Michael Jackson, who famously dangled his son over a hotel balcony, apparently came up short next to a stern Chicago father named Clem Lacy. When he caught his children dropping water balloons out of their apartment window one day, he angrily sought to teach them a lesson. A strong man, Lacy dangled his four children one at a time by their feet out of the window, giving each terrified child a new view of the street below, and a sharper appreciation of their wrongdoing.
This bit comes from "Mama 'n Nem: Handprints on My Life" (Kirk House Publishers), singer/actor Greta Oglesby's memoir of her childhood in Chicago.
Oglesby, best known for her portrayals in August Wilson's dramas at Penumbra, the Goodman and elsewhere and for headlining "Caroline, or Change" at the Guthrie, has a conversational style in "Mama 'n Nem." She tells family secrets in vignettes that do not feel gratuitously revealing. Instead, the stories, including one about the author surviving an attempted sexual assault, come from a place of victory and grace.
Oglesby's father, a storefront preacher, worked as a building super. His family lived rent-free, but would have to move when he changed jobs. When they finally got their own home, Lacy set up a church in the garage.
The family members (whose names Oglesby changed) in "Mama 'n Nem" are worthy of their own TV comedy series. Among them are Aunt Sky, a scarred, one-time alcoholic who came to sobriety and fiery religiosity; proud gay cousin CeCe, who inherited property from his mother, and Uncle Bud, a wounded Vietnam veteran with an appetite for drink and roasted raccoon.
The scenes sketched in "Mama 'n Nem" have gaps that give rise to questions. We want to know when something happened, or how.
Still, what some of the stories lack in contextual elements, they make up for in humor.