Anyone who has gumption knows what it is, and anyone who hasn’t can never know what it is. So there is no need of defining it.”
― L.M. Montgomery
My sister Lorraine has buckets full of gumption. She always has. When she was seven years old she wanted to be in the school talent show, but didn’t have a bona fide talent that she could identify. So she organized her entire class to perform ‘The Hokey Pokey’. Just like that, this seven-year old whipped everyone up into a frenzy of excitement over the idea, and come performance night there she was, on stage with an entire chorus of backup dancers and singers behind her.
When Lorraine went off to college her gumption almost did her in. Almost immediately she fell in love with a boy whom I’ll call Dante. He was in a rock band, and she took to following him and his band around town, dancing while he played. She spoke of Dante often on our phone calls, while I repeatedly asked her what was it, again, that was so great about this guy? “His shoulders!” she inevitably gushed. “They’re so broad!” “Anything else?” I’d ask, trying not to roll my eyes. “He’s in a band, Kristine!” she gushed. “You should come down and hear Liquid Rhythm live…they’re awesome!”
Her romance with Dante lasted all fall and winter, and come spring break, while other kids went home to spend Easter with their families, Lorraine stayed in Chico. She planned to spend the week with Dante, but he headed back to his hometown of Yuba City to party down with his former girlfriend. Since Lorraine was clueless about that little detail, she spent the week trying to figure out how to dazzle Dante and make him commit to her once and for all.
Early that Monday morning she gathered up a bucket full of cleaning supplies and rags, then walked over to the home Dante shared with five other guys. Her plan was to clean it top to bottom, leave a little love note in the Easter Basket she was making for Dante’s soon-to-be laundered bed, then go home to await the love and admiration he would lavish upon her after discovering his joyful Easter Morn’.
But Lorraine had no key to get inside. She tried the doors and lower level windows, but they were all locked tight. Then she eyed the skylight on the roof, and remembered one of Dante’s friends saying it lifted up and they all used it to get inside occasionally. Without a lot of thought, Lorraine decided she, too, could drop down into the frat house. If the boys could do it, surely she could do it too…right?
Without further ado, Lorraine shimmied up a vine to the outside ledge of the two-story home’s fireplace. From there she hoisted herself up to a tree limb, then hopped onto the roof. She crawled over to the skylight and saw that it sat atop a box frame. Kneeling, she grabbed the side of the plastic dome and yanked up, hard. Instead of rising gracefully towards the sun, as she imagined, the heavy plastic dome immediately pulled away from the box frame and started sliding down the steeply pitched roof, with Lorraine sliding down next to it. “I’m going to die with this skylight!” Lorraine thought wildly, trying to keep the skylight from crashing to the ground by clutching it desperately. Suddenly she realized if something didn’t change, she was going off the edge of the roof, too. At the last-minute she let go of the dome and tried to save herself. Right then – when the skylight’s four sides crashed down onto the shingled roof – the plastic dome came to a stop, just two inches from the edge.
Lorraine sat on the rooftop in stunned silence. She knew the skylight was too heavy to drag back up to the opening. Not knowing what to do, she sat there until next-door neighbors appeared. Lorraine started to call to them for help, only to realize she better clam up. She was technically breaking and entering! Crawling on her hands and knees, she headed back towards the skylight opening. Here, she lowered herself inside and dropped down onto the bed below. At last she breathed a long, huge sigh of relief. She was in!
Lorraine wandered downstairs to the phone (remember when they plugged into the wall?) and called her friend Jenelle for help. While she was on the phone, explaining the days’ events, the sky burst open and a downpour of such intensity began that Lorraine could barely hear Jenelle offering her advice from far-away San Francisco. “Grab the shower curtain!” she made out dimly. Lorraine obediently ripped the shower curtain from Dante’s bathroom and threw it over his bed. This failed to cover the whole mattress, though, so Lorraine grabbed towels and dirty clothes off the floor and spread them every which way, trying to soak up the water.
Poor Jenelle must have realized the situation was desperate, because she agreed to round-up some other friends and make the three-hour drive back to Chico. “Hold on till we get there!” she yelled, and Lorraine hung up and ran to the kitchen. She located a box of Saran Wrap and rushed back upstairs, where for the next hour she tried in vain to plastic-wrap the entire contents of Dante’s bedroom, including his bed.
The rest of that week passed in a blur. The storm passed. Jenelle and several friends arrived, and together those girls managed to get up on the roof and hoist the skylight back in place. Lorraine found the keys to Dante’s car, which he’d left in the driveway, and drove to the store to buy new bed linens for his rain-soaked bed. Unfortunately she ran out of gas on the way home. After a walk to the gas station and back, she tried to re-park the car exactly the way she had found it, except with a now-full tank of gas.
Undeterred by these mountains of misfortune, Lorraine pushed on. She decorated an enormous Easter Basket and then fashioned a candy-strewn trail which led from the drive way straight to the basket, now perched on new linens in the spotless bedroom with the gleaming skylight perfectly in place.
And so, on the sixth day of that Easter Break, Lorraine rested. Dante returned to his immaculate frat-boy house, a candy-strewn walkway, new bed linens and a polished skylight, and promptly broke up with Lorraine with his mouth still full of Cadbury Easter Bunny chocolate.
Lorraine was devastated. For years she rarely mentioned Dante or his dastardly behavior. But now, twenty years later, Lorraine chuckles and shakes her head about her long-ago sky-dive towards disaster. “What was I thinking?” she moans. “I actually climbed up onto the roof and tried to move a skylight!”
The funny bit is, Lorraine would do that for most anybody, even today at forty years old. Her bucket overflows with generosity and gumption, and none of us, even her, know how to still the flow.
Today marks another year since Lorraine began galloping over this Earth, and the rest of us began trying desperately to keep up with her. I hope this year she gets a bucket load of goodness thrown back her way. I hope she stays off of roofs. And I hope she realizes that, “…some people go through life trying to find out what the world holds for them only to find out too late that it’s what they bring to the world that really counts.” – L.M. Montgomery, ‘Anne of Green Gables’
Happy Birthday, Gumption Girl!