Now in my eighties, when I think about the collection of experiences that has made up my life, I am struck by its similarity to a crazy quilt. Bright satins and taffetas alongside somber flannels and dark velveteens, all tied together with many colored embroidery threads in a variety of intricate stitches. If a woman is fortunate, she will feel the balance of her experience leans to the bright-satins-and-taffetas side. But I have come to understand how much we can learn from hardship and can now look with appreciation at the dark and somber patches in the quilt of my life. The bright patches and the dark patches and the intricate stitches all combine to make a warm and comforting coverlet. Marcel Proust said, and forgive my translation, for I never became as adept with French as my good friend Elizabeth, "Happiness is beneficial to the body, but it is grief that develops the powers of the mind."
The meaning of this statement is not so clear to a young person as to an older one, but sometimes with age we are given the wisdom to begin to make sense of life's complexity. When I was a young girl, the episodes that were difficult seemed just plain unpleasant and I could not understand why I had to endure them. I could only try to comfort myself in reading or in stitching Now, when I remember those times I find myself smiling. It was harder to smile then. I had not yet learned to trust the unfolding process of my life.
I understand now that I had advantages not shared by every young woman of my time, no doubt about it - growing up in a small American town at the turn of the century most young women had a narrow range of choices, in fact most could not vote! But I grew up in an educated and loving family and was introduced to the joys of reading and discussing ideas as well as to more traditionally acceptable activities for young women, like sewing and embroidery. I was also blessed with the extraordinary gift of lasting friendships, two of which have lasted my lifetime. The three of us - myself, Emma Alice Ogden; my best friend, Elizabeth Benton; and our special friend, Charlie Johnson shared many experiences. I decided to tell the story which follows after having come across an unlabeled, forgotten, old wooden box in the attic that proved to hold a collection of my early diaries, letters and other keepsakes. As I sat there sorting through them, I was reminded of so many episodes in our early years together, small stories that tend to get lost in the passage of time. Thankfully, I saved so many of these bits of memorabilia, some of which I must admit have lost their significance to me. But others of the memories stimulated by finding this box and its contents were so vivid that I decided to try to write them down, to commemorate my early adventures with El and Charlie...