisters dolls and everyone in town could watch.”
“Mother,” Phil scoffed, “I was thinking more of something like a teletype that could transmit moving images through some type of electrical wire from a box containing an assemblage of vacuum tubes to another similar device. I would then need to form a corporation to manufacture and distribute this device, and a production company to create entertainment to be broadcast to the town with these devices.”
His Mother thought that playing in the town square was a better idea. “The sunlight will be good for a big strong boy like you.”
Philip insisted on his idea. “I’ll call the company the Phil Ford Company, or Philco Ford. I’ll be famous.”
His mother was not amused. “Philip Ford, go out to the town square, and play with your sisters’ dolls!”
So Phil gathered up his sisters dolls, walked out the front door and headed towards the town square.
As he approached the square, he stepped off the curb into the street, only to be run down by his brother, Henry, in his new invention, the Model T.
Phil spent the rest of his life bedridden, with only his sister’s dolls to keep him company.
(She bows uncomfortably, and then laughs a bit…)
Well, that was just…awful! What on earth was I thinking?
Maybe mother was right not to send this in. I would have been the laughing stock of…but the envelope was sealed. .Been sealed for all these years, which means she never read this…
(Goes to door)
Mother? Don’t you try to get down the hill alone, wait for me. I’ll be right out!
I can manage fine on my own…ahhhhh…helppp!!!
(We hear a loud crash)
(Looks out open door)
Mother? Mother? Well that must have hurt. She’s not moving. Not one bit. Well, Mother, I guess you won’t be making it to the savings and loan after all. Tell Bennett Cerf I said hello.
(She steps out the door and closes it behind her.)
End of Play