Name: Helen Hinkley Smith
Birthplace: Beckley, WV
Current home: Morgantown, WV
Occupation: Pharmaceutical research, assistant professor of pharmacy at WVU
Personal Life: Helen’s father Wayne Hinkley was a mining engineer for the local coal mine. Her mother left shortly after her birth, unable to cope with life in rural Appalachia and going back to her home in Ohio, or so it’s believed. Wayne signed the divorce papers and she made sure he got full custody. Wayne was a good father, but mental illness drove him to stay in an old house he couldn’t afford to keep up rather than risk moving to a cheaper apartment (it might have germs). One night, the chimney caught fire and the house burned, leaving Helen orphaned and badly scarred. Due to their remote location, it was some time before anyone thought to check to see where Wayne went, and it was then they found Helen hypothermic, burned, and with two broken legs and an arm from jumping out of her second story bedroom window.
Helen went to live with her Uncle Warren Hinkley, a bachelor research librarian at West Virginia University in Morgantown. Years of therapy, physical and psychological, as well as modern pharmacy have made her highly functioning, though she remains insecure about her appearance and tends to teach distance learning courses from the safety of her laboratory. She credits her pursuit of science to her tutor, who gave her lessons at a reduced rate and with some state funds since her multiple surgeries and mental illness kept her out of traditional schools. A mixture of treatment and determination got her well enough to attend college, and she plateaued for a while. Before her marriage and during grad school, she often got caught living out of her office cubicle because she was too afraid of the germs between her office in the Med School and her Uncle’s house.
Her marriage to Gordon Smith, who lost a leg during a military training exercise and sent to WVU to test next generation prosthetics, has made her take her treatment more seriously, and gaining her PhD and getting a coveted research grant and untenured faculty work has only increased her basic confidence in the world’s goodness. She has a young son named Benjamin who has been an unexpectedly pleasant surprise to her, though she was initially convinced that a child would ruin her career. Her uncle helps pay for a part-time nanny (Truong, a Vietnamese international student in early childhood education) while she gets her career started and Gordon works in a local motorcycle chop-shop.
The couple have recently taken in Helen’s distant cousin Lucy, whose parents were shot and killed when her father, a local sheriff, offended the wrong meth dealers. Lucy, who was also shot, was left deaf as a side-effect of her antibiotics. The family thought Helen and Gordon were best able to see that she gets appropriate therapy through the Morgantown school system and the better resources at WVU. Helen’s insurance covers much of Lucy’s bills, and soon Gordon’s income will make them quite comfortable compared to Helen’s mostly impoverished family.
Helen has a visiting professorship lined up for the next two years, and if all goes well, she has every expectation of being retained as permanent faculty. Her painstaking research into new disinfectants and antibiotics to combat resistant strains of MRSA has recently gained some attention in academic circles. She is an active member of the National Association of University Women.
Her half-sister recently contacted her via Facebook and a tenuous relationship has been taken up. They Skype often and visit when schedules allow.
Books – Academic and technical journals form the bulk of her reading, but her kindle has a dark, secret corner reserved for some extremely hot erotica.
Television – She watches critically acclaimed series and anything BBC while she quilts. She is a compulsive quilter.
Music – Here, things get more interesting. She adores bluegrass and mountain folk, and she has even been known to risk going out to music festivals for short periods of time. It reminds her of her father, who was a mandolin player of great talent. She sings and plays autoharp, but only in private.
Celebrities – Marie Curie, Hypatia of Alexandria, Dorotea Bucca, Margaret Cavendish, Emilie du Chatelet, Laura Bassi, Mme. Lavoisier, Ada Lovelace, Elizabeth Blackwell,…. sorry? Snooki who? Isn’t a Khardassian a kind of Star Trek alien?
Sports – She dutifully goes to all of Lucy’s games when it isn’t raining, sitting on a tarp at a distance from other germy parents and their germy kids. She has no idea what goes on at them, but she cheers when it seems appropriate and tries not to be too obvious about reading her beloved Kindle. At home, she has a very clandestine habit of writing very bad Jane Austen and Bronte fanfiction, mostly smut with bathtubs. She hides the files in clever places for Gordon to find them.
Worldview: The world terrifies Helen to no end, though a good regimen of drugs and zen tapes has helped tremendously. Her work is the first and dearest thing in her life, even a little before her family, though she loves them deeply. She pursues the eradication of disease with an almost unhealthy fanaticism, but it seems to do much to calm her general anxiety about germs and contamination. She fully embraces progressive philosophies of all kinds, and is determined, above all, to be rational. This extends to her approach to parenting; Lucy is enrolled in an alternative school and Helen is already ensuring that Benjamin gets a similarly progressive education. This was her fall back position taken up only after Gordon put his foot down and told her she hadn’t the time to home school.
She is agnostic and not particularly introspective, preferring instead to focus on the next goal ahead. Her determination to enjoy precisely the same access to family life as her male colleagues has strained her blind faith in the enlightenment of her times; she often finds herself torn between the pressure to be devoted to her children and the pressure to outdo her colleagues. She also finds herself feeling irrational guilt for the degree to which she leans on her husband to pick up the slack. Being in a rural and conservative state don’t make this any easier. She often finds herself falling short of her own impossibly high standards for professionalism and motherhood, and many of the men she works with are all too happy to take advantage of her stumbles. She spent most of winter break having a quiet breakdown, and the less said about last summer, the better.
The support of her husband and uncle along with the daily distraction of caring for her children have become the cornerstones holding her world together, and her graduate assistant Kevin has proved a treasure in streamlining her day-to-day workload. He is on a shoestring budget and his family has few financial resources, so he has been trading childcare and housecleaning work for rent-free board in Helen and Gordon’s attic.
Home: Helen and Gordon live in a four-bedroom house near the university campus. The attic was once used to house boarders, and now is where Kevin lives. It’s all hardwood with few curtains or cloth upholstery. Cloth traps dust mites and microbes. They eat a lot of frozen dinners because Helen frets less about microbes surviving the freeze-thaw process. However, current research into the greater nutritional value of fresh foods is making Helen allow certain limited items into the kitchen. Gordon, Truong, and Kevin all conspire to slip the children forbidden items like lettuce and potatoes. (don’t ask). Helen’s great breakthrough of the last year was to take the plastic covers off of the faux leather couch. Everyone is much relieved.
Holidays: Are celebrated in a purely secular fashion, though with much family visiting and revelry. Helen’s half-sister made it this Christmas, and it all went astonishingly well. Helen always, without fail, watches “It’s a Wonderful Life” on Christmas Eve because that was her father’s Christmas ritual. She pops a can of his favorite beer (Miller) and leaves a seat for him.
Clothing: She is a bit of a clothes horse now that she can afford to buy things that aren’t second-hand. Her lean frame wears fashionable items well, and she has been spotted recently wearing heels with her lab coat. She’s gone so far as to have her hair cut by someone other than herself, and she’s sporting trendier frames on her spectacles. Her lab nickname has become ‘Dr. Saunders.’ She hates this, but now refuses to stop dressing up because if she did, they’d win. Even with extensive reconstructive surgery, her face is still visibly scarred. Her husband doesn’t seem to mind and has been witnessed referring to her as a sexy librarian. She’s stopped wearing dark tights and long sleeves recently and has been much astonished by how little horror her scars actually cause.
Goals: I think we pretty much covered that.
Anything you missed?: Nope.