March is Women’s History Month (in the US).
I am doing a series of blog posts about women who have influenced me.
I met this girl when I was seven or eight. I read about her. She is the first literary character I wanted to be. I mean, I wanted to be her. To the point where, in the summer one year at my Gram’s house, I strapped scrub brushes to my feet and skated around the kitchen floor in soapy water. My grandmother had a conniption and shooed me outside (but secretly I knew her floors had never been so clean). I proceeded to strap the scrub brushes to my feet and attempt to skate around in soapy water on the patio. My grandmother had a *further* conniption when she realized the soap I was using was her expensive lavender hand soap.
IN MY DEFENSE, my grandmother had ALL OF THE SOAP, so I didn’t think she would miss one little bottle that was under the sink. But, as it turns out, the “expensive lavender hand soap” had rather a lot of lavender scent about it and since I used most of the bottle (it’s a large patio to a seven-year-old), she smelled it from her bedroom. Her back yard smelled like lavender ALL SUMMMER, and most of the ant problem was eradicated so I *hardly think* I deserved to have been punished.
This girl, this “bad influence” hated to wear shoes. If she had to wear shoes, she wore a pair of her father’s shoes, and she wouldn’t tie them up. Her stockings never matched. She was strong – so strong. She had the strength of ten policemen. She was smart, and ill-mannered, and didn’t know the proper way of doing things but that didn’t matter because she was Pippi. Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Ephraim’s Daughter Longstocking. Her father (Ephraim) was a sea captain, and he had gone missing in the South Seas, but when he came home, Pippi’s heart was full.
She was self-sufficient, stubborn, quick-witted, creative, and adventurous. She loved animals and abhorred cruelty. And above all, she was devoted to those she cared about most. She didn’t care about things like money, and when something needed to be done, she did it. She didn’t much care about what other people thought of her – most of them sneered because her clothes had patches and she lived in an old, gabled house with her pet horse on the verandah. And she never wanted to grow up.
Dear Glob, I love Pippi Longstocking.
I have only just now realized that I’ve kind of become Pippi. This realization has pretty much just completely made my day.
Astrid Lindgren’s books were my constant companions for years. I wanted to learn Swedish so I could read the original books. …I kind of still want to, now that I think about it… I read and read and re-read them. I don’t remember if I talked about Pippi a lot, but I remember, very keenly, (which is a little odd) how deeply I internalized them. I wanted to be strong – strong enough to lift a horse. So I started lifting things. Progressively heavier and heavier things. I spent a lot of time learning how to balance on things because that was something Pippi did. I made a point of going on adventures.
Part of the reason I identified so closely with Pippi was because she was the first literary character who got me. When I was young, my grandfather was killed in a farming accident. This one event has shaped a huge part of my life. My father, an only child, had to take over Gramps’ farm, when Dad’s own teaching career had basically just begun. The farm was two hours away, so Dad would be gone for weeks and weeks until school was out and Mum and I could join him there. Like Pippi, I missed my dad terribly when he was away in the fields, and like Ephraim and Pippi, he and I have a strong, loving bond, but we each need our space. Like Pippi, I am an only child. Like Pippi, the stories and characters and adventures I made up were far more interesting than my life.
Pippi had a deep-seated vulnerability – a weakness that only she knew about…and she didn’t even really know about it. It was the ache of being alone.