As a child, I had some odd reading habits. Basically, if the book was in our house, I read it. We had children's books, sure, but my younger brothers and sisters were likely to nab those first. Since I got antsy without a book in my hands, I often read books I found on my parents' shelves. Several of those were by Indiana author Gene Stratton-Porter.
I read FRECKLES and A GIRL OF THE LIMBERLOST when I was eight or nine years old, and I went on to read many other books by this author. I couldn't put them down. They were beautifully written, but frightening, too - one scene in FRECKLES, I recall, gave me nightmares for weeks.
But the stories stayed with me, and looking back, I wonder if my early reading of those books forged my future attitudes towards trees, forests and the world around me. I suspect I absorbed a lot more from Gene Stratton-Porter's books than I ever realized.
The author intrigued me because she was from neighboring Indiana (I grew up in the Chicago suburbs). When I got hooked on genealogy as an adult, I discovered I'd had ancestors who lived in the same area where Stratton-Porter lived as a young bride -- Decatur, Indiana. As I researched the author further, I became fascinated with her life story.
Geneva Grace "Gene" Stratton was born in 1863 in Wabash County, Indiana, the twelfth child of a farming family. She died in Los Angeles, California in 1924 as the result of a traffic accident. In the years between, she married Charles Porter, had one daughter (Jeannette) and wrote 12 novels and seven nature studies as well as several volumes of poetry and essays, children's books and many magazine articles.
But that wasn't all. After moving to California, Stratton-Porter (note the hyphenated name, which may be common today but certainly wasn't back then) she formed her own film company and produced eight motion pictures based on her novels. A naturalist, wildlife photographer, filmmaker and author whose books have a readership estimated at 50 million, Gene Stratton-Porter was born an Indiana farm girl, but lived like a Renaissance woman.
Two of her homes are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and are maintained by Indiana as historic sites: Gene Stratton-Porter Cabin “The Cabin in Wildflower Woods”, Rome City (Noble County) and Gene Stratton-Porter “Limberlost”, Geneva (Adams County).
Her books are still worth reading, despite - or maybe because of - their flavor of the past. That sense of times past is even stronger in the black-and-white movies made from her books. (I haven't seen the one that's currently available, so I can't speak for that one.)
Looking back on Gene Stratton-Porter and all she accomplished has served to remind me that strong, independent women didn't suddenly evolve as a result of the suffragette movement. Gene Stratton-Porter's writings were seeds she planted more than a hundred years ago -- a Hoosier farm girl who carved her own future and, indirectly, helped shape mine.
Were there books you read as a child that, looking back, may have influenced the direction your life took? I'd love to hear about them!