There is a wonderful children’s book called Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney. This particular book is about a young girl named Alice Rumphius who wants to do some very specific things. But the final and most important thing is that she needs to do something to make the world more beautiful. I have a children’s book for pretty much every occasion–and Sarah would also tell you that I have a humorous though possibly useless anecdote for every occasion as well.
I give you both.
Yesterday was Victoria’s first Jr. Girl Scout meeting. She did Daisies. . .AND Brownies. . .and now she’s a Jr. So, they made one of those little hand held fortune teller things where you stick your fingers in it and go back and forth, back and forth choosing messages until you finally get to open the flap and read your “fortune.” In this case, it was the Girl Scout Law and the “fortunes” were questions about how well you’ve upheld it.
I was never IN Girl Scouts, so I am ignorant of the Girl Scout Law, however when Victoria tested me on the way to school this a.m., I ended up with the following question:
“What have you done to make the world more beautiful?”
Victoria asked this very earnestly, and it took me about a millisecond to give her the answer.
“Honey, I had YOU!”
She looked at me gently, tenderly as though she wanted me to know and understand how very much she loved me despite my stupidity then said, “Uuuuuuuuuummmmm, no. I mean like planting flowers or something.”
To which I replied rather excitedly and expectantly, assured that I had hit upon the correct answer at last, “Well, I’ve planted knowledge in my student’s heads for the past 16 years!”
THIS time the look was more a mixture of sadness, exasperation, and I-guess-I-didn’t-word-the-question-so-you-could-understand on her precious, (9 days late, 9 lb., 15 hours of labor, 22″ inches long, and one week in the neonatal ICU fearing for her life) angelic face.
I literally threw my hands up in the air while she stated v e r y s l o w l y so that I could understand, “It has to be something REEEEEEEEAL, Mommy.”
Well, I can’t say that when I was 9 years old I thought my mother had done anything real either. She was my Momma. She took care of us, and she took care of Daddy and my grandparents and anyone else who happened to need taking care of. She liked to drink Dr. Pepper from styrofoam coffee cups (NEVER coffee), and expected someone to meet her at the car to help carry in the groceries. If Daddy was out somewhere so that you got to actually watch what you liked on tv, chances were high that she would dump a basket of laundry in front of you. That was it.
She was a teacher too–and it never occurred to me the thousands of students and parents or the hundreds of peers and administrators and school board members whose lives she had influenced and would continue to influence over her 37 years in education. All I knew was that she had the reputation of being a VERY strict teacher, and I knew it was true, because she was the same type of mother. Why should she be a different type of teacher? It worked. ‘Nuff said. It also never occurred to me, at the age of 9, that her influence would carry on in me and now in her grandaughter.
Luckily for Victoria’s opinion of me, I have 8 packages of wildflower seeds already purchased and waiting until we can go and plant them along the roadside edge of the property where we plan to build our new home. They are a “Texas” mix along with some other things that grow well in the wild, and they need to be sewn in the fall. Her Daddy and I have had this planned –at my suggestion–for awhile now. Maybe after our little wildflower seeds are tucked away for their long winter’s nap I, like Miss Rumphius, will have done something to make the world more beautiful–something that is as real and tangible to my daughter as the possibility of futures and students yet unknown are in my mind–something as touchable to my sweet, sweet girl as the ethereal realness of her life is to me.
My Great-aunt Alice, Miss Rumphius, is very old now. Her hair is very
white. Every year there are more and more lupines. Now they call her the
Lupine Lady. Sometimes my friends stand with me outside the gate, curious to
see the old, old lady who planted the fields of lupines. When she invites us in,
they come slowly. They think she is the oldest woman in the world. Often she
tells us stories of faraway places.
“When I grow up,”I tell her, “I too will go to faraway places and come
home to live by the sea.”
“That is all very well, little Alice,” says my aunt, “but there is a third thing
you must do.”
“What is that?” I ask.
“You must do something to make the world more beautiful.”
“All right, ” I say.
“But I do not yet know what that could be.”