Was it about the Horse, “Secretariat”, or a Lady of Character?

I went to the opening night of “Secretariat” in early October not really knowing why I wanted to go but something aside from the promotional ads told me it was going to be a great family film; one that would leave me with a good feeling.

I am not into horse racing; as a matter of fact I know nothing of horses and as far as races are concerned, there is a winner and a loser, that’s it!

This was a film about something much deeper, in my opinion, than a horse winning the Triple Crown in what has been regarded as the greatest horserace of all time. As thrilling as that was to see on film and as much as I heard myself cheer as “Old Red” crossed the finish line by 31 lengths the real joy was in the character of Penny Chenery Tweedy played by Diane Lane.

For those of you who have been reading my column this past year, you know I enjoy my home and the value of its care in fostering and enhancing human dignity and mutual love among its members. It is, I believe, the most natural environment to develop virtue and character and that is exactly what this film shouted out to me.

Let me explain:

The opening scene in “Secretariat” laid the groundwork for revealing the special character of Penny Chenery. Another scene could have been chosen but it never would have been as effective as the one at the breakfast table in which Penny had prepared a morning send off while enjoying the family chatter as she simultaneously posted “to do” notes on the refrigerator door. In that short yet most effective scene we saw Penny’s character unfold. We saw a woman who took pride in her home, in her children and in being a real partner to her husband. We saw the virtues of industriousness, order, perseverance, cheerfulness, understanding, patience and love flow from her personality.

Later in the film she relates how after college she had put aside the thought of a career to devote to her husband and children. Yet I believe it was precisely the career of wife, mother and homemaker that had nurtured her ability to bet on a colt that wasn’t born yet in order to save the dream of her father and his faltering Virginia stables. As business savvy as Chenery turned out to be, it really was the courage she had mustered through the practice of so many virtues she naturally lived in caring for her home and in transmitting values to her family that made it possible for her to trust in the veteran and at that time retired and discouraged trainer Lucien Laurin, played by John Malkovich. Her ability to be demanding and yet understanding of the small band of people under her charge was the proof of her character in action.

At first glance one might say she turned herself and her family upside down as she traveled back and forth from her home in Colorado to Virginia. Her lawyer husband, Tweedy, said they couldn’t manage without her and yet in time he and the children realized that she indeed had equipped them to manage and take on the needed responsibilities. Her close communication while away but most of all her knowledge of the importance of involving the children in the care of the home while they were young prepared them to take the reins in her absence. She knew they could do it and she trusted they would. None of that could have happened without those early years of nurturing and good example lived out in all the ordinary things of the home. Rather than the family falling apart, in time it grew closer with a deeper understanding of the role of a woman, a wife and a mother.

This film was an inspiration to me as I hope it will be to many other women who might question whether the role of raising a family and caring for a home is something that has long term benefits. The natural gifts of women along with the ongoing and invaluable education that this role imparts is one that shouldn’t be missed. I believe that it is one that our nation is eager to raise up to the standard that it deserves; one that is mighty!

Thank you Penny Chenery Tweedy !

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