The most truly generous persons are those who give silently without hope of praise or reward.
― From the book Magical Melons/Caddie Woodlawn’s Family, by Carol Ryrie Brink
In my previous post, Excuse Me, But Can I Be You For A While, I mentioned that I am not convinced the debate on equality has brought much more equanimity between gay and straight people.
I should’ve qualified my statement by adding that the public divide and disarray, as a result of sensitive issues like Equal Marriage, are mostly among adults.
Let’s face it, children are rarely given a voice in these debates. After all, it is adults who hold the key to making equality a tangible reality. We are the ones deciding what the next generation’s future will look like. Yet, we don’t ask children what they think because we assume they don’t know enough. It’s the old ‘be heard and not seen’ chestnut.
I recently had the pleasure of reading a striking letter, written by a 9 year old, which speaks some simple home truths about the issues we are facing as a society today.
Finley — my best friend’s daughter — wrote the letter as part of a school assignment about the historical fiction book, Caddie Woodlawn (1939).
Set in the 1860s, Caddie Woodlawn is about a lively eleven-year-old, redhead, tomboy named Caroline Augusta Woodlawn, nicknamed “Caddie”, who lived in Dunnville, Wisconsin. The book opens with Caddie embarrassing her mother with her antics by being late for dinner after an excursion to visit the local Native American tribe.
Truth be told, Caddie’s life is far from boring and she has a string of adventures. From a midnight ride through the forest to warn her friend “Indian John” that the settlers are planning a massacre, to a prairie fire that brings out the best in a school bully, to a life-threatening fall through a lake while ice skating.
Caddie Woodlawn is the story of a family’s existence on the frontier during the American Civil War. It offers insights into how life was lived in a small Wisconsin village where fear of local Native Americans was a reality and life and death situations arose with frightening regularity.
Finley was asked to write a letter (a message in a bottle) from Caddie Woodlawn’s perspective. This is her interpretation of the lessons Caddie learned on her journey into adulthood:
“Dear Whoever finds this letter,
My name is Caddie Woodlawn. I am eleven years old and I live in Dunnville, in Wisconsin.
How far I have come this year. I’m the same girl and yet I am not the same.
I have learned that what you look like is a very important thing. My friend, Indian John, calls me Missee Red Hair. He really likes how red my hair and I think this is one of the reasons he made friends with me.
I am not a typical girl. My mom gets frustrated that I do not act like a young lady. I do not make bread, or needlepoint, or help in the kitchen. I prefer to plow, work with animals and play with my brothers, which is why my cousin, Annabel, made me feel uncomfortable.
I have been lucky. Most girls don’t have a father that would allow them to run wild. But I have learned that people treat others different if they don’t look or act the same.
A man in our church married an Indian woman and they were not welcome in our church anymore. It got so bad that she had to leave and her sons were left without a mom.
It is also important how much money you have. Slavery is unfair. My grandfather was an English Lord and married a seamstress, someone below his status. He was disowned and had to run away with his bride.
I hope that one day people will figure out that just because people look and act different, don’t mean they want to be massacred. You’d hope that the colour of your hair, or your skin, or how poor you are make no difference how you are treated.
It would be so great if you could marry anybody you loved.
I will take this letter and throw it in the Menominee River. I hope it reaches the ocean. I hope someday the lesson’s I learned in 1864 will make a difference in how people treat each other.
Finley wrote this letter herself, with no help or input from an adult.
It’s rather telling that a 9 year old can show such heart-warming insights into the effects of social prejudice, racism and discrimination, while a bunch of political bigwigs and religious zealots struggle to do the same. It certainly adds new meaning to the words: See the world through the eyes of a child.
As much as it is a cliché, it’s with kids like Finley that the potential of a better tomorrow lies… for all of us.
The future cannot come soon enough.
** Letter written by Finley Pool, aged 9 **
Images: Nicolette Pool & 1939 book cover of Caddie Woodlawn, Carol Ryrie Brink – Rights not owned
Text: Francois Lubbe