Books & Graves: Little Women

A few weeks ago my little family found our way to Author’s Ridge at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, Massachusetts – the grave sight of the Alcott, Hawthorne, and Emerson families as well as Thoreau.   Just the name of the place gives me goosebumps.  So many incredible individuals buried all in one place.

Ok heart, stop pounding.
This will be the first of several posts about this incredible place.  I’m starting with a childhood hero, Louisa May Alcott.

As we found our way to the cemetery, we drove by Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House and memories began pouring in.  I’m not from the Boston area and have yet to make my way into the house.  Alcott’s vision of the importance of family and being an awkward outsider resonates with me today.   For those who don’t know, Little Women is a coming of age tale of four sisters who live a genteel life in the mid-1800s.

My first memory was of sitting in the local library in the town were I lived as a child.  (Guys.  I grew up in a town so small that the library doesn’t even have a website!  Here is their facebook page if you want to see one of the most beautiful buildings that ever existed: ) It was after school one day, when I was maybe 9 or 10.   I was sitting in the children’s section in one of the old wooden chairs that creaked softly as we sat down, as if saying, “Ohhhhh good! You’re here!” with a friend.  She read Little Men and I read Little Women.  These were small board books, not the actual novels.  We loved them.  I remember sitting in that library in my squeaky chair smelling the smell of old books sitting with my sweet friend and reminiscing about Jo March and her sisters.  Their relationships with each other were so kind and loving – and the passion they had for family makes me teary today.  Even though each was so different – Meg is the “perfect little woman”, Jo is a strong-willed individual, Beth is kind and gentle, and Amy is the vain and self-centered baby – they were each other’s closest confidents and friends.
Later, when I was in middle school, I read the novel itself.  Later that year, the movie – staring Clair Danes – came out.  I was eleven.  I was obsessed.  I related to the story of Jo even more now.  She had a strong willed attitude in a time when women were expected to be demur  – She was pretty bad ass if you asked me.  Her strength in believing in who she was even though others around called her a “boy” (albeit, lovingly) was empowering to an awkward, book loving, red haired, eleven-year-old with crooked teeth and a fast smile.  Jo was my hero.

Finally, high school.  In my junior year of high school I took an advanced writing course and an acting course, both with the same teacher.  His name was Mr. Roberts and I will never forget him.  Mr. Roberts was a plump, sassy soul and taught from his desk.  He rarely moved around, which in most cases, I would say might make him a terrible teacher.  Contrary.  He was one of the best teachers I have had yet.  I was excruciatingly shy in high school (I know you don’t believe me.  It’s true.  One year we all had to chose nicknames for each other and I was named, “She who does not speak.”  Truth.) Mr. Roberts helped me learn that through writing I could be brave.  I learned to express myself in journals, studied poetry, and, back to the point of this post: I learned that there is more to writing than just what is written down. In Mr. Roberts class we learned about the transcendentalist movement, of which LMA was a part. Her works were more than just stories written for people to read.  In order for us to understand a piece of literature, we had to understand the context of the author’s life.  Transcendentalists fundamentally believed that humans and nature are inherently good.  It was essential that individuals be self-reliant and independent, and that we do not simply follow doctrine and rules for the sake of order.  We had to become our own selves so that we could best contribute to “the community.”  I realized then that Jo March wasn’t simply an awkward teenager who didn’t “fit it” with her sisters and peers.  She was trying to be her own person, and by doing so, she would become a successful career person and happy in her marriage – a contributing member of her community, and also very happy.  Jo’s life, of course, doesn’t simply have a happy ending because that’s not have life is, really, but she is a good person trying to do good things.  Red-headed, crooked tooth, book nerd, shy me didn’t have to play sports or wear name brand clothes.  I started spending time with people I met in French Club.  I even tried track (and fell. a lot.  but also laughed.  a lot.)   Jo March is my spirit animal.

So, visiting the grave of the creator of one of my first literary role models was an experience I will always place on list of “Woah.  I did that.” moments.  And, I had my brave, bright, friendly little girl, L-Bear, with me.  She laughed and waved at strangers wandering by.  I felt so proud to be her mommy.  The pile of pens in front of Alcott’s grave reminded me that, although sometimes we very very alone and scared and awkward, we are all simply trying to “be”.  Trying to be ourselves.  Trying to be part of this community.  Trying to be an individual.  So, write.  Read.  Shave your head.  Dress like a man (or a lady).  Do whatever it is that makes you feel like you.  Make Louisa proud.

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