When Lois Sargent was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, she used to like to surprise adults by answering that she wanted to be an archaeologist. This was more than 70 years ago, a time when most women, if they had occupations, were limited by gender norms to being housewives, teachers, secretaries, nurses or other “women’s work.”
According to Sargent, an 81-year-old award-winning Salem poet and author of “What Makes The United States?”, she always loved history and was intrigued by museum exhibits with a specific interest in dinosaur skeletons and Egyptian mummies. She held on to her dream of archaeology, but obtained her Bachelor of Science in Psychology and her Master of Education in Community Counseling. She has taught special education, adult creative writing, and, in Poland, she taught English. It wasn’t until later that she had the chance to live out her dream.
Sargent, along with over 80 other volunteers, excavated the buried city of Ashkelon in the southern district of Israel in 1988. Ashkelon, located 31 miles south of Tel Aviv and 8 miles north of the border with the Gaza Strip, dates back to the Neolithic Age. In her article, published in Biblical Archaeology Review in 1989, Sargent describes the four-and-a-half week long grueling work in the worst heat wave the area had in 35 years. Since she was physically unable to participate in digging, Sargent was assigned to fill guffas with excavated earth seven hours a day.
Experiencing Israel, touring, and uncovering an historic city was described by Sargent as her “wild horse” in her article. She overcame unpleasant living situations, extensive physical labor, sickness, and the ever-appealing option to simply call it quits. Sargent is a fighter, though, and through a combination of being both stubborn and proud, she met her goal.
Her ability to overcome obstacles has been evident throughout many experiences over the years. “If you write poetry, you get lots of rejections,” explained Sargent. Yet, despite those hurtful rejections, she persevered over the years finally to have “What Makes The United States?” published.
Sargent first wrote the children’s book 50 years ago when her kids were young, and then again for her grandson in 1990. “I wrote this because I was very active in community affairs, and elections were confusing for young children. So I answered their questions,” Sargent explained, as she has always been very passionate about voting. She decided to pull it out once again for publication, almost two years after her retirement, so that her three great-grandchildren can learn from her book.
Her authentic illustrations in the original copy, with small tears and yellowed edges from age and use, were scanned and used in the recent publication. “What Makes The United States?” introduces young children to the building blocks of America through simple line drawings and a rhyming text, which came naturally to her as a published poet.
After a friend’s granddaughter took the book to school, “a teacher sent home a note saying it ought to be published, and that it is a stepping stone for teachers.” “What Makes The United States?” shows how a house, on a street, in a town, in a county, in a state, becomes an intricate part of the United States. This interactive book also comes with a suggestion sheet for parents and teachers.
“What Makes The United States?”, presently on sale at Wicked Good Books and The House of Seven Gables Gift Ship in Salem and on Amazon, has been favorably reviewed by teachers and librarians. Sargent has been interviewed by Haverhill and Boston Community TV programs such as Don’t Retire, Inspire and is invited to speak at a Boston College Read Aloud Library Program Luncheon in June.
With a lifetime of overcoming the obstacles life has to throw at you, Sargent has some very interesting experiences to show for it. A teacher, archaeologist and published poet, her professor once told her “you say the most in the fewest words out of anybody I’ve ever met.” And now Sargent has published her long-waiting children’s book. While she never became an archaeologist, exactly, she lived up to the gender breaking prediction she made as a child.