Not Being Funny and the History of Roberta Guthrie

So it was a bitter Winter and Spring of loss this year.  In a little over six months I was debilitated by the death (in order) of my sister (December 22), dog Bonny (January 23), dear friend John (May 23), and my bird of 18 years Cole (July 29).

I see myself to a fault as a “doer.”  I keep busy and am one that fills in my time with many people and activities I deem important as an artist and teacher.  For a seasonRobertasCoverITunes here I have been recalibrating to new realities without pets, family and friends.  The things that have been important have been simple, like eating and connecting with others and “living.”  I have also been struck that I feel at least for a season here I lost my ability to create humor.  The podcast “Roberta’s Pearls” has gone silent since last October.  When I made the time to do so I was lovingly putting this podcast out there simply because it’s goofy and I have a good time creating it. Consider it an odd gift of sorts.

Roberta Guthrie is an aunt of mine (well, sort of) that came to life my sophomore year of high school. In Phoenix Arizona where I grew up I was on Sunnyslope High School’s speech team.  My speech teacher one afternoon handed me the script for the old play and movie Arsenic and Old Lace to perhaps compete with in an upcoming speech tournament.  In the story a nephew Mortimer (played by Cary Grant in the movie) is staying with his two dear old elderly aunts and discovers they have been knocking off old men because their victims look so peaceful and happy when they do so. I had to come up with two elderly women’s voices, and Roberta Guthrie was born in the voice of Abby one of the Aunts. The other aunt Martha, is actually the voice now of Roberta’s best friend Gay Franks.

Annex - Grant, Cary (Arsenic and Old Lace)_03

An image from the 1944 production of Arsenic and Old lace with Mortimer (Cary Grant), Abby (Josephine Hull) and Martha  (Jean Adair)

While I competed with Arsenic and Old Lace back in the early 80’s, I did quite well.  One competition particularly I achieved what is called a “picket fence” in that I was ranked first (out of six competitors) in all the rounds that I competed in from the preliminary to  final rounds of the competition.  Let’s just say my little high school ego which was pretty low, thought maybe I was onto something with this old woman’s voice.

And so, Roberta Guthrie (as I would call the voice) became a part of my life.  I would fool friends and their parents when calling, asking to borrow ingredients for a recipe or inquiring if they knew what so-and-so was up to.  My mother who was always up for a good joke loved Roberta. So when receiving a call from a telemarketer she would inevitably say, “let me have you talk to my mother-in-law,” and then hand the phone to me.  Laughing with delight she would get on another phone to listen in as I tried to keep the unsuspecting agent on the phone as long as possible.  I remember one such call where they were selling lightbulbs of which Roberta kept asking if they sell other things like tin foil, “because there are just so many things you can do with tin foil….” She was hung up on by a very exasperated voice shortly thereafter, with my mother laughing in another room.

At the time I was also dear friends with a buddy name Mark who as a “little person” was just around three feet tall.  Although a teen like myself Mark could speak if he chose to do so in a voice that sounded convincingly like a child, and so our crank call endeavors began.  Roberta would call a number and simply say “Hello dear, I really need to talk to…” and then the doorbell would ring.  Roberta would remark, “Oh my that is the door and I think is my grandson.  You know dear can I get that?  I’ll be right back.”  If the caller said “Yes,” the game would begin.  Mark would then “come in” as my grandson Jonathan who just got dropped off by his mother.  Roberta would say she forgot what she was doing and it was important… hmmm… and would he like some cookies?  Jonathan would say yes and then say “Your phone is off the hook grandma!” of which then Roberta would reply, “What? I’m getting your cookies sweetheart!”  Mark would get on the phone and say “Hello” and the fun would ensue as they often would say “Your grandmother has just called me; can you get her back on the phone?”  From there we had a number of avenues we would go down all in the hopes of keeping the caller on as long as possible.

There are more stories that I could tell about my dear Aunt Roberta that perhaps I will return to at some point here, but for now let’s just say Roberta will find her way to make another “pod-casty” sometime soon.  Heaven knows I’m sure she’ll have something to say to all of us.

You know I never had a living grandmother and even in High School I thought that Roberta came out of that absence.  Who wouldn’t want a dear Christian, somewhat naïve and shortsighted quirky grandmother?  So with all the losses as of late, maybe the space that remains makes room for new things, perhaps even a space to laugh.   We’ll see now wont we?



About abiggerworldyet

Visual Artist Brother Sojourner College Professor Christ follower
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1 Response to Not Being Funny and the History of Roberta Guthrie

  1. anilo13 says:

    Thank you for sharing what’s on your heart. What a delight to learn about Roberta’s origins; you have a gift for storytelling! I hope all is well and wish you the best this season.

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