Tales of the South Pacific with Love in Detroit

Tales of the South Pacific with Love in Detroit

Tales_of_the_South_Pacific_Michener400Detroit, MI— It’s the month of love and the day February 3rd is the birthday of American novelist and short-story writer James Michener (1907-1997), a favorite of my late husband Charles. Michener’s novels were detailed and researched extensively. He was known for making foreign lands accessible to Americans through his epic “fictional documentaries.”

One of Michener’s most famous stories was inspired by his stint in the U.S. Navy during World War II when he served as a naval historian in the South Pacific. His fiction collection Tales of the South Pacific (1947) took place there and Michener won a Pulitzer Prize in 1948 for it. The Tales presented that part of the world as exotic and foreign and dealt with the issue of racism.

The collection was later adapted for the Rodgers and Hammerstein romantic Broadway musical South Pacific in 1949, a 1958 film adaptation and numerous revivals. It is considered to be one of the greatest musicals of the 20th century and is one of my personal favorites. My introduction to South Pacific was through my high school in suburban Detroit, Michigan where I saw the musical directed and performed quite professionally by teachers and students.

southpacificalbumcoverThe musical opens on a South Pacific island during World War II, where Ensign Nellie Forbush, a naïve young Navy nurse from Arkansas becomes romantically involved with Emile de Becque, a French plantation owner. Nellie sings to Emile telling him she is “A Cockeyed Optimist.” And Emile later sings “Some Enchanted Evening” to Nellie tenderly  recalling their first meeting. Nellie struggles with her relationship with Emile – conflicted because of their different backgrounds and whether she should allow herself to fall in love with him.

The story of Nellie and Emile resonated with me when I met my husband Charles. He had a wonderful baritone voice and would often sing “Some Enchanted Evening” from the musical South Pacific to me. I loved that. “And somehow you know / You know even then / That somehow you’ll see her / Again and again.”

But like Nellie I was conflicted about our relationship. Charles was nearly 20 years older than me, we were “born on the opposite sides of the sea. . .” and we had only known each other a “few short weeks and yet. . .” That’s how I was feeling about Charles.

I reconsidered our relationship and thought of breaking it off, but soon realized I was in love with Charles and “ran to his side.” We had both discovered a need for each other in that stage of our lives and had the courage and sense of adventure to give it a try!

Happy Birthday, James Michener and thanks to Rodgers and Hammerstein! I will never dream all alone. With Love in Detroit, Sandy

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