And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
Over the weekend, I took my granddaughter, Maya Mae, to see the musical, Little Women, based on Louisa May Alcott’s novel of the same name.
When I was ten years old and bored one summer day, my mother dug out her old copy of Little Women. The book, unlike those I was used to getting from the library and through Scholastic book orders, was very beat-up. The cover was hard and dark green, the title and the author’s name plain and black, and there was no picture to give an idea of what was inside. The pages were browned and brittle. I had to be so careful when I was turning them, or the corners would snap off in my fingers.
My mother told me that she read Little Women when she was a little older than I was. Louisa May Alcott became her favorite author, and my mother gently placed a cardboard box from the basement at my feet. It contained even more books: Little Men, Jo’s Boys, Rose In Bloom, An Old-Fashioned Girl, Eight Cousins, Under The Lilacs, Jack and Jill, Scarlet Stockings. All of the books were in the same condition: beat-up, no pictures on the covers, plain lettering, brittle pages.
I remember it was raining that day, which was part of the reason why I was bored. We had a turquoise sectional for a couch, made of rough bumpy material I never knew the name of. I propped a pillow behind my head, stretched out (after taking off my shoes, of course, no shoes on the furniture) and began to read.
And read and read and read. I tore through that box of books like a treasure box, which is, of course, exactly what it was. As I grew older, those books moved with me, gracing bookshelves in my home and finally in my classroom. Eventually, they fell away to dust. But I still carry them in my head.
Jo March, of Little Women, introduced me to the fact that it wasn’t going to be so easy to be a writer, which I already knew I wanted to be. But she also showed me that it could be difficult to be female. I read in horror as publishers told her to stay at home, get married, and have babies. I wondered why you couldn’t be married, have babies, and be a writer, all at the same time. Jo even thought about writing under a pseudonym which wouldn’t let anyone know she was female. If I remember right, that’s what she did. I may have to reread the book. But I mostly remember being so seriously affronted. Why did I have to get married? Why did I have to have children? Why couldn’t I be a writer?
Well, of course, I did all of the above. And it was hard. But Jo thrums within me.
In 1994, the movie Little Women came out, starring Winona Ryder as Jo. My daughter, Katie, was 7 years old. One afternoon, we bought McDonalds for lunch, hid it in my purse, and walked into the theater to watch the movie. When Jo, on the screen, was sitting before the desk of a publisher, and he told her that writing wasn’t a woman’s work, every inch of Katie stood up. She put her hands on her hips and yelled, “What? It is too! Girls can do ANYTHING!”
There were approving noises from those around us as I soothed her into sitting back down and watching the rest of the movie. But I smiled. Jo was thrumming within Katie too.
Katie is now teaching math at the University of Louisiana – Lafayette. The math field is predominantly men. It didn’t stop Katie.
Thrum, thrum, thrum.
And so, 9-year old Grandbaby Maya Mae and I took ourselves off to the live theatre to see the musical, Little Women. Maya Mae is already writing stories. We read together almost every night. I did a blog once, when Maya was still very little, and we talked about what it means to be different, or in Maya Mae language at that time, “difwent.” She stood in front of me, pounded her chest, and declared, “I am ME!” Oh, most definitely. So I was eager for her to see this musical. At home, I already had a new copy of Little Women, an anniversary edition with all the original illustrations, waiting for her.
Early on in the musical, Jo receives a rejection letter from a publisher who tells her to stay home and have babies. And then I waited.
But that was it. Jo continued to write, and by the end of the musical, she had a book accepted for publication.
I loved the musical. The singing was fantastic, the energy wonderful. But…boy, was there a hole. And from my granddaughter, there was no affront. No aggravation. No thrum. I glanced at her in the rearview mirror as we drove home. She quietly hummed some of the music we’d just heard.
Well, I was thrumming.
When we got home, I handed her the book. She held it with both hands and admired the cover. Unlike my first grasp of Little Women, this cover was intact and glossy. It had an illustration. The pages were new and white.
And then Maya Mae said, “It’s heavy. It’s really heavy.” She fanned it. “There are lots of words.”
I agreed, and then I told her all that was missing from the musical. I told her what was between the covers of that book, what was waiting for her in there. In my mind, I pictured Maya Mae propping a pillow behind her head, stretching out on the couch in her home, and reading. Reading. Reading.
By the time I took her home, Maya Mae was thrumming. She thrummed with what wasn’t said in the musical. And her nose was in the book.
You know, I don’t think Olivia ever read Little Women. I’d better get another copy.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.