Entertainer proves age is a state of mind

RAPPING AND ROLLERBLADING

September 09, 1993|By Katherine Richards | Katherine Richards,Staff Writer

Ellen T. Johnston-Hale chats with seniors at the Taneytown Senior Citizens Center, casually doing figure-eights in the air with a drum majorette's baton as she rollerblades from room to room.

She is 63 years old. She had hip replacement surgery seven years ago.

Mrs. Johnston-Hale carries the baton because she is practicing for Oct. 9, when she will make a lifelong dream come true by leading the University of North Carolina marching band -- at her alma mater -- before a Homecoming Day crowd of 30,000 to 60,000 people.

She was in Taneytown yesterday to spread the word that it is never too late to make dreams come true, to have fun, to be yourself.

She was invited to the senior center to lead the final session of an eight-week workshop based on her video, "Over-60 White Woman Rap":

"Our beauty won't go, but it will slip and hide.

"Beauty's shining now, from the inside.

"But we can still taste life, the zing, the zest of it.

"No matter what, we can make the best of it."

Mrs. Johnston-Hale is a writing teacher, author, entertainer and consultant, described in her brochure simply as "Rapper and Rollerblader."

She lives in Chapel Hill, N.C. She taught for 11 years, then became a poet-in-the-schools. She has written seven books of poetry and emceed a public television show, "Poetry Live."

Her works range from fun, Ogden Nash-like poems about old TV movies, to serious ones about a race riot in North Carolina or the pain of losing a spouse.

"We've known what it is to hurt and lose.

"We've paid the tolls, paid most of our dues.

"We've known what it is to get off the beam,

"To give up a love, give up a dream.

"We've lost through death; we've lost through divorce,

"But we've hurdled the obstacles on the course.

"Some of us have come way up from the depths.

"Now we're going for gold with determined steps."

Mrs. Johnston-Hale says she didn't think of her poetry reading as rap until she had performed a poem about a pipe-smoking woman for some students. They liked it, and asked her to "do some more rap."

K? The "Over-60 White Woman Rap" video lasts about 10 minutes.

It is upbeat, backed with a little bass that gives a flavor of talking blues to an epic poem done to the rhythm of a rap.

Mrs. Johnston-Hale is tall and trim, resplendent in an ensemble of tights, shorts, in-line skates, helmet and knee pads, color-coordinated in neon shades of purple, pink and teal.

She wears a button that says "Over the Hill and On a Roll," and one that says, "Refuse to grow up."

She wears two mood rings. Around her neck hangs a smalfluorescent pink bottle of bubble soap. She pauses once to blow bubbles, explaining, "If the kid in you is still alive, you love bubbles."

" 'Cause I'm over 21, considerably,

"And I've earned the right to be no one but me.

"What this is is a national call-up

"For all of us, to free us all up.

"What is the problem? What is the fuss?

"Haven't we earned the right to be us?"

Many people say she's crazy. She doesn't listen.

"What is crazy, anyway?" she asks. "I just fight normalcy."

She asks the group of about a dozen Taneytown seniors, "How many of you still feel 15 years old, or 10?"

Several smile and raise their hands.

It is OK, she says, to show it, to stomp in mud puddles or to don in-line skates.

Soon the teacher in her emerges, and she is helping the seniors write brief poems about their remembered experiences, swinging on a tire swing or sledding down a hill on a toboggan made out of a coal chute.

Jack Gebhardt, acting manager of the center, is working on a discussion guide to accompany Mrs. Johnston-Hale's video. He hopes the guide will allow other senior center managers in Carroll and Maryland to use the video as a springboard for discussions.

One scene in the video shows Mrs. Johnston-Hale's portrait as a 30-year-old woman with a beautiful, creaseless face. Back then, she says, she lacked confidence and worried too much about her appearance.

She says, "If I had what I know now, with those looks, I'd have been dangerous."

Mary Davis, 68, of Tyrone, laughs, and says, "We might still be dangerous."

"And when all is said, and when all is done,

4( "Don't we deserve to have some fun?"

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