I did not emerge from the womb as a Geek Magnolia, although there is a genetic predisposition.
No, my geekiness was fostered. In a town as small as my hometown, nerdy things are not always readily available. There was no comic book store, no group devoted to gaming. It was a time pre-VCR (I know, children, that you might not know what those are–think of a very archaic version of a DVD that you had to rewind). The only seeds of geekiness were found in the three basic alphabet television networks and books. But seeds have to be tended to grow.
Both of my parents fostered my love of learning. I have been told that the only way I would consent to nap is when Daddy would read to me in the afternoons before we both settled down for a ‘sinking spell’. Joel Chandler Harris, Dr. Seuss, Richard Scarry, and Mercer Mayer were just some of the ways that we bonded. He would read by the light of the green metal lamp on his bedside table, and we would drift off to sleep, only to waken when he smelled coffee brewing. And once a month we would receive the latest issue of National Geographic Magazine. They came with maps back then, so we ended up with stacks upon stacks of them. And when a new issue came in, Daddy and I would spread it out on the bed and talk about what we found. We both loved the topographical maps that showed the ocean floor. He would tell me stories about the places he’d visited, or where my grandfather and uncles had been stationed during WWI and WWII. He would have me map out long routes, giving me only a starting point and a destination, and letting me work through things and only offering advice when I was stuck. To this day, I love maps, and will pore over them at great length if given the opportunity.
But as much as I cherish those memories, it is really my mother that fostered the geekling in me. She is, herself, a geek magnolia though she might not realize it. Under the veneer of the Southern Lady who belongs to the DAR and the DRT lurks the heart of a geek. The first books I consciously remember getting as a gift were the Narnia Chronicles. And from then on, she fed me a constant diet of escapist literature, from Walter Farley’s Black Stallion books to John Bellairs gothic mysteries for young adults. Even when times were lean, I was never denied a book. Be it on our trips to a larger town that had book stores or the monthly Scholastic book orders at school, I never went home empty-handed. Books, she realized, removed borders. We might live in a small town, but books brought us the world. It only got worse (or really, better to be honest) when she and my oldest sister opened a bookstore. Getting paid in books? Best paycheck ever!
Now, lest you get the wrong impression, we weren’t only exposed to literature. Any vaguely science fiction or fantasy television program or movie was fair game as well. Sunday mornings often meant old Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movies. When I was about five, I saw in relatively quick succession: Jaws, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and Salem’s Lot. My sisters are happy to remind me that I wouldn’t take a bath without supervision for weeks, for fear that a great white shark pop up through the drain. And after Invasion of the Body Snatchers, I was afraid to go to sleep for fear that I would wake up a pod person. If I crawled into my parents’ bed a little more often, well, my mother only has herself to blame.
When we finally got a VCR, it turned into movie marathon weekends. By that time my sisters were out of the house and my dad was working more, so we would curl up and eat popcorn and watch ridiculous horror movies or space operas, quickly working our way through the new release sections at the local video stores.
But my mother’s greatest gift was to teach me to give myself over to my passions. She is a dedicated genealogist, and is quite happy to spend hours digging through old records to find some new bit of information. She soaks up history like a sponge, and is quite happy talk your ear off about it. She delights in talking about an ancestor who was described by a local newspaper of the time as ‘swashbuckling’. She has no desire to discover that we are related to famous people or to rich ones. She loves the story of these people who boarded ships and volunteered to leave everything they knew and come to place that was so very different than their homes. She loves the Highland rebels and Texas patriots. She will skulk about a cemetery looking for the graves of relatives, no matter how much it mortifies her teenaged daughter. She is herself, no airs or apologies. She is kind, and passionate, and the best mom I could have ever asked for.
Happy Mother’s Day, Momma.