Sunday, January 27, 2013

Who Knew?

I was talking with friends last night about childhood, and what each of us remembered wanting to "be" when we grew up.

My first career-related memory involved dressing as a man because I wanted to be in the Army. I wrote a "report" about it in the third grade, complete with an illustration of a happy soldier in uniform walking down a street whistling. My other female classmates drew pictures of nurses and teachers. I did feel like a bit of an outcast.

After my third-grade tomboyhood I never had any personal questions of gender identification (in the fourth grade, when I wanted to play "princess" parts in plays, I never got them). I imagine that my "when-I-grow-up" desires must have come from the books I used to read.

I used to take out arm-fulls of "Discovery Books" from our public library, and the two I remember reading the most were Leif the Lucky and John Paul Jones. I owned copies of Florence Nightingale and Clara Barton, which were given to me as gifts from well-meaning relatives, but I never took to them they way I did to the books about the men who figured in history. The only historical woman I could identify with as a child was Joan of Arc, but I don't believe that her biography was part of the "Discovery Book" series. I guess that I figured that if I could pass as a man, I could do the kinds of things men could do, which when I was growing up happened to be everything.

I found out a few nifty things today: Leif the Lucky was written by Erick Berry, and Erick Berry was a pseudonym for Allena Champlin (1892-1974). Allena grew up in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where her father was a librarian, and she became an artist and later a writer. I also learned that Leif the Lucky was published in 1961 by the Garrard Press in Champaign, Illinois (the city 50 miles away where I do most of my playing these days). I know the exact location of where the publisher who influenced so much of my childhood used to be.

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