'Reviving Ophelia' author Mary Pipher's new memoir highlights joy in the bleakest times
Book excerpt: ‘A Life in Light’
By Mary Pipher
Beaver City was a step up for me. I found kids to play with in our neighborhood. My friend Jeanie, daughter of our town newspaper’s editor, lived a block away in a three-story house with a big veranda. Jeanie had a pug nose, tight red curls, and blue eyes that spar- kled with mischief. I was a tall, angular kid, while Jeanie was short, soft, and curvy, but, in most ways, we were very much alike.
We were both outspoken and opinionated. Jeanie was quick-tempered and I was easily hurt, but when we argued, we made up quickly. We didn’t want to waste our time doing anything that wasn’t fun.
We often walked to the drugstore to buy gum. My favorite was Black Jack licorice, while Jeanie was a fan of bubble gum. I was not coordinated enough to blow bubbles and I admired her great skill. One memorable afternoon, she blew a bubble as big as her face. When it popped, she had gum in her hair, eyelashes, and ears. She had me take her picture, and later we laughed at the pink blob covering her features, surrounded by gummy curls.
Another time we found her dad’s ancient bottle of Mogen David wine in the refrigerator. We poured ourselves small glasses and proceeded to act drunk, slurring our words, falling on the floor, and saying the stupidest things we could. We thought we were hilarious.
Jeanie was the better prankster, but I was the more skilled reader. We both started with the Dana Girls and Nancy Drew, but I quickly moved into history, auto- biography, and grown-up novels. By eighth grade I was reading the Russians. I gave her my copy of Doctor Zhivago, annotated just for her. I told her, “Don’t let all the long Russian names and nicknames discourage you. This book is worth the effort.”
We spent lots of time at Jeanie’s, rocking on her wooden glider swing or lying in the grass, by day watching sunlight and clouds and at night finding the Big Dipper among the glittery stars. We counted falling stars and learned the names of the constellations.
In winter we lay on her lacy bedspread talking about school and outlining our dreams for the future. I wanted to live in New York City and work as an editor. Jeanie wanted to be a traveling nurse like Cherry Ames, the heroine of an adventure series for young girls.
Excerpted from “A Life in Light: Meditations on Impermanence.” Copyright © Mary Pipher, 2022.
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