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By Mel White 

Didn't know I couldn't

On the Bright Side


One of my all time favorite movies is 1963's "Funny Girl," the Fanny Brice story, starring Barbra Streisand as the famed Ziegfeld and Baby Snooks star. I love the movie even though, as I learned by reading up – and as is common of Hollywood movies – it strays far away from facts and the realities of the singer's life.

Nevertheless, in good Hollywood fashion, the made up scenes are all pretty spectacular anyway, worthy of a chuckle or a laugh, or in some cases, an expression (or attitude/philosophy) by which to live one's life.

To whit: in the movie, Fanny is trying desperately to break into show business and is being rejected for minor vaudeville shows because she may not be a beauty (despite her fantastic voice). Her friend Eddie tries to give her a break, "Do you know how to roller skate?" he asks. Fanny rolls her eyes and answers, "Do I know how to roller skate?!" As if that might be the dumbest question she's ever been asked.

So Eddie puts her in a roller skating act and, as you might expect, she does NOT know how to roller skate (and full comedy ensues). At one point she rolls over to the wings, a bit out of control, and a mortified Eddie says, "I thought you said you could roller skate!"

Fanny answers truthfully, "I didn't know I couldn't!"

I loved that line the first time I saw it, and I've loved it ever since. In fact, even before I heard that line I was sort of living by that motto. I was on a camping trip with church campers a couple of years before the movie came out (I must have been in 6th or 7th grade), and we were going on a canoe outing. The counselors chose only the boys to be in the back of the canoes (that's the paddler who actually steers the canoe) because at that time in the world no one thought girls should be chosen for any sort of physically demanding or responsible job (in the water or out).

But, they ran out of boys before they ran out of canoes and girls, so one counselor asked which of us girls knew how to paddle in the stern of a canoe. I raised my hand immediately, although this was actually the first time I had ever even seen a canoe. I remember thinking, how hard could it be? I might have, if I'd thought of it then, thought, well, I don't know that I can't, so I might as well try...

I fell in love with canoeing that summer, and I even did better than Fanny Brice and her roller skating – I went on to teach canoeing and other water sports as I got a little older. But that experience began my determination to try everything, especially if it was something forbidden for girls to do; I wanted to do what some people thought couldn't be done.

I've had many such experiences in my life, and some of them worked out well (like the canoeing) and some of them not so well (like Fanny's roller skating). But I loved adopting the attitude that I could do anything I set my mind to... at least until I learned otherwise.

I was careful. I never said, "do I know how to defuse a bomb?!" or "sure, I can fly that helicopter!" even though I didn't know I couldn't, but I'm really not into risking anyone's life or, for that matter, being foolish with my own. But happily, I've had many experiences that I sought and conquered just because I was willing to try, willing to go for it, assuming I didn't know I couldn't do a thing until I tried it and found out.

I am maybe not as brave now as I was when I was younger, but I still like to think I can do whatever I put my mind to. And I hope I continue thinking that way, and continue learning and trying new things.

How else are any of us ever going to learn what we can do unless we don't know we can't, so we just go ahead and do it?

© 2017 Marilda Mel White Mel White, local writer/photographer and co-owner of Tehachapi Treasure Trove, has been looking on the bright side for various publications since 1996. She welcomes your comments at


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