Sunday, March 9, 2003
My mother and father each grew up with sisters and started off wanting some boys to balance the genealogical mix a bit. They wound up with four sons. "Be careful what you wish for," my mom was wont to say, especially stuck in the house late on a rainy afternoon with thrown objects whizzing through the air around her. With all those brothers around, my early years at home centered around sports (including our own fraternal version of studio wrestling in the living room), pranks on the unwary, eating everything in sight and other guy-type pursuits. Given these conditions, one might wonder where I first encountered any hint of feminine influence on my worldview. My mother was definitely outnumbered and, sad to admit, all of us guys ignored her good advice every once in a while.
Fortunately for my mother, and in the long run for me as well, there was help available. Beyond my very male-oriented nuclear household, my extended family was populated with strong assertive women of all ages, imbued with sturdy confidence, graced with wide-ranging talents.
Whenever we'd head off to visit them during summer vacation or holidays, the dominant milieu my brothers and I lived within was, shall I say, reoriented. As I was somewhat headstrong myself, this process occasionally led to conflict, but in time I looked forward to and appreciated being surrounded by smart, witty, iron-willed, opinionated and ambitious women. Women who wouldn't tolerate any ridiculous poop, be it of the bull or chicken variety.
Once the combined influence and guidance of all these grandmothers, aunts, and cousins had me suitably educated and conditioned, I headed off to graduate school, where I found another strong, assertive woman. Without delay I married her.
The trend of "girl power" in my extended family has continued to develop. Over the last several years my life has been enriched by nieces Kelsey (age 12) and Madeleine (2), and goddaughters Virginia (10) and Erin (7). (In the interest of journalistic accuracy, I note that Erin is the sister of our godson, but I call her and treat her as goddaughter even though it's not official in the Episcopal church.)
Kelsey, Madeleine, Virginia and Erin are all carrying on the strong assertive female tradition to which I've grown accustomed, each in her own unique way. I'm all for that. Indeed, in my roles as uncle and godfather, I am doing my best to encourage, or at least not impede, the development of that kind of personality.
Some of my effort will include conveying information and advice on topics that some uninformed folks might even consider guy-oriented, such as baseball, geographic orientation and military history.
Thanks to my upbringing, though, I know I should pass along more to them than knowledge of guy stuff. So I've been hunting other creative teaching tools for them that are culturally relevant. For example, I'm gathering examples of strong, assertive women from outside our family. No such role models are any more culturally relevant at this moment, especially with St. Paddy's Day fast approaching, than the national phenomenon of Jackson's own Sweet Potato Queens.
Sensitive readers may question what the SPQ movement might offer as constructive advice to my young nieces and goddaughters, given the bawdy humor and (let's be honest) sometimes man-bashing advice distilled into the Boss Queen's three best-seller books. And while I'm no literary prude, I must acknowledge that, well, the SPQ "Big Ass Cookbook (and Financial Planner)" is not a work well-suited for children's bedtime reading.
But I do sense that what undergirds all the SPQ popularity, and what inspires all the Wannabes to come parade through Jackson, Miss., is more than the Boss Queen's raucous tales, more even than the green sequins, tiaras, and big, uh, hair that started all this. Dare I posit that there is something deeper going on here? Something to be celebrated and taught for its intrinsic worth?
Well, this guy thinks there is. So, until my nieces and goddaughters can be allowed to read about the Sweet Potato Queens on their own, I've collected some SPQ teachings I've come across that I hope they'll absorb. With apologies to the Boss Queen, here is my edited-for-children list:
1) Take creative risks.
2) Be resilient.
3) Recognize stupid mistakes and don't repeat them.
4) Indulge a riotous sense of humor.
5) Cultivate a generous spirit.
6) Value memory without wallowing in the past.
7) Skewer the sanctimonious.
8) Don't let a guy ruin your life.
9) Don't ruin your life over a guy.
10) Laugh without ever worrying about the wrinkles.
Hmmm. If I make some gender-specific substitutions in Nos. 8 and 9, that should be worthy advice for my two nephews and my godson, too. I hope my sharing them with you fellows won't annoy the SPQs.
Mark Wiggs is an attorney and writer who lives in Belhaven.
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