On the 16th Anniversary of our Daughter’s Birth: Grace meet Wendi, Wendi meet Grace

This post is sort of what I planned for this day of remembering Virginia Grace Pelham (February 3, 2006 ~ February 24, 2006), but with the death yesterday, February 1, of my friend Wendi Capehart, who was already a part of the story I wanted to tell, I will focus deeper on only one of the many ways my daughter changed my life. (For previous posts on Grace, you can click the ‘Virginia Grace’ tag to the right.) When disappointments happen in life, especially with the loss of a loved one ‘too early’, we often ask Why. With my daughter I wonder why she even came at all if she was only to stay those few weeks after her birth. Chatting with a friend the other day, I told her about my sleepless nights while pregnant with Grace, and how I stayed up nights surfing the internet, researching my plan to educate my son James, just 2 years old at that time, and what a wonder it was that Grace was helping her older brother back then from the womb as she kept me from sleeping. If that was the only reason Grace came to us but only for a while, that would be enough. As the years go by I see more reasons, but rather than go into those as I planned, I will park right there. Let me take you back to 2005, me sitting in our former carport/office in little Red Boiling Springs, TN, late nights to the wee hours of the morning, traveling through cyberspace, and meeting Wendi.

2005: When homeschooling information and chats were moving from catalogs and magazines to the internet. People were blogging and often joining those blogs together with ‘carnivals’. One late night I came upon a blog titled The Common Room. There was no real name attached to it. With their nicknames, I met the mother, ‘Deputy Headmistress’, and ‘Headgirl’, ‘Jenny Dots’, and about 5 others. Mostly it was the mother writing posts, but occasionally the older girls would contribute. This woman wrote about everything — homeschooling, raising children, food, old recipes, old books, vintage everything, politics, news, world events. How did she know so much? How did she read so much? How did she have time to do immediate analysis and commentary on the news, making so many connections, with all those kids in the house? I couldn’t keep up. This was truly the smartest woman I had ever ‘met’. But who was she? Where did she live? It was all so secret. She talked a lot about Charlotte Mason, some late 19th/early 20th century British educator. I’d never heard of Charlotte Mason — me who read so much and was a big Anglophile. Me who loved old books and old ways. I liked what I was hearing about this Charlotte Mason and what she thought about children and how we learn and what’s important in life. This DHM (Deputy Headmistress) also talked about AmblesideOnline, a Charlotte Mason curriculum. I might have been led there through DHM linking Mason’s writings which were housed at AO. In searching for how we would homeschool our son, I began with looking at all the ‘classical’ methods out there, and as I came to know Charlotte Mason more through DHM and AO, I knew I had found home. Here was the ‘classical’ that I wanted. It was different from many that I had been researching. It was ‘classical with heart’, as I thought of it then.

But still, who was this DHM, this smartest woman I had ever met? As I got to know more about AmblesideOnline, and mined the depths of their website — it runs deep, my friends, but you don’t know that at first glance — I learned that there were 6 women who had founded, written, and continued to oversee this curriculum. They were called The Advisory. So mysterious they were, with their bios having no pictures, just those Willow Tree figurines representing each one and her family. I decided that DHM must be one of them, and through time I identified her as Wendi Capehart. And I was right! Deciding that this was the curriculum I would use with my son, we followed their ‘Year 0’ suggestions until we officially began ‘Year 1’ when he was 6. (For all that that curriculum meant to us over the years, see my several posts here on the blog.) Through the years I got to know Wendi personally online, sending many questions her way. I was so honored when she messaged me one day to ask if I would be a moderator on the discussion group that they were moving from Yahoo groups to a forum on their own website. “We trust you. We think you are very level-headed,” she wrote to me. Not that I felt capable, but how could I turn down these women that had given so much to me? In 2016, when I didn’t think I could afford to go to Dallas for the AO conference, Wendi was part of the team that made sure I got there. That’s when I got to see her lovely face and hear her lovely voice in person. That’s when I got to hang out after hours in “the green room” with the Advisory and close friends, and see these women “with their hair down”, as it were, and find that they were the real deal and not just for show, and also incredibly funny. In 2019 I was at AO Camp Meeting in Tennessee, which I wrote about here. In that post I share about a special moment with Wendi teaching us a folk song. Wendi was a champion for “the riches”: Folksongs, Hymn Study, Picture Study, Composer Study, Nature Study. Wendi was extremely smart with academics, but she knew “the riches” (she came up with the name, as opposed to “the extras”) in order to emphasize that they were essential to education and to life, and not to be left to last and then neglected because we ran out of time. “The Riches” make it all worth it. Just last month this podcast interview with Wendi and Cindy Rollins was published. Wendi speaks a great deal in the interview about the importance of folk music. I will be writing more about that in another post.

The AmblesideOnline Advisory. Best friends and colleagues for over 20 years. Six women so different from each other, but so bonded in heart. Each essential to the team. They’ve communicated daily, sometimes from different continents. They’ve met in person only a handful of times. Their impact on my family’s life is eternal.

Wendi’s life was far from easy. There were was some intense and near tragic times with her family. Wendi raised and educated her 7 children, including a severely disabled daughter. Angel was in her 30s and still being taken care of by Wendi full time when they both went into the hospital last month. Angel passed away the week before Wendi did.

I don’t have time and space here to explain Charlotte Mason to those of you who don’t know. Read more of my blog to find out, or ask me questions sometime. But I’ll briefly try to explain that “Charlotte Mason” is not just a curriculum or educational philosophy, it is a way of thinking and living. Charlotte Mason was one of the most authentic persons I have ever known. I imagine her to be a lot like Wendi Capehart. Brilliant. Truth-seeker. Honest. Blunt. Reader. Thinker. Bluff-caller. Lover of all Creation. In awe of the Creator. Never giving up although going through many physical trials. Charlotte and Wendi, neither sought fame but they loved the truth and children and just could not keep what they knew to themselves.

In one of her last posts on social media, Wendi shared this quote from John Ruskin:

“Education is not teaching the youth of England the shapes of letters and their tricks of numbers, and then leaving them to turn their arithmetic to roguery and their literature to lust. Rather, it is the leading of human souls to what is best, and making what is best out of them; and the final results of the education I want you to give your children will be, in a few words, this–they will know what it is to see the sky, they will know what it is to breathe it, and they will know, best of all, what it is to behave under it, as in the presence of a Father who is in heaven.”

I put that last half in bold because I imagine these are Wendi’s words to us now that she is gone.

This chain of Grace to Wendi to Charlotte (and still Wendi)…..Little Grace who could not stay. She brought me mentors who taught me what a child is and what education is, who gave me a curriculum to follow, a philosophy to lead me in raising her brother, and in seeing all children that I meet and that I teach as fully human and capable. Little Grace, who couldn’t stay and grow up and be a child here, her life mattered, and daily has an impact on the lives of every child and adult her mother meets. Thank you, Grace, for bringing me to Wendi. Thank you, Wendi, for bringing me to Charlotte. And now, Grace meet Wendi. Wendi meet Grace. Till we all meet again.

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