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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My Mom's a Dancer

           Lois Kay Trevillian was born a year after Shirley Temple.  When Lois was a small child Shirley Temple was the rage of the nation.  Parents of little girls across the country dreamed of their child becoming the next Shirley Temple and little girls idolized her.  Lois was one of those girls.  I've often heard about this because Lois Kay Trevillian is my mother.

          The other day as I was talking on the phone with my mom, she was reminiscing about some of her experiences in her life and happened to mention in passing, "I should write a book!"  This immediately caught my interest and I encouraged her that she should.  She began to back down on the idea.  My mom's not too big on writing these days.  I told her that if she would just write down things in a rough draft, I would write the book for her.  I was fired up about it, but she wasn't.  Maybe I can just start writing things down and maybe come up with a good memoir someday.  It's funny, she's told me stories recently that I'd never heard before and I've known this lady for 59 years.

          Ever since I can remember she has told stories about her childhood aspirations as a Shirley Temple wannabe.  My mom started taking dance lessons at the Virginia Chittum Dance Academy in Morgantown, West Virginia when she was about five years old.  This undoubtedly was a tough sacrifice for her parents as this was during the Great Depression.  Her parents must have seen some special talent in their daughter and believed that she could be a dancer.  My grandmother used to show me pictures of my mother in her dance costumes and she did look a bit like Shirley Temple.  My mother said she even won a few Shirley Temple look-alike contests.

          As the years went on my mother continued studying tap dance and acrobatics. My favorite memory that she would share with me when I was young was how, when she was a teenager, she and some of the other older students accompanied their dance teacher, Virginia Chittum, to New York City.  I recall being fascinated as she described going to Coney Island.  They also attended  a Radio City Music Hall performance of the Rockettes, who had become the aspiration of the young dancers.

          Lois Kay, which was her stage name, began making a name for herself in her hometown of Morgantown as a tap dancer who also incorporated feats of acrobatics into her numbers.  She continued her dance career after she began attending the University of West Virginia. One her fellow students at the university whom she started appearing on the same stage with was Don Knotts, the actor who is most remembered as bumbling sheriff's deputy Barney Fife on the Andy Griffith Show. 

         Another performer with whom she would often work was a juggler by the name of Bob Jackson.  Bob was a very popular player on the West Virginia University Mountaineers basketball team.  Crowds loved Bob's performance on the basketball court as he would incorporate his juggling moves into his playing ala Harlem Globetrotters.  As fate would have it, Lois and Bob fell in love and after college continued pursuing their show biz dreams.

         My mother continued to perform her acrobatic tap dance act and the duo would get booked on shows in night clubs in the Cleveland, Ohio area where they had settled.  As she had her children--first me and then my sister-- she danced less and learned to juggle.  My mom and dad worked up a fast paced juggling team act that was always quite a hit on the shows where they performed.  My mom no longer tap danced, but she continued to perform her perilous balancing act on two folding chairs.  Eventually when my sister got older she took dance lessons and took over the act that my mother had been doing.

         After my siblings and I became adults and left home and no longer worked in the juggling act with my parents, my mom and dad continued to work the duo act they had started with.  My father juggled almost to the day he died of pancreatic cancer at age 67.  Toward the end, in a morphine induced delirium at the hospital, I recall him confusedly talking to my mother about their juggling act as he believed they were getting ready to perform.

       At age 80, my mother no longer dances, but she loves the television dance shows like Dancing With The Stars and So You Think You Can Dance.  And she can still tell a pretty good story when she wants to. Before he died, my father wrote his memoir, which is now in my possession, and which I hope to gather together with photographs so I can do a self-publication in the coming year.  I hope that my mother has many more years ahead of her, but I also hope she might reconsider that memoir idea.  She's got a great story to tell.

        I'm sure that there are many communities like the one where I live where free or nominally priced classes are offered to people who want to learn about or get help with writing their memoirs.  A memoir is a great thing to leave to children, grand-children, and beyond.  I know that several readers have written their memoirs.  If you haven't yet, have you ever thought about writing one?   Do you have any memoirs that your forebears have left you?  Has anyone had any experience with self-publishing a memoir?  Have any of you taken one of the classes in memoir writing and how did it help you?  Let's hear about some of your thoughts and experiences.


  1. You need to get on this, Lee, :) and encourage her to chronicle some of this. You don't want the memories to be lost.

    What an interesting life you lived.

    How about a photo or two of your sweet mom in part II?


  2. Sounds like your mother has some very interesting stories to tell. I hope she reconsiders writing her memoir. When I was into genealogy a few years back, I asked my mother, father and uncle write a little bio about themselves. Though only a few pages or in my uncles case, a few paragraphs, their words are very special to me.

  3. Your mother must have countless stories from her days as a performer, not to mention the personal ones of raising a family.

  4. Oh, you have so many stories--at your mom's fingertips!!

    I teach memoir classes from time to time at local libraries. There's so many "EASY" ways to go about it now. It does take...time.

    I second journaling woman's request for photos.


  5. `
    Your Mom's a dancer?
    My Mom's a-dead.
    (But when she was a-live, she too loved Shirley Temple.)
    ~ "Lonesome Dogg" McMe

  6. My mother does have a lot of stories, but I think like many people her age she thinks no one is interested. I'm trying convince her otherwise. When I'm visiting her in TN week after next I plan to get copies of some of her old photographs if she still has them. That's another thing-- she doesn't seem to think anybody cares about the old pictures. I keep telling her "I care!".

    Stephen-- I think almost every girl from that generation loved Shirley Temple. Heck, even I loved Shirley Temple when I was a kid, except that I always looked pretty stupid when I wore those cute little dresses.


  7. You could buy your mom a tape recorder of some kind for Christmas. Sounds like she enjoys telling the stories, so maybe it's the idea of writing them down that's making her back up.

  8. Tape recorder could be a good idea. I'm going to see if she would be receptive to the idea.

  9. Arlee, thanks for visiting my blog. At our senior center in town, there is a volunteer who is helping interested seniors write their memoirs.

  10. I love this article about Mom! I have really enjoyed reading all of your articles! Very interesting and informative!

  11. I enjoyed your blog,thank you for sharing. She has lived a very interesting and full life. We all should be so fortunate. Yes, encourage her to share more. Record her memories as she tells them to you. I wish someone had recorded my Dads World War II stories. He spent 4 years in Europe without a visit home. The most fascinating stories were about his guardian angel experiences. His guardian angel alerted me when Dad was dying. Thats a strange story too. Anyway, my Dad died at age 69 from heart failure caused by the flu. His birthday was Dec. 13th. He would have been 88 yrs. old. Miss him.

  12. Enjoyed the very interesting story about your mother. I bet she does have a lot of stories to tell.

    My wife Debby's mother has been working on her memoirs. She traced her family tree back to France and one of her ancestors gave the ship Constellation to the US government. Her memoirs are mostly a family tree and would not be near as interesting as you mothers.

  13. That's a wonderful gift to give your family. It's a great time to do it especially since your mom can still appreciate it.

  14. She always did tell really great stories. I think my favorite was "Run for the hills!"

  15. What a wonderful story...Lois is my mother and she does have quite a story to tell and Lee is my brother and he has a great future as a writer. I love them both and am quite proud of all their accomplishments.

  16. Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now. Keep it up!
    And according to this article, I totally agree with your opinion, but only this time! :)

  17. Let me be the dozenth person to suggest getting a recorder to capture your Mom's stories. That's the only way I ended up capturing some of ours (and some of them I got surreptitiously).



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