Now here’s a story I have not had a chance to tell.
Back in the 90’s . . . remember them? I was living in a family with two young girls and coached their soccer and softball teams and worked in their classrooms once a week. I was exposed to lots of young girl stuff, and was deeply enveloped in Disney on Ice and the long line of princesses of different sorts. Alladin, the Lion King, Ariel, Nala, Jasmine, We watched the films and sang the songs and took part in the Great American Disney-fication of everything. It was the closest I guess I came to having children, that and when I lived in Big Sur in the 70’s with the mother and baby I had been breathing coach for at her home birth. I gave her away at her wedding years later.
Still, no children of my own, despite many years of playing music for and with other people’s children. As a storyteller myself, I often thought that, as a culture we have given the storytelling responsibilities to a huge machine that was built to monetize stories. The value of stories to reveal truths to us about how the world works and the knowledge of those who came before us, or simply ways to communicate values and ideas . . . to inspire us!
One of those Disney heroines was Pocahontas. At least the Disney version, which was long on the storytelling and a bit short on facts.
In reality, Pocahontas had a fascinating story, she may have negotiated the saving of Capt. John Smith’s life after he had been captured by a neighboring tribe. She had been bringing food to the starving colonists at Jamestown. Some years later, she was taken hostage by the English and spent a year with them, learning English, becoming Christian, and having her named changed to Rebecca, from her actual name, one of them anyway, Mataoka. She became the symbol of Indian religious conversion. She married John Rolfe and bore him two sons. She was received by the Queen and presented as an Indian princess. On her way to return to Virginia, she fell ill and died. She was buried in Gravesend, England.
This was not the Pocahontas the girls and I were singing along with about the colors of the wind. She bore little resemblance to Rebecca. Still, we enjoyed the songs and could sing them all.
Ten years later, after my relationship with that family had transformed and I was living alone in San Juan, I met Pocahontas. Well, in a way I did. As life often does, an unexpected reunion was made and I met the woman who the image of Pocahontas was modeled after. I think these things happen more often in Southern California than around here.
It turns out one of the boys who had a crush on her in high school grew up to be an animator who worked for Disney and as they were seeking a look for Pocahontas, he found a photo of her and she became the model for the Disney character.
I met this woman about 5 years ago, but we had a longer connection. 35 years before, I had known her mother in Portland, Oregon. She is my daughter.
Somehow in our conversations filling in each other’s life for the other, she told the story of how she had been the model for Pocahontas and I realized that I had been seeing her image all that time. She had been in my life, even though I did not know that she existed. Her presence was there.
Now I know that I should probably be posting a photo here, but I think she might not be happy about me doing that. Let us know that the story is what it is and that there is no doubt in my mind about the resemblance. In fact, now that I think of it, Pocahontas looks a bit like my mother!
PS – Life has a way of informing us if we pay attention. The story unfolded further. I told my daughter about writing this column and she thought I should contact the artist and get his version of the story. As it turned out, he told me that he became involved in the Pocahontas movie late in the project. It was true that he had photos of my daughter on his desk during the process, but he thought it doubtful that there was any direct affect on the design of the image of Pocahontas which had already been developed.
He did tell me that my daughter had encouraged him to follow his passion of being an animator and that had a big impact upon his life.
In my family, like Disney, we have never been known to let the truth get in the way of a good story but . . . I thought you’d like to know!
In San Juan … we wave!