Yes, today's the day that Charlotte Lucas blows out 96 candles on her birthday cake -- if we can get her away from the computer long enough.
You may know Charlotte from her World War II series (first one here), from the 1937 freighter trip she's chronicling now(first one here, latest posted today at 12:35), from her musings on Condoleezza Rice, or from her plans for fending off roving death panels. Please join me in a metaphorical glass of brandy and water (no ice, please) to celebrate a "truly accomplished" woman.
Her name is a pseudonym, after a character in Jane Austen's PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (where that "truly accomplished" comes from, above). Charlotte has had an "I'd Rather Be Reading Jane Austen" sweatshirt for at least 40 years. She named her oldest daughter Elizabeth Bennet. She would've named her next daughter Jane Austen had not Mr. Charlotte Lucas -- and the baby, according to family legend -- intervened.
But Charlotte's interests go far beyond J.A. and literature. She's a self-taught expert on Asian history, particularly that of India and China, and on Irish history. She's always reading (now using a Kindle for the large print), and urging everyone around her to read, waging years-long campaigns to persuade her offspring to read anything from VANITY FAIR (the novel) to THE GREAT GAME (something or other about British imperial activities). She's not above giving you Cocker Spaniel eyes and saying, "After I'm GONE, you'll be sorry that you never read BARCHESTER TOWERS while I was alive."
And does she get around. From her home in California she's been to Morocco, Tibet, Turkey, Thailand, Italy, Indonesia, France, China (three times), Nepal, Sweden, England, Ireland (about 20 times), and I've left out at least ten other countries. In her late 80s, she flew around Mt. Everest in a two seater plane and insisted on showing the photos to her squeamish children. She's ridden elephants in Thailand, camels in Morocco (or was that somewhere else?) and hiked up mountains everywhere.
She's an accomplished tailor, knitter, cook and gardener (passersby take pictures of her gardens). She's worked for and/or contributed to every Democratic presidential candidate and countless statewide and local candidates for over 60 years. With her husband Patrick, who died in 1990, she raised six children and last week welcomed another great-granddaughter (the most remarkable child ever born) into the world. She's sheltered homeless immigrants, tutored reading in Head Start, taken in abandoned pets, and been there for the friends of her children who had a tough time in their own homes. She volunteered with the local library until she was 92. She's a fierce feminist and a crusader for civil rights for all. She cried for joy when the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed.
A great mind, a great heart, and a great spirit. Happy birthday, Charlotte!