(The following is the 1st in a series of posts related to my re-reading of Miss America by Day: Lessons Learned from Ultimate Betrayal and Unconditional Love, by Marilyn Van Derbur.)
Imagine that a woman possessing a deep knowledge, insight, and wisdom concerning the milieu in which you were born and raised enters your life to take you, via a sort of virtual time travel, back to that milieu in order to help elucidate some of its profoundest meaning for and influence upon your life. Such was the feeling that ran through me when I first began reading Miss America by Day: Lessons Learned from Ultimate Betrayal and Unconditional Love, by Marilyn Van Derbur, soon after its first printing a decade ago.
How could Ms. Van Derbur’s book have affected me so deeply? Certainly, much of this effect can be attributed to Ms. Van Derbur’s aforementioned knowledge, insight, and wisdom along with related qualities of her character and intellect, and, as well, to Ms. Van Derbur’s skills as a writer, communicating, as she does in this book, in a clear, straightforward style which succeeds in illuminating the kernel of the content without sacrifice of subtlety and nuance.
But these attributes of Ms. Van Derbur and her writing, would, by themselves, fall substantially short of fully explaining the effect that Miss America by Day had upon me on first reading, and still has upon me as I begin my re-reading of it now. The full explanation is to be found, I believe, in a handful of key affinities shared by my and Ms. Van Derbur’s backgrounds:
Affinities of Time and Place:
Although Ms. Van Derbur is eighteen years my senior (having been born in 1937 to my 1955) and grew up in Denver, Colorado to my Athens, Georgia (birth to age three) and Nashville, Tennessee (three to eighteen), our upbringings were both steeped to substantial degrees in archetypal aspects of the mainstream ambiance of post-World War Two America as embodied in various of its medium-sized, inland cities: an ambiance of a resolutely optimistic, forward-looking optimism in which the social unit of the nuclear family (the traditional nuclear family, consisting of a male husband, female wife, both heterosexual, of course, and one or more—preferably more—children, with all children as well resplendently heterosexual) was perceived as constituting the core and bulwark of social respectability and traditional morality.
Affinity of Social Status:
Although, in economic terms, Ms. Van Derbur’s family of origin seems to have been decidedly wealthy, in contrast to my family of origin’s middle to upper-middle (depending on the stages of my father’s career) class status, I and Ms. Van Derbur both were raised in families possessing a high social status—in my case due mainly to my father’s having been a professor at a prestigious, nationally-respected university—Vanderbilt—that represented one of the chief reasons for Nashville’s reputation as being, for the prowess of its post-secondary educational institutions, “The Athens of the South” (Athens, Greece, as in Classical Greece, that is).
Affinity of Religion:
Ms. Van Derbur and I both grew up in Presbyterian families. Presbyterian churches often number among their members a significant portion of any community’s leading citizens and serve as emblems of cultivated thinking, success, and social propriety. This certainly seems to have been the case for Ms. Van Derbur’s church and for the church—Westminster Presbyterian—my family attended and became members of after moving to Nashville.
It was against the backdrop of these shared affinities—or, it might be more accurate to say in this context, behind the facades they conveniently provided—that Ms. Van Derbur’s and my experiences of being sexually abused in our childhoods—both of us by our fathers—played out, and it is due to these affinities, I believe, that I immediately felt a special resonance, from the opening pages, upon first reading Miss America by Day nearly ten years ago, and continue to feel such a resonance as I re-read it now; and feel, as well, such a deep and special sense of gratitude to Mr. Van Derbur for having written her book.