Today’s post by this month’s featured author, Rita Leganski
Before I became inspired to write THE SILENCE OF BONAVENTURE ARROW, I was inspired simply to learn. I was a bright kid and well-behaved. Every one of my teachers expected that I would go to college right out of high school. It didn’t work out that way. My school plans were put on hold, and I left my small northern Wisconsin town for a bigger city, where I got a job and met a young man. I remember a jump-rope jingle we used to shout in a sing-song voice on the playground: “First came love, then came marriage, then came Rita with a baby carriage. ” That pretty much says it. I didn’t get to college until my children were grown. But that was okay; I loved motherhood, and never lost my desire to go back to school. That desire was inspired by a couple of very fine women who came before me.
My maternal grandmother had no formal schooling. I never knew her to write her own name. But that’s not to say she was illiterate. Her brand of literacy was demonstrated in her ability to talk to people and find joy in simple things. Her knowledge was rooted in common sense and intuition; she was an expert in time management and survival—how else can you raise twelve children? My grandmother was a citizen of the natural world and wise in its ways. She knew how to put a meal on the table; she knew how to soothe and cure. There’s a passage in Longfellow’s Hiawatha that reminds me of her:
Forth then issued Hiawatha
Wandered eastward, wandered westward,
Teaching men the use of simples
And the antidotes for poisons,
And the cure of all diseases.
Thus was first made known to mortals
All the mystery of Medamin,
All the sacred art of healing.
My mom had schooling, though not any kind of higher education. Such a thing wasn’t even a remote possibility, since she had to contribute financially to a family with so many mouths to feed. Here was a young woman with uncommon mathematical abilities who, at a very young age, taught her mother how to count out change.
Disadvantage imposed limitations upon those two bright women. They had the makings of scholars but were denied education. It wasn’t unusual in that time and place. And so they took in laundry, picked potatoes, waited tables, and worked in factories. They were made to believe that they must remain in their place—one that is reserved for the woman who is assumed to be ignorant. Perhaps that’s what stirred them to nurture a love of learning in me.
I am awed by the way they embraced life despite hardship; how genuine they were; how hopeful and self-reliant. They were (and my mom still is) wonderful, plain-spoken women.
I am the heiress of their potential. I like to think I’ve used it well.