Joan of Arc and Thanksgivingby Lesley Sudders (aka Les Brierfield)
A terrifying memory had surfaced. When I was four, my older sisters had taken me to the movie about Joan of Arc with Ingrid Bergman, whose locks were shorn for the role. I don’t remember the movie much, until the part where I figured out what was about to become poor Joan’s hideously unpleasant end.
“Get me out of here,” I wailed. My sister accommodated, trying to catch the final moments from the lobby.
The next day at home, I found a hiding place and my mother’s scissors. Later, Mom found a bonnet for me to wear if I set foot outside before my hair grew back.
I had forgotten this episode over the next few years. Then, scanning a history book one day, I came across a mention of Joan, and all my earlier terror flooded back. But I didn’t talk about it with anyone.
This is what I do to this day when confronting something uncomfortable, or worse. I write about it. It’s obvious that we writers use our lives’ pain, confusion, sorrow, joy, surprise, and lessons learned in our writing, and on our best days, we give meaning to something that may seem senseless. Not saying that I achieved this at age eight.
I sat down to write a play I was sure would be performed at the Thanksgiving party in my little one-room schoolhouse. Anyone could write about Indians and pilgrims. They were old hat. I would cast a hapless six-year-old in the title role, because I certainly wasn’t casting myself! I imagined the painted flames we would stand up around her. She had no idea was going to happen to her. The older boys could be the king and the mean English guy. I would stand at the side, in a long robe (Mom’s bathrobe would work) and tell people what was going on. I finished the play.
The next day, the teacher, who taught all grades from first through eighth, read my play and put it down on her desk, slowly. I was about to receive my first literary rejection. “I know you spent a lot of time writing this, and it’s pretty good. But Thanksgiving is about being thankful. Do you think poor Joan had anything to be thankful for?”
I didn’t answer. I was on a mission to let the world know about this heroic girl.
“Tell you what,” the teacher went on, “why don’t we think about doing this at another time, and why don’t you write a different Thanksgiving play? The parents and everyone who comes will expect something a little more like we’ve done other years.”
I thought about it. Even then I knew “another time” meant, “not in this lifetime, duckie.” And that people might not like change. But she was trying to soften the blow.
“You mean with Squanto and John Alden and those guys?”
She nodded, smiling.
“Okay, it’s a deal. But the turkey is going to get cooked anyway. Can we burn him at the stake?”
Lesley Sudders has published a mystery, The Brodick Affair, writing as Les Brierfield, and is at work on her next novel and several short stories. A Colorado native, she lives in Arizona with her husband and writing collaborator Eduardo Cervino (E.C. Brierfield). Follow her blog: Les Brierfield, Author. Lesley welcomes contact at firstname.lastname@example.org.