Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Review: The Mighty Queens of Freeville

I picked up Amy Dickinson's The Mighty Queens of Freeville because it was on the display table at Barnes & Noble, and I've heard the title about a thousand times. Dickinson, aside from being the Amy behind the "Ask Amy" advice column, is sometimes a panelist on NPR's Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me. I listen to the podcast every Sunday while either running or cleaning. I'm fortunate enough to have played a round on the show and won Carl Kasell's voice on my home answering machine (or iPhone, in my case).

I always assumed that the book was about misers. Freeville sounds thrifty, right? Dickinson is funny on the show, so I gave it a shot.

The women in this memoir are thrifty, but that's not the point of the book. Freeville, New York is where Dickinson's clan is based, and the book is about the women in her family, most of whom were left by their husbands. Dickinson's father walked out after he mortgaged her mother's farm, which left them with nothing. One of the saddest passages is when the repo men come to take the cows away.

I liked the book, and I read it in two days. It's not perfect, and sometimes the essays overlap and repeat information she already shared. But what she has to say about women and the power of female relationships stuck with me, as did her story of women who did not follow the traditional marriage>children pattern, whether they wanted to or not.

I thought about this a lot today, for a stupid reason: I renewed my passport. I didn't know that you had to turn the old one in to do so. I love my old passport, which I got right before I left the U.S. to study in England in early 2001. The 20 year old in that picture is so fresh faced and excited about everything. Why wouldn't she be? She was about to live overseas! She wasn't even a senior in college and didn't need to worry about what she'd do with the rest of her life.

I'm turning 30 in less than two weeks. What would she say if she saw me now? My chosen industry is collapsing around me. My sister and sister in law are both pregnant. I don't even have a boyfriend. Would 20 year old me be upset? Would she worry that all the work she'd put in between then and now would be for nothing?

I hope not. I'd tell her that I have a great life. I wrote a book, bought a house and got a dog - slightly crazy dog, but dog who thinks I'm the best thing in the ENTIRE WORLD. I've written for news outlets I never dreamed would even call me back, especially after that awful internship in Washington DC where I landed one story on the cover of a Texas newspaper but spent most of my time in the National Gallery of Art (take THAT guy who said I'd never be a journalist - who covered the World Series parade for the New York Times, huh?) I survived a wretched breakup that at 20 I never could have handled. I still sometimes hate how I look, but it's not as often, and I've learned to accept that having hips is a GOOD thing. I'd also tell her that some people she watched in envy as they walked down the aisle - including that college roommate she has at 20 - wouldn't be together anymore at the time I am now, and the whole relationship thing is a lot more difficult than she imagined - but that's OK. It SHOULD be complicated. It SHOULD be hard because, for it to work, it can't be like anything she sees in movies or reads about in magazines (magazines that she'll realize are junk by her mid-20s). I'd also tell her that she learns to stand on her own two feet, which makes those hard times easier to handle.

So back to Freeville. I liked seeing how Dickinson's story played out and that even after her husband left her with an infant to run off with his secretary, she had a great life. A fantastic one as did the other women in her family who'd been dealt a bad hand.

So what will my 40 year old self think of me? Will I ever be that old? (As I'd say to my 20 year old self - yes).

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