At first I thought that my memoir would be about difference — how I felt like an outsider much of the time in my growing up years. When I started going to school, I became aware that I was “plain.” Sometimes I felt inferior to the majority of the students who were “fancy.” I was aware of all the ways we lived in different worlds.
Yet as I wrote the story of my first eighteen years, and now as I approach the publication of that story, it seems that many people have had an experience like mine. Not just Mennonites. Not just country kids. Not just girls.
So here’s to “the plain girl” in all of us.
The Plain Girl
For Julia Jane Showalter
She goes barefoot in the summertime.
She loves the woods, the meadow, and the creek.
She whistles and sings, not just when other people do but also when she’s alone.
She owns her own body and plays games and sports full tilt, hitting the softball over the creek.
She lies awake on warm summer nights and tries to imagine what she will be like when she grows up.
She can devour four fresh ears of corn at one meal.
In class, she raises her hand whenever she knows the answer, and sometimes when she doesn’t.
When she reads a book, which is as often as possible, she becomes the characters she reads about — Jo March, Laura Ingalls, Robinson Crusoe, Tom Sawyer.
She notices little details — a cocked eyebrow, a husky voice, a graceful walk, a note sung off key — and makes little mental notes about what she does and doesn’t want to imitate.
She’s plain in her speech as well as her dress.
She chases what she wants as though they’re fireflies on a starry night.
She learns kindness, sometimes the hard way, from brothers and sisters or cousins or aunts and uncles, dogs and cats, puppies and kittens.
She skins her knees a lot.
She wants to be a scientist when she reads about science and an artist when she reads about art.
She talks to God, but not always with words.
Are you a “plain girl”? Do you identify with this picture?
My New Beginning today will be to walk barefoot on the green grass while I pull some weeds. I will intentionally ground myself in the earth, which is the source of Plain Girl’s inspiration.
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