by Christie Boutain
One of my fondest memories growing up in a small town in Southwest Central Minnesota was going to our local library, checking out a book, and bringing it home to read in the summer sunlight. On those sometimes-sparse sunny days, I would hop on my banana seat bike and hit the alley way behind my house, heading to the library. I would pass by our church and know I was only a couple of blocks away.
The library was a two-story, stone block building just off our downtown main street. The front of the building was level with the street, but the back of the building was level with the lower parking area. Coming up to the library from the back, I would park my bike in the parking lot that never had any cars parked in it.
As I approached the building, there was always a creepy sensation I would get passing by the downstairs doorway that I could only imagine lead to somewhere ominous versus the actual community meeting room that was there. I would hike the stone stairs to the main level taking steps two-by-two to get away from that creepiness below. It still gives me the heebie-jeebies even thinking about it decades later. As I rounded the corner of the building to climb the final half dozen steps, my pace would slow, my left hand tracing the rough, concrete blocks, my right hand gently being guided by the cool metal railing that the sun hadn’t been able to shine upon because of the growth of trees and shrubs on the other side of the building.
Once at the top of the steps, I was at the entry to the library. The world inside could take me to places I’d never seen and could only imagine in my mind. Walking through the double glass doors, I was finally inside, pausing to take a deep breath of that wonderful smell all libraries have. Books. My eyes would open and would have to adjust slightly from the fluorescent lights illuminating the one room space. The fluorescent lights always seemed to be fighting for dominance against the natural light trying to take over the space through the windows that ran alongside the front and side of the building. That one summer, it was here where I uncovered a couple of twins from Sweet Valley High.
It was Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield who were the first females that I really recall, outside of my family and teachers, who had a profound impact on me. Reading those stories, sometimes a book a day, allowed me to imagine something greater, something better that was out there. I admired these characters. Elizabeth was smart, a rule-follower, someone I related to. Her sister, Jessica, was the flirty, mischievous and irresponsible one. I wanted to be more like her. Their adventures, life in California, seemed a world away from my small Minnesota town. They gave me an ideal that I wanted for myself.
Since that summer, hundreds of women have taught me and influenced me tremendously. These women stand out in so many moments and periods in my life. From scrolling social media and connecting with women who post beautiful pictures or inspiring quotes, to women who have invested their time in helping me learn and grow, to women I have worked with in my career, on committees, or in volunteering activities, all these women have helped mold me into who I am today. To have my heart, mind, and soul pierced with the love, kindness, advice, and experiences from so many women is something I cherish and try to pass on to other women. These women have pushed me to be better, strive for my goals and dreams, and be a part of something greater than myself.
What would I tell my eleven-year-old self during that one summer? Seek women that inspire you, that you want to be more like, that have characteristics you admire. Whether you find them in books, in school, at a job or in your community. They will be your greatest teachers and support system for the rest of your life.
In honor of Women’s History Month, I encourage you to reach out to those women that have helped you or impacted you along your life’s path. Share with them what their influence has meant to you. Engage with other women. Share your stories and experiences. We are stronger together.
Christie Boutain is a commercial lender with Meadows Bank and is also active on the Gilbert Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors, Small Business Council and is the chair for the Women Empowered Committee. She lives in Gilbert with her husband, Bryan, and their two children, Bryanna and Jack. She still loves being in the sunshine and reading a good book.