Characters From Our Youth and Lessons Learned

I’ve always been two things: an extrovert and a bookworm. I don’t think one came before the other, but rather grew simultaneously. Before I was able to read on my own, my mom spent a lot of time reading to me. It was the benefit of being both a military bride and stay-at-home mom.

According to my mom, I started reading on my own when I was 3, but before that she would read me Bible stories and a set of books called Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories. I used to love these little stories about children like me. Through those stories I learned the importance of kindness and sharing and doing nice things for others while expecting nothing in return. These stories showed me that my good and bad days were under my own control.

It was also during this time that I found my first favorite heroine. Who was it? A young girl from my Bible stories named Hadassah, who later became known as Queen Esther. Not only was she beautiful, kind and loyal, she caught the eye of a king and won his favor….putting her in the right place to save her uncle who raised her as well as the entire Jewish race. She was, even from my young view, bold, brave and a bit heroic. And so began my love of strong female characters.

As I got a little older I read books like Heidi , but found them to be nothing but interesting reads…until at about 7 or 8, I discovered Little Women. When I met Jo, it was love at first sight. She was a bit of a rebel and outspoken…and (in my opinion) a bit of a tomboy. Yup, I completely related. Maybe that’s also why Jo from The Facts Of Life.

Of course, along the way there was The Wizard Of Oz series, A Wrinkle In Time and Encyclopedia Brown. The first two encouraged me to open my mind to fantasy and other worlds while the second one had me looking for clues everywhere. Of course, he was also my gateway to The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew (I preferred the Hardys, by the way).

Then I discovered Ponyboy Curtis. I was in 4th grade when I read The Outsiders. That poetic soul who wanted to be the loyal friend and brother while dreaming of being a writer/poet. It touched my soul in a way few books have….and opened me to the idea that books and poetry could touch a heart and change a life. It also showed me that there is a hero in all of us if given the proper inspiration. Sometimes, what appears to be a lost cause can simply be a case of being mistreated and misunderstood. I saw a bit of that in Dally… Ponyboy changed the way Johnny viewed the world…and Johnny changed Dally for the better. It also reflected how different people handle loss. Losing Johnny destroyed Dally, but strengthened Ponyboy’s resolve to be the writer he was meant to be.

Not all my lessons were so solemn. I think it was 5th grade when I discovered Kit Montgomery and The Witch Of Blackbird Pond. This is probably what I’d call my first “romance”, but it was so much more than that. Kit was a young lady who sold everything she owned after her grandfather died and travelled from her home in Barbados to stay with the rest of her family in Salem, Massachusetts during the Salem witch trials. Kit spoke to me…the way she stood up for what was right, even when it meant the disapproval of the only family she had left…and the potential accusation that she was a witch. Who would have thought that knowing how to swim and read (and teaching a young girl how to read), not to mention an old, widowed Quaker woman could be grounds for that kind of accusation. It was a lesson in bigotry and the importance of tolerance and love and kindness. It was another example of how people fear what they don’t know or understand…and how family can surprise you in a good way if you let them.

Probably the last character from my younger days was Eleanor of Aquitaine. I think I was in 7th grade when I ran out of books to read in our school library, but we were required to check something out. Shoved in a tiny corner was a book I hadn’t remembered seeing before. Maybe it was the unusual title…or maybe it was that the bordering along the cover reminded me of stained glass, but I checked it out.

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The book was called A Proud Taste Of Scarlet And Miniver. It was a historical fiction based on the life of one of the most powerful women of the Middle Ages…a time when women weren’t really known to have power. She was the wife of not just one king, but two…and her second husband was 9 years younger than her. Her first husband, Louis VII of France, married her because she was land and money rich, while he only had his crown. When it didn’t work out, the Pope allowed their divorce (where she got to keep all her lands/monies thanks to a progressive thinking father) because she hadn’t given him sons. Henry II of England (the younger man) married her next.

Though she’s not the most famous of women, she had always been my favorite female historical character. She was smart, cunning, with a bit of a temper…and she is actually known as the Grandmother of Europe based on the matches she made for her children across the world. Heck, you know you’re pretty badass when Katharine Hepburn played you on the silver screen. What movie? The Lion In Winter. It’s about the time when she finds out her husband cheated on her and nearly lost his kingdom…because her sons went to war against him on her behalf. Yeah, one of them was the infamous Richard The Lionheart. Yup, I’m sure you guys can see why such a strong minded powerful woman would be someone I’d relate so strongly to.

So now you know a little bit about my influences in my youth. What were your influences? Were they book characters? Movies? Athletes? Maybe even musical…? What historical character most impacted you? Why?

Changing the World…One Woman At A Time

Looking back, I guess I should have realized, with favorite books like A Proud Taste Of Scarlet And Miniver and the complete Nancy Drew series that I had my mission in life.  This may sound silly today, but as a little girl, I dreamed of winning Miss USA or Miss Universe.  Now before you go making your assumptions about my mom putting me in some sort of Toddlers and Tiaras thing let me assure you nothing could be further from the truth.  But as a girl, I was fascinated by the outfits, the poise, the beauty and the talent.  For me, though, I always picked my winners from the interview portion.

Why am I talking about this?  Because I was thinking…if I ever got up there and I was asked my question I know what I’d want it to be.  “If you could pick one cause that you feel passionately about in this world that you’d like to try to fix and that you think could have a lasting impact on the world around you what would it be?”  My answer:  Self Esteem in women.

My favorite female historical character is Eleanor of Aquitaine.  She isn’t very well known, but she is considered to be the grandmother of Europe.  Almost every monarchy in Europe have blood ties to her line.  She was the first queen to be married to two kings.  The king of France & the king of England.  She was smart, tough and feisty.  In fact, after her second husband, Henry II cheated on her she was able to get her sons to turn on him, wage war…and he almost lost his land!  My kind of woman.  Here is a clip from The Lion In Winter where she and Henry, her husband are talking.  By this time he’d locked her away in a distant castle where he felt she could do no more damage…

Perfect casting done…with Katharine Hepburn playing her role.  She was the mother of Richard the Lionheart and King John.  Most people have heard of them.  She intrigued me by being so strong and powerful and sure of herself in an age where women were regarded as nothing more than chattel!

Times have changed these days.  We have women’s lib!  We can vote.  We can own land.  We can do so much…and yet women of today seem to struggle every day with the person they see in the mirror.  Too many women gain their self worth from if they’re married…then who they’ve married.  Sometimes it’s the job they hold.  Or whether or not they have children.  Women stay in bad relationships because they’re afraid they deserve nothing better.  Or that they won’t be able to make it on their own.  But what message does this send their children?

Women are strong!  Powerful!  They give birth to children.  They make homes.  They enstill values in their children.  They’re tough, but they can temper that with understanding and compassion.  They show their strength every day in what they’re willing to do or to sacrifice for their children!  But somehow, it rarely translates to being willing to do the same for themselves!

Over the years I’ve developed friendships…and in my own little way, I’ve tried to be a friend.  I’ve listened.  I’ve encouraged people to go for their dreams.  To explore their talents.  To believe in themselves.  I’ve helped a couple friends learn to fight for themselves and to stand on their own two feet….and I’ve prayed that they’ve passed that newfound passion for life to their daughters.  I figure if I can help just one person…and they help one more…maybe we’ll have that chance!

Yeah, people blame magazines and skinny supermodels for women’s poor self image.  But I think it goes deeper than that!  I also think that if we can’t find a way to love ourselves enough to be willing to fight for ourselves, to stand up for ourselves…the cycle will continue to repeat itself.  What can you do to empower someone?  What issue in this world would you love to find a way to fix or to change?  How would you go about it?  Who do you look up to?  Who is your favorite historical character and why?