Category Archives: childhood memories

Authorial Heroes

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John Steinbeck is mine, and I’m guessing an author’s name came springing to your lips when you read the title of this post.

Because they offer us different lives to live (if only while we’re enjoying their stories) storytellers are our greatest teachers. They give us diverse shoes to wear, opening our minds to possibilities unconsidered. They are our conscience and consciousness.

Why is John Steinbeck my authorial hero? Because he wrote Cannery Row. Doc, Mack, and Lee Chong tell the stories of the denizens of Cannery Row in Monterey, California. The people range from middle-class to homeless citizens, each trying to make their way through life as best they can, wishing each other well but ending up in pickles of their own making. I love the way he interrupts his primary tale with short stories of particular people who never appear again. The woman who gives tea parties for the neighborhood cats, the neglected boy who can’t quite control his hand-eye coordination, a wife who won’t accept her new home in an abandoned, windowless cannery steampipe unless she has curtains, and Hazel who’s mastered the ability of never answering a question by always asking a new one, these are the jewels scattered along the row. Perhaps one of the finest character driven stories ever told.

Of course, other authors and stories have made profound impacts on my life, far too many to even try to list. Some authors write better, others have offered more insightful characters, the stories told much deeper than friends planning a party. But when I think of who I’d most like to be compared to as a writer it’s always John Steinbeck.

Too bad he wasn’t a woman.

Who is your authorial hero? Leave a comment and let me know!

 

All Hail Sadie Hawkins!

Sadie Hawkins

 First of all – HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY! I hope you and yours are celebrating in style. I’ll be curled up all day at home with my wife, snug and warm, safe from the arctic winds howling around our house. We will feast on fresh strawberries, cake, and a bottle of Vin Verde, the green wine of Portugal.

Now on to the topic of the day. If you have ever read the comic strip by Al Capp called L’il Abner (1934–1978), you’ll have heard of Sadie Hawkins. Known as the ‘homeliest gal in all them hills’ Sadie’s father, Hekzebiah Hawkins, knew he had to do something to get her hitched, because (gasp) heaven forbid a woman should not be married.  He gathered up all the eligible bachelor’s in the area, gave them a head start and then let loose his daughter. Whichever man she caught would be her husband. There’s no real mention as to why, exactly, the caught bachelor had to marry Sadie, but that’s the way the tradition started. In 1937, according to the cartoonist, the other unmarried women thought this wasn’t such a bad idea, because (gasp) heaven help them if they didn’t catch themselves a husband. Every November, all the eligible young men from Dogpatch and the surrounding hills would be chased by all the unmarried young women. Any gal that could catch her man and drag him across the finish line by sundown was guaranteed to be a bride. Presented in the satirical voice of Al Capp, the unheard of role reversal released some deeply held desire of the repressed women of the time to take charge of their own lives, to make decisions concerning who they would spend time with, and to be unashamedly interested in beginning a relationship with the man of her choosing. Daring thoughts for the time.

Daisy Mae chasing L’il Abner on Sadie Hawkins Day

By 1939, only two years after the ladies of Dogpatch declared their independence (if only for one day a year), the idea had caught fire in the imagination of America’s youth. Al Capp had intended it as a plot device, but the ideas popularity had brought him an abundance of fan letters asking that he make it a yearly event. By the early 1940s the November event in his comic became a phenomenon, eventually taking on a life of its own. Colleges and high schools began holding campus Sadie Hawkins races, which eventually became more sedate dances. At the height of its popularity in the mid 1950’s, Sadie Hawkins Day was celebrated at forty thousand known locations.

After tasting the forbidden fruits of freedom, it’s no wonder the women’s liberation front of the 1960’s and ’70’s centered around women’s demand for self-sovereignty. Women who had grown up with the yearly celebration of bucking convention were eager to take the dating reins in their own hands. Of course, the advent of the birth control pill started an entire sexual revolution, but don’t discount Sadie Hawkins’ contribution.

Comic strips have led the way to social change since the ink first dried. Although L’il Abner’s Sadie Hawkins race was framed in the language of women desperate to marry to avoid a life of spinsterhood and shame, and equally desperate men racing to avoid marriage to a strong minded woman, a fate worse than death, Al Capp accidentally fueled the idea that the sexual repression of women during the ’30’s and 40’s was as unfair as say, a footrace to determine a spouse.

I will confess to inviting a boy to one in the mid 1970’s myself, but I don’t think Sadie Hawkin’s Day dances are held anymore. At least, I never hear of them. Girls and women are free to ask boys and men out on dates these days, or even, as our editor-in-chief Lindsey demonstrated earlier this year, to propose marriage.

We’ve come a long way, baby, and Sadie Hawkins helped lead the charge.

My Slight Brush With History

César E. Chávez

The man my father told stories about as we sat around the family kitchen table became a legend, a leader of people on a quest for equality for all. I was still new to school, in second or third grade, I had four younger siblings, and life was one of ease and privilege.

My father was a physician/pediatrician who practiced in the town of Fresno, in the central valley of California. In the mid 1960’s, he was one of the few doctors in the area who still made rural calls, sometimes driving fifty or sixty miles away to see patients.

On one of those visits, he met a passionate man who convinced him to come out to a strike encampment (I think it was near Delano, but it may have been closer to Fresno). The non-violent people striking, farm laborers looking for decent wages, had been strafed by crop dusters, and had inhaled a lot of the toxic chemical. My dad worked with his people, providing health care for a period of time, until the fight moved on to a new front. We boycotted table grapes for years afterward, and we lived in the middle of grape growing country.

I still remember listening to the story my father told around the kitchen table about César E. Chávez, a magnetic man with a passion for freedom and life who refused to counter violence with anything except non-violence. He influenced my father, who later dove into a brand new science and became one of the world’s first neonatologists.

Of course, the memories of a small child are nothing compared to the rich history of the man, César E. Chávez. If you don’t know who he is, shame on you. Ask your kids. Today, he is taught alongside the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks. Today he would have been 87 years old.