Mother’s Day when your mom is gone from this Earth can be more a day of reflection than a day of celebration. Not only do I not have a Mom, I am not a Mom (dogs and cats really don’t count in this train of thought) so that leaves me free to ponder and live the day any way I want.
I’ll still get my Mom flowers and since her eternal resting place is in my living room, if I wanted to hang out with her I literally could. The flowers will be tulips because tulips always reminded her of my brother and for years after he passed away I always bought her a Mother’s Day bouquet in his memory. I see no reason to buck tradition so I do as I’ve always done and mark the day in the most memorable ways. Tradition accomplished, I’m freer still to ponder any subject I want.
This year my mind goes to the other wimmin in my life. People think my strength comes from my Father. I am in so many ways his shadow; yet in many ways I’m still more. To ponder the who, the what, the all that I am I have to ponder the wimmin sharing my DNA that have come before me. From this collection of amazing personalities I have inherited the strength that is my building block for everything.
On my maternal side wimmin have been the backbone of the family for generations. My Grandfather may have been the head of the family,but as my Grandmother always explained that’s ok because she preferred to be the neck. The neck was the real power always choosing the direction the head is turning. She didn’t need the glory she needed the power. Power she had over every person she ever met. My Grandmother was Disney level enchanting. Sweet, giving, generous, compassionate and caregiver to all. Her door was always open. Her kettle always boiling and her fridge always full. She was also a pillar of strength, with a brilliant mind, that never wavered regardless of the adversity she faced. Life wasn’t all unicorns and rainbows; her health was constantly challenged, her children unruly and unlike many wimmin in her time she worked outside of the home as hard as she worked in it. She worked in a hospital kitchen, at a department store, in their kitchen, she would babysit for the neighbors or clean their houses when she had to; her life always sounded hard to my ears, yet she’d giggle through the hardest parts to tell, always choosing to remember the good parts that came after the hard ones.
I remember when she’d tell the story of how my Dad moved in with them and I can see her clear as day. “He came to visit your Mom in a stupid convertible sports car, it snowed, the car got snowed under in the driveway, he stayed because he had no other way home and he couldn’t get his car out of the snow drift and he never left. He just stayed! After that he married your Mom so it all worked out” If we were having that conversation just one more time her voice would be the same, a little miffed at first, out right making fun of Dave by the middle and giggles by the end. When she giggled her blue eyes sparkled and she automatically covered her mouth as if to keep her giggles a secret. Happy or sad my Grandmother was the Queen in her world and Lord help you if you needed to be reminded of it. She was the calm in the center of chaos and held an outrageous group of people together with sheer determination and love. She had the recipe for blended family before doctors wrote in it books. She did everything she needed to do; regardless of if she wanted to and never once did she let any of us down.
I was her neighbor and fortunately I spent a lot of time with her. I loved her stories. My favorites were the ones she told about her Mother and sisters because as I discovered the challenges to being female I often remembered that I was just one in a long line of wimmin who walked their own path.
My Great Grandmother came to Canada as an orphan contracted to work for a family, all through the Catholic Church. Her long life is a story worth telling at great length. She was the seed of all of our strength. When I describe her to people I often call her the original feminist, although in truth everything she did was an act of survival and everything she became a tribute to her tenacity and sheer sense of will. She paid for her house cleaning one hospital surgery room at a time, cared for infinite numbers of people, had her own patch of ground for growing vegetables and raising animals for food. She wasn’t just Queen in her family she was Queen of her entire neighborhood. Many people lived better lives because she could provide everything from lodging to food and medical attention during the hardest times including The Great Depression. While She had sons who were wonderful men, her true legacy was her daughters. Wimmin just like their mother – strong, amazing survivalists who persevered with presence, dignity, grace and beauty. They were all so different, yet built on the inside the exact same. All of them were mothers. All of them had careers outside the home. One widowed young built a successful career that saw her retire manager of the factory she worked in at a time when the idea of wimmin leading in industrial jobs was virtually unheard of. The others were also outside of the box, blazing trails kind of ladies. Their life stories colorful. Their successes hard won. From working the Windsor Stock Exchange to being a PSW to just the many tales of raising large rambunctious families there seemed to be a lot of fun to be had amongst the other times, the stories always made me want to be like them. My Great Grandmother and all of her daughters “ had it all” before feminists coined the phrase. I don’t think they ever saw it as asserting their rights; I’m pretty sure they did everything they did out of necessity. When the bra burning privileged started to demand the right to work they were centuries behind the wimmin of the lower and working class who discovered the joys of “having it all” under the guise of needing to survive lifetimes before.
So today I’m pondering the roots of my feminism. The cause of my pure female strength and the life lessons the wimmin in my family tree have taught me. While I’ve read many anthologies, watched all the right documentaries and well firsthand witnessed the wimmin “ have it all until they’re exhausted 80’s” I’ve always known my true sense of who, what and how to be came from these wimmin. My greatest influences were not the suddenly awakened, overeducated crowds, that I’m thankful to for bringing the noise to the cause in my lifetime, or the suffragettes that brought it time and again before them. It’s this collection of amazing wimmin whose lifetimes and life experiences have trickled down to me that have made me the tenacious, goal oriented person I walk through life as today. It’s these wimmin who taught me that life is really about the survival of the fittest; they did it not by talking, but by living by example. They were leaders amongst wimmin when wimmin thought they needed men to lead them. They were and are daughters, sisters, wives, widows, mothers and grandmothers many times over. They balanced a full time job at home, a full time job outside their home all with great success. Success isn’t always about the material. True success can be measured by the people left behind to remember you once you’re gone. The wimmin I’m referring to are mostly past and I’m sure today on Mother’s Day all of them will be remembered many times over. They’ve left behind networks of people influenced by their lives and choices. I’m sure as they are remembered in the company of old and young alike that today will be a day their influences are shared with a generation that’s never met them and they will help shape the new minds their legacies made possible.
Today as I remember my Mother, I’m seeing my Grandmother too and her mother, sisters, nieces and cousins. Whether living or long past, near or far I ponder how their influences have helped shape me and how I can use their lessons to help create the new future I’m seeking. Today on Mother’s Day I honor the line of wimmin that made me being me possible. I’ve never been afraid to walk my own line. I’ve never thought I shouldn’t or worse yet I couldn’t. My life examples said the opposite. They said yes you can and we expect you too. To that I say thank you!