DeeAnne, poet/vocalist/place enthusiast/activist/history buff/animal adopter/and a whole bunch of other things, is on the roof of her apartment building, sitting in a beach chair soaking up the sun.
There’s a little chill in the autumn air so she’s wrapped her aunt’s floral-patterned coat – it looks, she notes, like the outfits Julie Andrews made from frumpy floral draperies for the captain’s kids in The Sound of Music – around her prison-orange Astoria T-shirt.
“Everything” is a very big topic.
It’s well, everything, and for DeeAnne, who is board president of the Greater Astoria Historical Society, it starts with the recent pandemic past.
As she’s bringing out a series of CDs she recorded earlier in her life, she tells a story about renting a car to visit her mother in Florida; it involves a pup tent and a portable potty and scads of sightseeing.
And that’s important because DeeAnne’s passion for what she calls “poking around” in the universe of things can be traced back not only to her mother but also to her father.
DeeAnne, who has auburn hair and still calls herself a Southern belle despite her current address and New York accent, was born in Athens, Georgia, and spent her childhood in Richmond, Va.
Her mother taught piano, and her father, who died when she was 9, was a veterinarian.
“My parents were interested in everything,” she says. “We used to go on Sunday drives to look around and find stuff.”
From an early age, DeeAnne took dance and music lessons and developed an affinity for animals. At one point in her life, she even considered following in her father’s footsteps.
She found herself on the stage instead.
“I had horrible stage fright, I would get sick to my stomach,” she says. “I could not do solos; I could only do bit parts in school plays.”
DeeAnne went to college to try to find a single, suitable subject to devote her life to.
It didn’t work.
After graduating from The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. with a degree in liberal arts and a minor in French, she worked for the school for a year and continued taking courses that interested her.
Then she began trying on new locations.
She temped her way through Orange County, California and Greenpoint, Brooklyn and Greenwich Village and the East Village before setting her sights on Paris.
A certificate from The New School to teach English as a second language to adults was her ticket there.
As so often happens, she fell in love not only with Paris but also with a guy.
“He was a student of mine,” she says. “We had a long-distance relationship for a couple of years then married and came to New York.”
Twenty years ago, they settled in the Astoria apartment DeeAnne still lives in.
For a variety of reasons, things didn’t work out as planned, and they divorced after a couple of years.
“During the divorce, I soothed myself by getting back into music and poetry,” she says. “I got smitten by jazz – I was hanging out in Harlem and the Village and absorbing everything.”
Her pay-the-bills daytime temp job turned into a full-time position – she’s still with the same company as an administrative assistant – and she continued to pick up singing gigs.
When the music side of her life dwindled – “most of the clubs I performed in are gone, and as you age, it’s not always easy to live a double life, going to bed at 2 a.m. and going to work at 8 a.m.” – DeeAnne pursued some of her other interests.
Ah, her other interests … she mentions embossed bricks, historic walking tours of the city, adopting a 13-year-old cat during the pandemic (she died, but DeeAnne is going to get another one) and working for Amnesty International.
Oh, she almost forgot. She loves to get into costume.
You may have seen her at The Idiotarod shopping cart race, the Easter Parade and Easter Bonnet Festival on Fifth Avenue, the Coney Island Mermaid Parade, the Pride Parade, the Halloween Harvest Festival at Socrates Sculpture Park and the Village Halloween Parade.
“During the pandemic, I’ve started walking around the city for hours,” she says, adding that at one point she had been a member of a historical society in each borough. “I’m fascinated by history and what’s happened to the places we are in now. New York City is like an onion because there are so many layers.”
Like many New Yorkers these days, DeeAnne is evaluating and re-evaluating her life and her goals.
She always thought she would stay here, but now she’s not so sure.
She had a bunch of ideas for new projects, such as opening a bookstore that provides live entertainment and cinema screenings. She, of course, would be one of the singing acts.
And she wants to adopt a lot of animals, which isn’t really feasible for an apartment dweller.
“I love it here, but I wonder what it’s going to look like when this is over,” she says. “Upstate is starting to look nice.”
She stares directly into the bright sun, as if searching for guidance.
“It’s hard to choose among all my interests,” she says. “I’ll just wait for things to unfold.”
Copyright 2020 by Nancy A. Ruhling