Tanner spent last night and this morning ripping out our deck in the back yard so that he can get started on building a new one. I spent last night and this morning baking homemade bread and using that bread to make French toast. Priorities.
It’s cold and overcast outside, and our yard is soggy from the excess amount of rain received the past two nights. Still, my husband is out there dragging derelict boards to Old Blue (our ’79 Ford Ranger Lariat), which is probably a step down from last night’s exciting activity of actually tearing the deck apart.
While Tanner braves the cold and tromps through the mud, I prefer to sit inside with a cup of coffee and a selection of good books. I’m currently reading Churchill’s History of the English-Speaking Peoples, which is basically a cleverly written reminder of the fact that history is always repeating itself. It’s the abridged version, but I’m not ashamed of this because the editor’s note at the beginning is pure gold.
Also on my list is Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, which follows last weekend’s The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis and needs no further explanation because everyone should have seen some musical version of it by now. I could dust off my copy of Alice in Wonderland because even those of us with squeaky clean histories need to feel like we’re on drugs every now and then. Of course, I could always read An Old-Fashioned Girl, also known as the sweetest story ever penned and my all-time favorite book.
An Old-Fashioned Girl is one of Louisa May Alcott’s lesser-known works. Then again, anything that is not Little Women is one of her lesser-known works. However, this book should be at the top of every woman’s reading list—young or old. It’s the story of an innocent, country girl named Polly who goes to the big city to visit a friend. While there, she recognizes the vanity of all the other girls—how they obsess over themselves, gossip about one another, and push the boundaries of propriety.
Despite feeling inferior at times because of the culture surrounding her, Polly holds true to her values, remains modest, and earns the love and respect of everyone she meets. She embraces her childhood, and rather than judge the girls who are trying to grow up too fast, she pities them and treats them with patience and kindness.
When Polly is grown she works hard and supports herself, all the while maintaining her sweetness of character and her old-fashioned modesty. She is admired by men and women alike, but her humility and sense of duty keep her from becoming vain and selfish.
I won’t tell you how the story ends, but I will tell you that I come back to this particular book over and over again because I want to be like Polly. Tanner would not go for it, but I’ve even considered naming my first daughter Polly in hopes that she will grow up to be just like the greatest person that never existed. In any case, that’s just how much this character means to me.
Louisa May Alcott herself was not known to be a physically attractive woman. In fact, I’ve heard (through Wikipedia) that she had a disease which made her age prematurely. I see this as a sign that she was always wise beyond her years. Anyway, she shows me her understanding of inner beauty through Polly’s story, and I find her to be an incredibly admirable person no matter what she looked like on the outside.
Everyone seems to be jumping on the self-love bandwagon these days, and while I’m glad that we like ourselves now, we also need to realize that there is a fine line between accepting and obsessing. In short, there is nothing beautiful about vanity. This is a truth I need to be reminded of more often than I would like to admit. Luckily for me, it’s fun to learn it through the gift of a woman who understood and wrote how gentleness, modesty and humility are indications of timeless—albeit, old-fashioned—beauty.
So, Tanner has finished ripping out and hauling off our old deck and is now in the process of replanting a tree, and I have finished another cup of coffee and talked myself into reading my favorite book for the hundredth time (productive, I know). It’s scarf-wearing, cocoa-drinking weather outside, our house is warm and cozy, and there are a few pieces of homemade bread left over. It’s not much, but that’s our story for today.