Sunday, December 9, 2012

Incurable romanticism: Catch the bug and pass it on!



The family homesteaded in the late 1800s and lived by the traditions of the Old West—independence, hard work and toughness.  They struggled through the farm recession of the 1920’s and the Depression, and somehow kept the farm going during World War II. Then they sold out, weighed down by impossibility of maintaining a living on 160 acres of marginal soil and the necessity of educating their children “in town.”

The author repudiated her family’s “tough cowboy” ethos and rejected what she felt was their misguided pride and chauvinism.

When I finished her sad memoir, I shed a tear in my root beer.

Then I stopped.  Replace “Montana” with “Idaho,” subtract the boozy second husband, and her story is my story. Why isn’t my story depressing?
           
Perhaps because I was raised by the world’s most incurable romantic.
           
Mom grew up reading the feel-good stories of Gene Stratton Porter: “Laddie” and “Girl of the Limberlost,” and Benedict and Nancy Mars Freedman: “Mrs. Mike.” 

She believed that love conquers all, and she lived her belief.
           
She saw beyond the obvious—Dad, scratching his grizzled crew-cut, wearing yesterday’s dirty jeans and a baggy wife-beater, yawning, in desperate need of coffee to jump start his middle-aged system.

He hadn’t stepped out of her novels. He wasn’t a dashing member of the Canadian Mounted Police, or an environmental pioneer striving to save endangered timberland.

But he was her hero.  They sold the dry farm during the 1960s—not at top dollar, since his brothers were the buyers—and he worked hard every day to save our financially endangered family.  

Mama took care to show us the handsome young man who proposed when she was 18. To a daughter contemplating marriage, she wrote the story: “He took me, that beautiful moonlit May night, to the little wishing bridge beneath the newly leafing trees at the park—and asked me to marry him! We were deliriously happy, sitting in the moonlight and planning what a wonderful family we’d have. I remember we mentioned we’d still be married in 1980 [he died in 1989] and that seemed the dearest thing we could ask for.   He cuddled me in his arms and put a beautiful diamond on my finger.”

She believed in him. And by extension, she believed in the children born to their marriage—lucky for me. 

At times, her incurable romanticism kind of made me sick.  I called her Pollyanna and said she was “corny.” Her grandkids accused her of being “cheesy”—the same thing.

Now, I catch myself thinking like she did.  Along with believing in people, she didn’t judge them.  If she’d been a memoir writer, she wouldn’t have applied 2012 ethical standards to 1890s homesteaders. I don’t think we should either—most of us wouldn’t stack up too well if judged by their standards. 

We should be honest about people and the world, but it doesn’t hurt to put on rose-colored glasses once in awhile. 

So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go sing “Auld Lang Syne” with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed.