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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Books and covers and giving thanks

When I began kindergarten, there was a girl in my class named Rebecca. Rebecca had flaming orange hair, always done in two long braids. She had freckles beyond number, and she wore glasses. Rebecca's clothes were mostly second hand prints or plaids, ill-fitting and cheap, her shoes were worn through, she had crooked teeth. I loved her. Rebecca was my first friend.

When my mother met Rebecca, she said to me, "Always remember, Marianne. Never judge a book by its cover." At the age of six, I wasn't sure what that meant, so I asked, and my mother explained how someone who is beautiful on the inside may not be beautiful on the outside. I didn't know what my mother was talking about, because I thought Rebecca was beautiful! It was only then that I realized not everyone thought so, that I was seeing the "real" Rebecca, and had, since the moment we met. When I close my eyes, I see her still. Still Becky; still beautiful to me.

During our first year of public education, Becky and I walked to and from school together. We lived only two blocks away from each other, so I often visited her house and she visited mine. A year or two later, her family moved away, and I lost track of Becky. Suffice to say, however, I have never forgotten her, or our friendship. In her honor, I named my first daughter Rebecca.

Becky's family was poor. Terribly poor. I remember her house - which sat a few yards away from the railroad tracks - always smelled bad. The same rumbling locomotives that woke her up at night, woke me as well. Her house smelled old, of fried meat and moldy wallpaper and damp wood and poverty. I didn't care because Becky was my friend, and the time I spent with her was always wonderful. As a child, as all children do, I saw everything through my heart and not my eyes.

Becky and I didn't have formal tea parties or dress our Barbies in fashion clothes. We didn't try on our mothers' make-up or scan toy catalogs with glee or furnish our fancy doll houses. Why? Because we didn't have tea sets or Barbies or make-up or toy catlogs or doll houses. In the narrow bedroom I shared with my sister, I had a small cardboard box, which sat in the corner. In it were all the toys I owned in the world. I can count on one hand the number of items in that box. I valued them, I cherished them, I was careful with them, because I knew that, if they broke, they would not be replaced.

To have fun, Becky and I made mud pies. Dirt and water mixed together, make a gloriously sticky messy glob of mud, which we fashioned with our grubby little hands into rounded shapes, then lined them up along the top of the fence to dry in the sun. We never ate them - hey, they were dirt! But it was the making of them that made us happy, fulfilled us. Dirt was free, and there was plenty of it! We would talk about what kinds of pies they were, and our eyes would grow big and we'd laugh, "Yum!" and in our view, those dried dirt pancakes would become cherry or apple or chocolate cream delights.

That was a long, long time ago. I don't have Becky anymore; I don't make mud pies; I'm no longer poor. I hope Becky isn't, either. I'd like to think she grew up to become as beautiful on the outside as she was on the inside, and that her life has been filled with happiness and joy, and that all her pies are real.

I think of Becky every now and then, especially when I think of how complicated life has become. We have too much of everything nowadays, most of it disposable. And if it breaks, it's immediately replaced. I'm not so sure that's a good thing. There's something to be said for cherishing what you have, valuing it - things, thoughts, people. It's not that I long for the good old days of being literally dirt poor, but having lived that life certainly taught me lessons, instilled values, I wouldn't have gotten any other way. And I would never have met Becky.

No, I don't want to make mud pies again . . . but I'm happy to know I haven't forgotten how.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your loved ones,

Marianne Stillings


  1. An absolutely beautiful sentiment ... have you tried to find her? With the reach of the internet (not to mention Facebook), I wouldn't be surprised if you could.

    Happy Thanksgiving to you, too!

  2. First, let me say 'THANKS' to all the beautiful ladies in this group. My name was drawn as your October contest! Thanks again!

    Your post brought tears to my eyes as I remembered my own elementary school years.
    Because I was not the typical cute little girl like the other girls in school, some of those memories are not so pleasant. Back then, I was teased a lot; now they call it 'bullying'. I tried to teach my children 'If you can't say something nice about or too someone, don't say, or do, anything.'

  3. Gosh, that story connects with me. I had a friend like that too. And yes, both of us were poor. We usually played make believe. We could script stories that lasted for hours. I hadn't thought of it before but I'm sure those early days led to my writer's imagination.

    I've recently reconnected with that friend after a long absence. Facebook made it easy to restore that link, along with several others. Too often we lose touch with friends, family or former college roomies.

    And I think my friend and my early poverty led to the blessing of allowing me to live a creative life.

    Thanks for the post and the reminder!

    Quacking Alone

  4. Fond memories are never forgotten. Friendships come and go, but there are some we never forget and bring a smile to our faces when someone from the past pops into our heads for one reason or another.
    People come into and go out of our lives...some stay for a short time and some are there for a longer period of time. We drift apart from some and never really think about them, while others will always occupy a spot in our hearts.

  5. Marianne,

    Your story me realize how lucky I was growing up. I may have had things, but I also had values and love, and a set of eyes that saw the beauty in people rather than the label or price tag the world stamped on them. Thank you for reminding me to redouble my efforts with my own children in passing on those values and that love. So far it looks like they were blessed with the same color-blind/status-blind eyesight that I have...and I thank God for that...but with everything they face that we didn't, a little reminder can go a long way.

  6. A story from the heart, Marianne, that was wonderful. Sometimes we forget to enjoy the simple pleasures of life.

  7. What a beautiful post. Childhood friends always bring a smile to our lips and a warm feeling to our hearts. Days of innocence and fun, we never knew we had it made . . . until we grew up. Thanks for bringing those fond memories to the forefront.


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