Sunday, February 24, 2013

Another childhood mystery solved...

"Anemones" (Pulsatilla patens)
     "I have grown to believe that the one thing worth arriving at is simplicity of heart and life. That--
     "One's relations with others should be direct and not diplomatic.
     "Meannness and hardness and coldness are the unforgiveable sins.
     "Conventionality is the mother of dreariness.
     "Pleasure exists not in virtue of material conditions but in the joyful heart.
     "The world is a very interesting and beautiful place.
     "Congenial labor is the secret of happiness and many other things which seem, as I write them down, to be dull and trite commonplaces, but are for me the bright jewels which I have found beside the way".

          A list of observations written in her diary, quoted in "Separate Lives, The Story of Mary Rippon" by Silvia Pettem, The Book Lode, Longmont, 1999.

I can't begin to imagine how many times in my life I have sat on the sandstone benches of the Mary Rippon Theater on the Boulder C.U. campus, watching Shakespeare plays under the stars: the very first time was Midsummer Nights Dream, the inaugural year of the first Shakespeare Festival (when I was in Kintergarten! I still remember parts of the production! And being a little shocked by Belly Bottoms' aquiring a donkey's head).  This transpired almost twenty years after the Professor for whom the theater was named had died in 1935. By the way, this was the first Festival to complete the Bard's canon in the New World, I suspect I have sat through 100 performances there over the years, and I have walked through that open quadrangle framed by Hellems and the Museum Building thousands of times as a youngster and Collegian, often wondering who Mary Rippon truly was as I did so.

I found a crisp paperback copy of her biography published 15 years ago at my nearby ARC on Saturday, and was riveted from the first page by her astounding story: that a woman without a college degree would be hired by the first President (Dr. Sewall) of CU to teach--from the very first year of the University--and that she would have a stellar career, heaped with honors and become the mentor of hundreds during which time she conceived a child out of wedlock with a student, then secretly married, and carried on a relationship with her husband that spanned decades, his life abroad and that she supported him and her daughter much of that time, and even his new family once they had divorced--all this is most amazing to read about. A wonderfully written book, carefully pieced together from thousands of tiny fragments of information the author ferreted out (Mary Rippon had destroyed most of her letters and large parts of her diaries---with only the most incidental information left to re-create the portrait). The Appendix citing sources is half as long as the biography! That's scholarship for you!

What emerges is a painting of an extraordinary human being indeed. She summarized her philosophy not long before she died in those few sentences I transcribed above which certainly resonate for me. 

Although many themes echoed for me throughout this book--the glimpses I got of my home town as it was in the dusty and yet pristine 19th century were especially delightful, and I was heartened by the realization of how truly honorable and thoughtful people were during the long Victorian era, despite the moral serverity of the times.

The role that flowers play throughout the book is amazing: hence the "anemones" at the top of the masthead: Mary would rent a horse from the livery every spring when the pasqueflowers bloomed and rode out onto the mesas south of the University to admire them--very likely around the very spot where I grew up and spent my childhood and much of my youth. She and her daughter were both great fanciers of wildflowers and naturalistic gardening--another peculiar bond I share with them both.


  1. The effort it took then to take in something fleeting and special to influence - strikes me as the effort it takes today among all the pressures and stress. Same thing, so worthwhile!

  2. One of my favorite Spring flowers, but unfortunately I don't have any in my own gardens yet. I was hoping to plant some in my sand prairie, but the seed is so dang expensive.


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