Monday, June 29, 2020

PT 3: Who Loved Me Into Being

I stalled writing this because I told myself I could look for photos of the special people who made me who I am--the people who"loved me into being."  But I realized quickly I'm never going to find photos of many without a lot of effort. And even with photos, I realized it would be impossible to ever do justice to those special people.

It's been fun thinking about who the people were in my life who profoundly influenced me. I'm just going to name three of them in this post and identify how and why they influenced my person-hood.

Mary Anderson, lifelong friend of my mother. 
Mary had two sons who were younger than I. Our families spent our summers at a remote enclave of four large seasonal houses built on the shore of large Idaho lake. It was accessible only by water (or an arduous hike from an automobile 'landing' a mile away over rugged terrain), so once we arrived, we stayed put! The houses had no electricity, just plenty of sunshine, water, and socializing. There were numerous youngsters at the lake every summer, all within a ten year range, but most were older than I To fill my need for companionship, I played every day with Jimmy and Johnny, Mary's boys. Because they were younger, I got to be the boss, and we made up a lot of fun activities and games, but I was in charge--quite a treat for the younger child in a family of two children. Mary loved that I paid so much attention to her little boys, and through that relationship, I felt great kinship. She hung out with my mom a lot, and I used to love to see and hear Mary laugh. Her style of parenting seemed so joyful and relaxed. She listened to my stories, and always seemed so pleased to share tidbits of my life. Mary and I began corresponding while I was in college--it was especially fun to hear her take on my student life, because she was a faculty wife at another university. By then we'd formed a deep, affectionate bond. She reminded me of my mother, but without all the 'strings' of conflict that accompany a young woman's bursting from the nest.

Ben Weatherwax: Friend (along with his wife) of my parents.
Ben made his living as a designer in an architect's office. He had great talent and an eye for style. He designed a beautiful year-round cottage for my family on the ocean, which endeared him to all of us, but even more exciting--he had a weekly radio show! I thought he was the most overtly talented grown up I'd ever met. When Ben would visit our home (with or without his family), he and my dad could talk and chuckle together, and I loved listening to them. Ben always asked me, a young-to-mid-teen, my opinions about current events! I really wanted to be an adult when Ben sat down to visit with my dad, because their topics were so vital and worldly. Ben knew I was a bookworm and always asked what I was reading, then would share his thoughts about the book, which, of course, he would have read years before. Our first literary encounter was over Jean Christophe by Romain Rolland. When he saw what I was reading he nearly jumped up and down with glee. "Oh, how I loved that book!" In the summer of '56 we had a long talk about my adoration for Thomas Wolfe. "Yeah," said Ben, "he sure did write some magnificent purple prose." (I had to look up that term!)  When he died in a house fire in November 16, 1956, I was torn with grief. He was the first person whose death I deeply grieved. At sixteen I was old enough to recognize the depth of loss when a vibrant person passes in the prime of his life. I was overcome with personal sorrow.

Gladys Phillips O'Day: Friend (along with her husband) of my parents. \
Gladys gave me a glimmer of what women could do in the world--besides being a secretary, nurse, or teacher, which were the three choices that "nice girls" had for their careers in the '50s. Gladys was an attorney! Not only that, she used her maiden name on her business cards! She wasn't stuck in the mold of just being the wife of a successful man. She made her own career and everyone knew who she was--for herself! That was a radical notion in the '50s. In addition, she was proud of her native American ancestry and shared stories and history of her family that made me think of native Americans differently from how I'd learned about them at school. Gladys had such reverence for her ancestral people, you couldn't be around her without catching a little of it from her. She was also a musician, and always asked me about my life as a violinist. Our families drifted apart, and we completely lost touch before I entered my thirties. And--truth be told--I was intimidated in her presence. As much as I admired her, I could barely imagine myself as a bold, strong, bright woman who stood up to--and even flaunted--the expected norms of womanhood. She was a true inspiration on a very personal level. 

No comments: