victor cummings
 stories & storytelling
When I started kindergarten in the early 1960’s, the other kids made fun of the way I talked.  For one thing I could not reliably pronounce the letter “R” no matter how hard I twied.  The other problem was that I spoke with an oddly out-of-place Texas accent, given that I’d never lived in Texas, and I was growing up in rural Washington State.
    My kindergarten portrait, in which I am feeling miserable
    and trying very hard not to cry.

My second-hand Texas accent came straight from my mother, who had been raised on the Texas Panhandle.  When I was very young, I spent long country days happily in my mother’s company.  With few neighbors and no telephone, I had limited social contact with anyone outside of my family---until I went to school, that is.  So it’s no wonder I entered kindergarten sounding like I’d arrived on a tumbleweed from West Texas!

But payback is a mother...and I confess I’ve spent my entire life teasing and imitating my mom. She loves to talk and tell stories, so she’s given me plenty of material over her many long years.  One comment I have heard so many times throughout my life:  “Your mom is really a character!” 

 A number of years ago I was participating in a storytelling workshop with Susan Banyas in Portland.  The life story that emerged for me was “a lesson in truth” about a real experience I’d had with my mother as a young child.  In order to perform that story,
I found myself going into character using the “voice” of my mom, which is deeply ingrained in my stories of her.

So from that beginning, along with a lifetime of entertaining family & friends with my impromptu impersonations---usually in the kitchen, waving a spatula just like she did---
the comic storytelling character of “Wanda Bee” has emerged (but don’t you dare tell that I told you her middle name is Bee!)

In autumn 2010 after my father died, we moved my mother (in real life) into a memory care home due to Alzheimer’s.  She now lives in a mysterious world of disconnected synapse and syntax, and talking with her has become an exercise in improvisation.  Her once-formidable powers of language are all but lost,
along with her lifetime of stories.

Throughout 2011, I did a series of monthly musical performances designed around different themes.  Most of the shows opened with a story from my life related to the evening’s theme, and to my own surprise, I performed a number of stories in the comic character and costume of “Wanda Bee.”

Wearing a curly white wig and bright red lipstick, a comfy old robe, and a purse full of memories, I shared some of her wit and wisdom with my audience of friends---many of whom have adopted “Wanda Bee” as one of their own.  

Whether the topic is making biscuits, raising boys, or just trying to remember which end is up, you can bet “Wanda Bee” has been there, done that, and has an opinion about it.  And true to character, “Wanda Bee” has taken on a life of her own---and in fact has let it be known that she’s ready for her own show!

-VC, January 2012

Mama at my wedding, 1990.                                                                                   

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