She is older than both my mother and my father. In fact, if she were alive today, if she hadn’t died young when I was thirteen, she would be 98, and approaching the century mark. She was born in Grand Rapids, Minnesota in 1922.
And even though that’s right next door to where I was born in Mason City, Iowa, we were never really neighbors. Our families never met in person, and didn’t know diddly-boo about each other.
But she had a profound impact on our lives. And, boy! Could she ever sing and dance!
I don’t know why she ever felt that way, but Frances from childhood onward was always desperate to not be seen as fat.
She took pills to keep the weight off. She eventually had to take pills to sleep at night. Pills would make her suffer through most of her life. In fact, pills would eventually take her life.
But Frances Gumm would have an impact on my life. Frances would have an impact on my parents’ generation through the movie theater, back when you paid a dime to watch a movie projected on a white sheet tacked up on the Rowan firehouse wall. And she had an impact on my generation when we watched her on TV, mostly in black and white like we saw Meet Me in St. Louis. But also around Thanksgiving time. That movie they played every year.
Yes, Frances was a movie star.
But she didn’t go by the name she was born with in the movies.
And, boy! Could she ever sing!
And now that I am old and fragile, that song can make me cry. Like it did just now. And why?
Because Frances Gumm taught me something important when I was a little boy. Something that stuck with me for a lifetime.
While it’s true that there is no place like home, we are allowed to think about what is over the rainbow… and even to go there… and back again.
And I owe Frances for that memory. Especially because she had to struggle so hard to give me that. Frances, I will always love you for it.