By DL PERRIN
Being known as the “puppet Lady” was not one of Mary E. Miller’s priorities when she moved to Indiana from Alabama. It just worked out that way and for that she is thankful.
“I started out with six puppets and now I have 43 between my personal collection and the puppets donated to the library,” Miller explained followed by her customary giggle.
Miller graduated from Indiana Wesleyan University with a degree in Christian education. “I was going to begin as a substitute teacher,” she said. “A friend of mine told me about an opening at the LaGrange Library and obviously I was hired.”
The puppet encounter was kismet. One day for “story hour,” Miller was going to talk about colors to the pre-school-age children. She saw a bright, blue puppet slumped in a heap on the shelf. “I said that is a good color to start with, so I grabbed him, put him on my hand and he became Professor Snoozie because he looks like he just woke up from a nap.”
Professor Snoozie has become her anchor and master of ceremonies for all of her presentations. He is the proverbial straight man. All the other puppets revolve around him. They have separate voices, names and quirks. “Oh, I never change their names or anything else about the puppet,” she said. “I like consistency and so do the children. When I get a new puppet I create a voice, mannerisms and personality all their own.”
Miller was adamant about discussing the puppets with the children and explaining they are just cloth puppets not real. She shows them how they work by her moving her fingers and operating levers in their bodies or heads to make parts move.
“I want to be honest with the children,” she said. “Besides they are very astute. They know when a character has changed and they tell you.”
Miller does not have a set script for all her shows. She does allow puppet characters to evolve and develop a history with family and friends.
“I had this one puppet Ollie Beeswax,” she said. “He has wild yellow hair and the kids never laughed.” Mary thought of dropping him. She suddenly decided to turn him into a spaced out hippie-type.
“I had him call everyone “dude,” she said. “The kids loved it and laughed at every ‘dude’ that came out of his mouth. They really like it when he calls me or one of the girl puppets, dude.”
“I really enjoy the shows.” She runs a very hectic schedule between the 14 to 20 kid’s shows and her regular programs as the youth librarian. “It keeps me busy, believe me, but I have so much fun with the children and I love making them laugh,” she said.
Miller does shows for all four public elementary schools and 10 area pre-school programs, every month.