Of Nancy Drew and Bowls of Cherries

On a rainy March day in 1986, in Appleton, Wisconsin, a baby girl was born. She was red and wrinkly, and she cried. She gave her screams and her warmth to her mother’s arms, and she gave her parents a new human to love. That was all she really needed to give. In a way, though, new and unformed as she was, she had nothing to give the world.

Not yet.

She grew up in a little world, a small-town world, a world with love and pain and ignorance and learning and summer and winter.

As she grew, she learned that she had, in fact, something to give. She could feel it rising in her heart, she could feel it reaching out through her mind, she could feel it reaching through her fingers.

She began to make.

She made necklaces and bracelets, drawings and poems. She found the flowers and the sky and the depth of others’ eyes, and she took them into her soul. Then she made.

Life goes on, you know, even if you haven’t summoned up the strength to make it what you want. She moved in the world that moved faster than her, working for others, working hard sometimes and sometimes not hard enough.

And she made things, still. But sometimes she was too tired to make them.

In her mind, though, a host of characters lived, hovering around the laziness, the dreams, the work, the disappointments, the getting-back-ups. Characters like Mildred Benson, who under the name Carolyn Keene created a spunky, simple character named Nancy Drew, who made a million girls happy. Characters like Mary Engelbreit, an artist who created greeting cards and posters with illustrations of bright children and bowls full of cherries. Characters like Ella Fitzgerald, whose strong, warm song moved the earth. Characters like Betty Smith, who wrote A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, a novel so tender it brought this girl to tears…

…and L.M. Montgomery, who created Anne of Green Gables,

Mary Cassatt, who painted impressionist portraits of mothers,

Eva Cassidy, who shared her songbird spirit with the world before her life was cut short,

Emily Dickinson, who wrote a letter to the world no one can forget…

(and more)

These characters were beautiful for many reasons, but the most beautiful thing about them was that they were real. They were real people, and they worked real hours, and they took real raw materials and created things that had not existed before.

They had to pay their dues, sure, somehow, so maybe they had days that were the equivalent of coming home smelling like espresso with sore knees. They had struggles. But they made things. They made glorious things. Or simple things. Or pretty things. They made them, they shared them, and they changed the world.

I suppose it is probably obvious that the little girl who was born on that rainy day in March was me. I am still paying my dues, recovering from disappointments, brushing myself off from failures or moments of laziness or moments of life being unfair.

Just like when I was a newborn, the fact that I am alive and breathing and capable of giving and receiving love is what matters most in the final analysis. But all of us were made with something to give. We have brains, we have muscles to move with, we have life. As for me, my brain and muscles and life are organized in such a way that I know what I have to give.

I can make things.

I put flowers together, I string beads together, I take pen to paper and draw, I take pen to paper and write.

And I’ll be damned if I give up on making things, sharing them, and changing the world.

(One of my hero Mary Engelbreit’s prints…it had her watermark on it out of respect for her intellectual property; you can purchase this art at https://www.maryengelbreit.com/collections/art/products/arts-and-crafts-fine-print).
This is Mildred Benson, aka Carolyn Keene. Here she is with Nancy Drew books. I loved those!
Learn more: https://www.lib.umd.edu/nancy/influential-authors/carolyn-keene
Eva Cassidy.

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