Last Sunday was my birthday and seeing “CINDERELLA” was on my list of “Birthday Do’s.” Prior to the movie the short animated film, “Frozen Fever,” was played and Elsa sang “Happy Birthday” to me (coincidentally, it was her sister, Anna’s, birthday as well).
It was rather nice to have Elsa acknowledge my 59th. No, really, it was a wee bit thrilling actually.
I don’t think a spoiler alert is necessary. After all, few people aren’t familiar with the Cinderella fairytale. What many might not know is that there are several versions of the Cinderella story dating back to its root, Giambattista Basile’s La Pentarmerone (The Tale of Tales), titled Cat Cinderella. The version most are familiar with is that of the brothers Grimm. According to Sheldon Cashdan, THE WITCH MUST DIE: The Hidden Meaning of Fairy Tales, while “male figures in fairy tales tend to be portrayed as weak or unavailable. This does not mean that fathers are unfeeling.” What it does mean is this: “Fairy tales are maternal documents and so place greater emphasis on the relationship between mother and child, particularly as it relates to the development of the self.”
Perhaps this is why so many girls are intrigued by, or find themselves relating to, stories like Cinderella. I know that I did.
I have often said that my stepmother was who the character of Cinderella’s stepmother was modeled after — right down to the red hair and penchant for fine clothes.
Like the tale, she treated me horribly when my father was alive and he, it seemed, was clueless. Like the tale, after his death, the meanness and the cruelty escalated. Bedroom in the attic — check. Made to do all the housekeeping and gardening — check. Broken glass slipper, well, for me it was coming home and finding that she had broken into my diary. A diary with a key, remember those? A diary that I had received the Christmas before my father died and that documented all of my feelings since his death, as well as my first love, and drawings. I came home from school to find it torn to shreds and my heart flayed open on the top of my bed.
What the tale, at least the Disney version, doesn’t depict is the screaming, the shrieking, the hitting, and the beatings.
That there is a maternal presence in the universe concerned about [the girl’s] welfare, a presence that was once part of her life and is still a part of it…Fairy tales like Cinderella use concrete images to advance the notion that a psychological continuity exists with those we cherish even after they are no longer around (Cashdan).
My parents divorced when I was very young. I went to live with my father and stepmother (no stepsisters or stepbrothers) and my biological mother was not a part of my life anymore. So that “presence” came from my father. When I went to visit him in the hospital, I began to cry at the sight of his bruise-covered body. Although I did not fully understand what was happening, having never seen him in such a weak state I instinctively knew that he was not long for the world as I knew it. He bluntly told me to leave the room if I was going to cry. “I raised you to be strong. If you’re going to cry, leave the room.” Though it sounded hard at the time, in his own way, he was preparing me for life without him. He was a good man. A brave man who had struggled with his own life and identity growing up in foster care. A kind man. A strong father. He was a man dying much younger than he ever thought he would, unprepared and afraid for his only child, a girl.
Eventually, I came to understand that my stepmother was once a young woman who had dreams and ambitions of her own. Her mother died when she was young. and her only sister died when she was a young woman, which left my stepmother without any close female companion. In many ways, she was like me — alone. The difference was that she turned to alcohol and became bitter. And never having had children of her own, that bitterness turned to resentment and envy when my father fought for sole custody and brought me home to live with them.
My stepmother, Ann, went to work in the factories during World War II making munitions and continued working there after the war when they converted back to producing cars.
I would come to understand that her alcoholism was a disease. A disease that altered an otherwise loving and romantic heart into one of unspeakable cruelty. A heart that broke when her prince, my father, died. She was thirty-nine when she met and married my father. I’m sure she never imagined that ten years later, she would be burying him at the age she was when she fell in love. He was her first, and only, love and marriage. She never married again.
And I would forgive. Cinderella had a Fairy Godmother; I had my faith.
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
~ Ephesians 4:31-32
In the story, Cinderella finds her prince and goes to live in the castle. Her father’s estate, her home, is really never mentioned again. We can presume that she either left her stepmother and her stepsisters to live their days out there or, like in some versions, banished them from it. In my case, my stepmother inherited everything because there was no will. The estate that my father had built was taken from me with the draping of the pall.
Bruno Bettelheim writes in his book, THE USES OF ENCHANTMENT: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, that Cinderella’s story “reminds the child at the same time how lucky [she] is, and how much worse things could be. (Any anxiety about the latter possibility is relieved, as always in fairy tales, by the happy ending.).”
Seeing Disney’s CINDERELLA brought back many memories and emotions about my own childhood, but being able to watch it on my birthday, with one of my princesses and my prince was part of my happy ending. A happy ending that isn’t over yet.
Of course, my connection with all things Disney goes way back. After my stepmother died, I was invited to return to my childhood home and gather any items still left that were my father’s. As a child I loved to write and draw — passions that were long ago set on the back-burners. So can you imagine my surprise to find THIS, the door to my attic bedroom, still there.
During the many hours I spent in that room, I drew many pictures on the doors and walls. On the other side of this door is Lady. All done freehand.
This blog is one step in the directions of uncovering those passions.
“Be courageous and Be kind,” dear friend.