We begin a new series today called Past Blast, in which I plan to share some of my writing from before In My Kitchen, In My Life existed.
It occurs to me sometimes that I have probably never had an original thought. What I think and what I do is a direct result of what I have learned from others. I am not troubled by this knowledge – it seems to me that the trick to being a good copycat is to make sure to copy good cats. My overarching influences are God’s Word and my parents – both have shaped me to a degree beyond my ability to describe or even comprehend. To a lesser degree, like Paul’s command to imitate him as he imitated Christ, my steps are directed by a host of others I have encountered at various points in my life, and some of them are not even real people.
Enter Olivia Walton. Olivia is the wife/mother/daughter-in-law character in the long-running 1970s series, The Waltons. You remember: “Goodnight, John Boy…” She is my go-to model in all of these roles and more. Her life is not easy. The story is set in the 1930s and 40s – the Depression is in full swing and later there is war, she has a large family whose needs often outstrip her resources, she lives with her in-laws, and her husband refuses to be baptized. None of those circumstances fit my own, but, specifics notwithstanding, it is her approach to life that inspires me.
I admire her attitude toward her work. Living in a rural area far from most conveniences and without the money to afford them even if they were available, the Waltons grow, raise, and hunt much of their food, which means putting a chicken dinner on the table involves more than opening a packaged Purdue bird and popping him in the oven to roast. And, eleven family members can plow through an awful lot of biscuits and a boatload of gravy at one sitting. Then there is sewing, laundry, housecleaning, canning, and on and on. The work does not stop, but where some women succumb to resentment or hopelessness in the face of such needs, Olivia chooses joy. She is industrious, to be sure, but she has learned to find the fun and satisfaction in her tasks. She does her work excellently and makes a place for beauty in her life within the limits of her resources – her family’s clothing may be made of inexpensive fabric, but the stitchery is fine. She takes time to plant marigolds in front of their farmhouse, and she pauses to appreciate the handiwork of God in her mountain home by noticing and even sketching the seasonal landscape. She also has a healthy sense of keeping priorities in line – she knows when to set her everyday tasks aside for the moment to attend to the needs of her husband, a child, a neighbor, or even herself, but she does not use such interruptions as an excuse to jettison her responsibilities frequently, to the ultimate detriment of those who count on her.
People in her orbit do count on her and she finds joy in that. She serves, but she has not lost her sense of self and what she is capable of doing and what she is not. Sometimes she takes on too much, but she is wise enough to realize it and make changes. I appreciate that the changes are chosen from a self-sacrificial point of view, but again, not a martyred stance but rather a “what is possible and how can I accommodate legitimate needs in the best way?” mindset. Just like in my life, that balance is tenuous, with need for frequent re-evaluation and adjustment. That comforts me somehow.
Olivia loves being married, and she loves her husband – unabashedly and unreservedly. They both have strong personalities and convictions which do not always match, but there is mutual respect and in Olivia a recognition of the man’s need to lead and her need to submit, even when she finds it very hard to do. I love that married love is portrayed here as a healthy and normal pleasure not reserved just for the well-off or the young or the gorgeous. I love the attitude of the marriage as a partnership in which each does his or her best to aid the family and one another. In one memorable scene, the Waltons are having an especially tight time financially and Olivia worries that she should get a paying job for awhile. “I feel like I should be helping out, John,” she says.
“Liv,” he replies, “I can’t think of a time when you haven’t helped out.” Wow. For an acts-of-service/words of affirmation love-language woman, that is high praise and great romance all rolled into one comment.
I want my husband to be able to say the same of me, so I follow Olivia’s lead. It is she who makes me get up and fix a decent dinner instead of presenting my husband with a can o’something stirred into a box o’ something at the end of his long day of work. It is she who encourages me to meet others where they are without compromising who I am. It is she who helps me take seriously the adolescent worries and fears of my children, and she who shows me how to help them look at the bigger picture and see things from more than one side. Because of Olivia I am thriftier, kinder, firmer, and saucier. I am also more loving, generous, hard-working, appreciative, sensible, and joyful than I would be if I had not met her. Most of all, because of her I keep looking — looking for the opportunities, looking for the balance, looking for the joy – and trusting God with the outcome. So, thank you, Mrs. Walton, for all the ways you help me to be a better person. And, by the way, I really love your hairstyle. How do you get that twist to stay in place so neatly?
Do you “channel” any fictional characters — to follow as an example when you are making choices, to motivate you to do better, to encourage you that your worthy efforts will bring the outcome you desire? I’d love to hear about who you look to for inspiration in your life.