Last night, September 24, 2014, I got to meet my childhood hero. She was one of my first heroes.
I don’t follow celebrities like a nut. I’ve never even met one. But when I saw that Nichelle Nichols would be in town for a couple of hours, I HAD to go see her.
You see, she played my first TV hero, in a time when there weren’t many heroes for girls. Because of the era the show Star Trek first appeared in, she was a symbol, not just for people of color, but women and girls everywhere. She was playing a major role on television, and was both black AND a woman. Double-whammy in the late 60s (and still today, frankly).
Despite what my parents told me, I grew up feeling “less than” because I knew society told me so. I KNEW that, because strong and smart women were not well-represented on television. At best, there was a token female on a show or movie.
I remember being so angry about how society saw me, that, in the 5th grade as I mowed my other grandparent’s 2.5 acre lawn (with a push mower, before self-propelled) I grew angrier and angrier. I was determined to finish that lawn, just to show a girl could. At one point, I got so angry, I punched a pine tree (I pulled my punch just in time, realizing how stupid that was…only came away with scraped knuckles instead of broken fingers).
I think that a lot of my life, I’ve been proving that I can do anything a man can do. Maybe that’s how I kept finding myself in male-dominated work environments and later fell into a male-dominated industry.
Back to Trek stuff: some of my fondest memories are visiting with my Grandmother Floyce, the Original Star Trek Fan in the family, on weekends and summer, sitting on her knee to watch Star Trek in syndication late at night in the mid/late 70s.
So as a kid, I had Lieutenant Uhura and Princess Leia. That was pretty much it for quite a while.
The day arrives to meet her…..
As soon as work was over, I was running around trying on different outfits and jewelry. Doing hair and makeup. I swear, you’d think I was going on a first date. Shoot, I even busted out the curling iron!
After trying on many outfits, I settled on something simple so I could wear the awesome necklace my husband got me:
(FYI: click to enlarge any photo in this post.)
Blurry photo of hammered copper Federation insignia on leather rope.
I got a lot of compliments on that necklace at the event.
I arrived, plastic money card in hand, to get a photo of her, have her sign it, and have my picture taken with her and a moment to talk with her.
Bear in mind: I have Asperger’s Syndrome and General Anxiety Disorder, which comes with a healthy dose of social anxieties and phobias. I can go to parties with people I’ve know for years and sometimes need a Xanax or a few drinks to get through the experience.
On the drive there: calm. In the store: calm. Meeting and talking with total strangers: calm. Meeting Nichelle Nichols: calm. And amazingly, I was able to actually talk to her!
Really, my only moment of panic was that they had a spread of 8 x 10s we could pick from. Some had the whole cast. Loved the one with Uhura and Sulu in the alternate universe. Maybe a dozen choices. In the end, I chose the classic headshot that always has stuck with me over the years.
It says: Janice, Blessings
Also, the earrings in the photo? She was wearing them that night. Some of the women that worked at the store made them for her, and she apparently loved them. While she signed my autograph, she stopped at one point to engage a 5 year old girl (of a couple I had gotten to know while in line). It was adorable.
Then, we took a photo together:
You know I’m happy when I show teeth in a photo. I’m very insecure about my crooked teeth.
Before going to this event, I was given some great advice, saying that if I want to see her light up, ask about some of her projects, like NASA. And I wanted to. But instead, what came out was part of a script that had been running in my head the whole way there. Because I felt so much gratitude for the impact a woman had on me, that I have never met.
When the photo was done I said: “Ms. Nichols, I just want to thank you. You were one of my first childhood heroes. I grew up watching you on my Grandmother’s knee. I only wish she could be here.”
Nichelle put her hand on mine and said: “Oh honey, she is.”
I mentioned that when I finally got my ears pierced, for years, I only wore gold hoop earrings. She laughed.
Then I told her that I had read her autobiography and told her that I found it inspiring. I said she’s an amazing woman and I admire her strength.
Again, she put her hand on mine and said, “Honey, you’re strong too.”.
I walked away from her, reverently holding her signed photo. (A certain part of my brain was also flashing to Lord of the Rings and thinking, “My Precious!”.)
I got to stop and visit with a friend and his son afterward too (and they got a photo too!). Then, decided to head home before it got too late. I like to be home when the kids go to bed so I can tuck them in at night.
The father of the family that I got to know in line (who also had a voicemail recording by Patrick Steward, that was awesome), talked all kinds of Star Trek lore with me. Somehow, Redshirts came up. I told him about it. I said that if he can find it for sale anywhere, probably just ThinkGeek and Amazon. To our knowledge, most or all the retail stores ran out. I told him another printing is on the way though and to go to weaselpants.com and check it out.
Last night, my husband says, “I got an email from some guy named Joe that wants to know what address to send you some videos.”
Me: “Oh! I met him and his family! Sure, give him my address!”
This morning, I woke up to the following footage in my inbox. Just brief recordings, but still precious to me. I sent him my most sincere thank you.
Here’s what he sent:
I love meeting other nerds and geeks. They are so warm and kind. While in the comic book store, it was like going to other geek conventions: I was “with my tribe”.
Having met Nichelle Nichols, she was a lot like my grandmother: a loving, compassionate, brave, strong, humble person that everyone could not help but love. Grandmother Floyce never saw in herself what we all saw in her.
I wish Grandmother could have met her. They were born around the same time and seem to have similar personalities. They’ve both overcome a lot of hardships. They would have gotten on like gangbusters. And EVERYONE who met my grandmother fell in love with her. She was just that kind of person. In a way, I felt like I was meeting Nichelle Nichols for Grandmother. In another way, it felt like I was meeting Grandmother.
My Grandmother was such a sci-fi and fantasy fan, when my husband and me got her the Lord of the Rings box set, special edition, DVD for Christmas, she cried. That was my grandmother. She loved Harry Potter. She loved Star Wars. She loved it all.
And here’s another thing about Star Trek: because I was an undiagnosed child on the autistic spectrum, I learned a lot about human behavior from reading all the Star Trek books (when I was a kid, my parents had an enormous collection that was nearly every Star Trek book ever printed). For example, when I read Uhura’s Song (my favorite) I learned not to stare at people without breaking eye contact during a conversation. It makes people uncomfortable. So that was when I learned to glance away from people when talking. One of the many social nuances I remember consciously learning, then training myself to do.
The episode “The Naked Time”, where Sulu runs around pretending to be D’Artagnan of The Three Musketeers, led me to pick up a copy of that classic piece of literature, because I knew nothing about it. And fell in love with the book.
So that’s my story. I got to meet her, briefly, and just say “thank you”. I know it’s no different from any other fan, but it was what was in my heart and I just wanted to make sure she knew of my gratitude and admiration. And if you haven’t read her autobiography, go get it.