The "Her-Story" Project
A local celebration for all
of the Radford Community in honor of
[Students Going Home, c. 1920, care of
Radford University Archives
Here you will find
answers to frequently asked questions, instructions on how to subscribe to
the listserv and/or submit a piece, and the essays/tributes from last
Why did RU
decide to participate in Women's History Month this year through the form
of on-line tributes?
This is the fifth year RU has hosted
an online Her-Story celebration, but this form of commemoration is
actually a national phenomena. In the late 1990s, the University of Denver, where I first
became familiar with it, had a similar online event, as did UVA and a
number of other colleges and universities. As far as I am aware, RU
has one of the few remaining online celebrations. Email is a wonderful platform
for celebration of Women's History because of its accessibility and
affordability, two qualities that reflect the grassroots beginnings
of the Women's Movement.
Why do you think
it is important for all of RU to partake in this event?
The idea is to encourage
everyone--faculty, staff, students, male, female, and transgender--to
celebrate the women who have inspired us. Whether as sons or daughters, as
brothers or sisters, nieces or nephews, friends or lovers, we have all
felt the influence of women in our lives. Here is a chance to celebrate
that connection. This is not a women-only celebration. It is for all
of the Radford community; it is an opportunity to tell each other the
stories about the women or aspects of womanhood important to us. In many
cases, these stories go untold, not because they aren't important, but
because there isn't a forum in which to tell them. Here is a forum to
which we all have equal access and an equal right.
Do the tributes
have any requirements? (i.e., do they have to be about a famous person or
movement in US history or could it be about a family member? How long are
the tributes supposed to be? Should they focus on anything in
The only requirements for the
tributes are that they must take a woman or an aspect of womanhood for
their subject, they must be short (no more that 2 typed pages), and they
should be celebratory in the sense of honoring or acknowledging something
or someone significant. Not all celebrations are joyful, just as
not all aspects of the human condition are. In previous years we have had wonderful tributes to
mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and aunts--people not famous in the public
sense but extraordinarily important in the private sense. We have
also had pieces on famous women (Meryl Streep, for example, and her impact
on an up-and-coming theatre student) as well as on more general topics
such as female friendship, women's strength, courage, and survival.
We have room and need for all kinds of tributes.
What exactly is
A listserv is an online email
community. We ask that people subscribe to a list so that we can create a
safe community of interested listeners and contributors. By the way, you
do NOT have to submit an essay/poem to be a member of the listserv.
How can I submit
You may send it to the Women Studies
Please send the essay or poem in the text of your email message (no
attachments, please). If you have a particular day on which you would
prefer your essay appear, please make a note of that in the email as well
(for example, to honor my friend, I may want to reserve her due date which
happens to be St. Patrick's day).
[pardon the mess;
we're still under construction]
Laura Ingalls played
in the Big Woods,
on Plum Creek
and told stories about a childhood
Anne Shirley came to
at Green Gables
on Prince Edward Island
in stories about an
not like mine.
Jo March grew up in New
married, all the while
about a womanhood
not like mine.
Elizabeth Bennett, with a keen
observed her neighbors in
Her captivating wit lured Mr.
into a great romance
not like mine.
I lived their
over and over,
because I did not want
to live a life
All day I look at hips,
the rolling swales of marbled
the sleek slopes of burnished
landscapes I cannot
nor want to.
But at night, I am home
in the smooth curve of your
the hollows and scented crevices,
the tender peaks I
with lips, tasting the
of that hidden spring,
yet always a mystery.
This morning, Saturday morning, we
lie lazily in bed
waiting for the sun to peak through
He sleeps as I read. I
he sleeps. By mid morning I grow
This morning I know French toast will
help him wake up.
I roll over, kiss him, and tell him
will be ready in thirty minutes.
This morning I grab the phone and
I’ll call momma – Saturday mornings
she and I are awake
while our husbands sleep.
“Hello,” she answers. I’m pleased to
hear her voice.
This morning she talks for several
then her voice changes.
I wait, anxiously, wondering what she
will tell me.
Pause. “Your what?” I ask.
This morning she
I start to cry.
This morning she says,
“Honey, it will be ok. I didn’t tell
because I thought you would
Worry. She knew me too well.
This morning I cry as I hold my
“How do you feel?” I
“Will you feel different, I
This morning she answers, “No I won’t
feel less of a woman. I had you and
and I don’t need it anymore. Just
no more cycles.”
This morning, through the tears, I
still holding my uterus. We finish
conversation. “Good-bye,” she says,
“I’ll call when I’m home… from the
This morning, as I pull ingredients
out of the cabinet,
my husband comes up behind me
and puts his arms around
This morning I picture her in the
knowing very soon, her husband will
make her coffee, kiss her forehead,
and in four days take her to the
Forty long thin braids, fiery
vibrate as she kicks her shoes
into the back of the closet,
pulls off her panty hose and
throws them for a three pointer
into the laundry basket at the
of the cellar stairs.
Stretching out her legs,
she curls her toes and spreads them out,
six times for each foot,
then, pulling off her shirt
and unhooking her bra,
she drops them down the dark
and lifts up her heavy breasts,
so the cold, damp air can hit
But she hasn't relieved
the real trouble. Her temples
an angry pulse ignites behind her
her red cheeks burn.
She takes off her head,
places the smoldering mass before her,
then gently, still remembering
its scorched contours,
massages its brow and jaw.
She arranges the braids like tentacles,
conduits the trouble can travel
down and out.
Licks of flame buzz,
the braids frizz.
The ends split.
She opens the door,
lets the evening breeze
blow onto her still steaming head,
Home from Work--continued
checks behind the ears,
below the chin,
for that certain coolness,
before she dares to pick it up
and snap it
back in place.
These are the hands that never Grow Old,
They may look worn and tattered; but, from them many stories can be
These hands have dried countless tears through out these
many years. This is what makes them unique. The owner of
the beautiful hands has prayed many a prayer, for her head
strong family. At times, she wonders, “Do they even care?”
It’s those hands that have pulled us through. I wonder
sometimes “Will my hands ever do, at least ½ of what her hands can
YOU ARE GREATLY APPRECIATED!!!
LET’S HAVE A SHOW OF HANDS FOR
This is where my mother grew up, Miller Yard, (South, Southwest,
VA). With all of the untold hardships imaginable she is still a
magnificent mother and a dear friend.
Having largely grown up in a single parent,
female-headed household, I have admired the strength and resiliency of
women from an early age. There is a woman I admire more than any other.
She is willing to try something new. She is flexible, willing and
motivated to make changes – in her career, in her lifestyle, in her
relationships, in her leisure. She isn’t content to just be the same and
she doesn’t feel the need to always do the conventional. She loves to
dance. She loves to camp. During her first winter camping trip, she didn’t
leave me when I laughed after she fell into the icy water in below
freezing temperatures. In fact it has been my good fortune to have been
her husband for almost eighteen years now. Her name is Holly Ellen Marrow.
She has endured my egotism and helped me become a better person. She has
been patient, supportive and understanding during my depression. She has
given life to two wonderful (though challenging) children, Clara and
Aidan. She has helped me to be a decent father, something I wasn’t sure I
Our life together is like a dance, with each of us
often intuitively knowing and doing what needs to be done, when to give
space, when to act. I admire her for her willingness to be my partner and
to meet the challenges of partnership. But perhaps what I admire most
about Holly is her willingness to speak out for what she believes is
right, to stand up for herself, to stand up for others, to stand up for
her values and beliefs. You rock, Holly!
Does she look like her father?
At first, a spitting image
Until hair unravels, freckles form
Graceful eyes taking in the world
Her feet will feel
The ground given to her
Enduring struggles old and new
Reclaiming self from the powerful few
Secrets a woman has to live through
A golden-skinned and lovely woman of around 40, come
down from the mountains of Nepal to the crowded city of Calcutta to live
and work, Parul began work as my ailing and elderly father’s attendant in
the summer of 2000. About to return soon to the USA, I asked her to see to
my father’s medicines, to not leave him alone while he ate (in case he
choked on his food), that I trusted her with his care. When I returned to
Calcutta the next year, Parul asked if she could have a day off, to see to
some urgent family matters. “You had asked me to look after Baba,” (as
both she and I call my father), she said to me. “So I did not take even
one day off over the year.” If I have often, with reason, doubted
the integrity and loyalty of many in my life, I discovered in Parul a
quiet steadfastness, a dedication to duty, a kind of loyalty that I have
This is especially remarkable given the hardship of her
life. In the four years that I have known her, this impoverished woman has
with impressive efficiency single-handedly seen to the costs of her own
family, providing for the education of her teenaged daughters, and till
recently, her young son, the rent on their single-room home, and the
family’s medical expenses. On her meager income at my father’s (around $50
a month, standard for her kind of work in Calcutta), she has also seen to
a drunken and out-of-work older brother, and scoured the streets in the
searing heat of an Indian summer for an abducted and handicapped young
niece (his daughter). Her husband has been of uncertain help, often
spending much of his meager income on alcohol.
In March of 2004 Parul’s beloved baby, her eight-year
old son, drowned in a pond while playing with his friends. When I met her
that summer, I recoiled as if I had been struck. Always thin, she now
looked like a wraith. Her terrible grief was palpable. And still, with
quiet efficiency, she continued about her work. She needed the money. We,
my father and I, nurtured her as best we could. I kept her work light,
listened to her tell the story of what happened to her son as often as she
wanted to tell it. She did so without shedding a tear. It was the more
terrible, because of that. I bought her vitamins, shared with her special
and tasty foods. She declined the vitamins, saying she had little to live
for. I gently reminded her of her daughters. I gave her gold jewelry for
them, clothes, money for their education—what little I could, when I knew
that nothing would ever compensate for her grievous loss.
But when, the summer over, I was to leave for the USA
again, I saw some vestige of a glow returned to her golden complexion, a
little more flesh on her bones than when I had first seen her that year.
As I left, she wept, finally. She said she would have the vitamins after
This tribute is to women like Parul—who, across the
world, give a face to grinding poverty—a feminized one. Who strive without
cease, without thought of themselves, in service to their own families,
and to those more fortunate, like mine. And this tribute is specially for
Parul—to her courage, her loyalty, and her integrity—her grace--even in
the face of great hardship and personal tragedy.
Though nothing can bring back the hour
in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather
Strength in what remains behind;
In the primal
Which having been must ever be
“Intimations of Immortality,” X
I saw her in a cafeteria, sitting by herself. I was
eating dinner with some other person—I forget who—but I stared, rudely and
unabashedly. I cannot say that I found her particularly lovely, but there
was something in the way she ate, a distracted grace, that was
captivating. I didn’t see her again for a year.
I worked in a video store. She came in with some slob
who obviously didn’t appreciate the honor. I gave her a free movie, and
she said thank you. I learned her name was L. I didn’t see her again for
She worked in the library, and I was checking out every
book in the place concerning Hitler for some research project. She sorted
through the swastikas (I was horrified of what she might think) and asked
me if I was the guy who ran the campus radio station. I replied that I
most certainly was, and might she be interested in becoming a world famous
disc jockey? She said she was not, but her roommate was, and the books
were due back at the end of the semester.
Her roommate, after becoming a disc jockey and my
office intern, invited me to come drinking with the two of them, and
finally L. and I became friends. Over the next year or so we had drinks
and adventures. She was up for anything from opera to whip-its. In
retrospect, I suppose it’s sort of strange that most of our time together
was spent in silence. But I liked it; her silence was a song. There was a
space between us that did not need to be filled.
Right before I graduated, we had our last drinking
party. She was dating the hairiest man I’d ever seen. (His nickname was
Bear, for God’s sake, and I hated him.) We went to a field late at night,
lay down in the grass, and looked at the stars. When we got up to leave,
her watch revealed that we had not spoken in two hours.
I didn’t see her again for three and a half years.
A friend of mine called me and invited me to
Washington, DC for New Year’s. She told me L. would be there, and it was a
farewell party before L. moved to Los Angeles. I took a Greyhound, and
surprised her. She told me her favorite memory of college was the time we
lay in the grass and looked at the stars in silence. I felt giddy. Our
group that night fragmented, and L. and I ended up alone, not knowing
where to go at 11:56 p.m. She hailed a cab, and suggested The Black Cat.
We drove in near silence—Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” was on the radio (Blue
jean baby/L.A. lady)—down the street. The Washington Monument loomed in
the distance. I looked down at our hands. My left hand was a scant inch
away from her right. I contemplated the hands for a moment, then looked
up. The neon green clock in the front turned over to midnight.
I haven’t seen her in two years.
In Memory of: Darlene Alexis Melnkovic
At a young age she was so content
She would not know what would soon be sent.
She had two wonderful children—a boy and a girl.
Oh, how she loved her son, and with her daughter she
would dance and twirl.
Soon life would take an unexpected turn
And, how her heart felt a sudden burn.
“I’m sorry you have cancer” the doctor said.
She was in disbelief, was it something she had heard in
“I’m not going to die and leave my children behind”
“I’d do anything to live, I’d rather be blind.”
The cancer soon left and all was fine.
Life was magnificent, simply divine.
But, soon the cancer spread all too fast.
How she wish her life would last.
She knew she could no longer surive.
In a matter of moments she would no longer be
“Goodbye my dear son and daughter”
Her eyes were crying as fast as rushing water.
“I did not plan to leave so soon” she cried.
“God needs me now” she sighed.
“Never forget me my loves”
“I’m as free as white turtle doves.”
“I’m now going to God’s home”
“In his perfect everlasting dome.”
And, with one last breath she let go.
Her children’s hearts sank so low.
The doctors did their best, but there was nothing they
Her children said sadly, “don’t go mommy, we need
The doctors replied “we couldn’t save her, we
And, on July 31, 1992 their sweet mommy died.
Where Would I Be Without My Mom?
I would not be what I am today if it was not for my
mother. She is responsible for the “soul” inside me.
Other women may glow and sing praises to their moms,
but not me. My mom started drinking when she found out she was
pregnant with me. She even told everyone what a pleasant, sleeping baby I
was. She was breastfeeding, and all of you can figure out why I was
sleeping through the night. I grew up with an abusive, alcoholic mom and
that is no exaggeration.
Here is her sad story, which still inspires me and she
is now 86. As a young college grad with a degree in journalism, she
landed a man’s job as a news reporter. Women could work the men’s’
jobs while the men went off to fight in WW2. The real problem came
when all the men returned to reclaim these jobs. What were these
career women expected to do? How could she “settle” for cooking,
cleaning the house, and raising kids? She who had interviewed
Eleanor Roosevelt and Clark Gable! She couldn’t bear to “settle” and tried
to drown her memories of an exciting career.
Yes, I would listen with fascination to her stories of
chasing fire engines and writing until the crack of dawn to meet the
deadlines. Her eyes would glow for a short time and then she would
say, “I never wanted to get pregnant. I just wanted to keep on
working. Why was this life expected of me?”
Where’s the “strength” in that, you say? Where’s
the inspiration or the “soul” in that wasted life? I will tell
you. She was strong inside—after all, who could stop drinking cold
turkey at age 84? I suffered the abuses when I was growing up, but came
out of this childhood with a strength I knew was inside of her all
I decided not to have children. I decided to
chase after my career and interests that are far from raising a
family. Five years into my own marriage, my husband tried to
convince me that we wanted children. I said, “The woman is
ultimately in charge of that decision.” Because of my mom, I stand
for all women who now can choose and I stand up proudly. She is and
always will be inside of me, and because of her sacrifices I have the
strength to soar.
Strength, Courage, and Wisdom
Dark skinned, full lips, voluptuous figure, walk more
powerful than the march of all the black people on Washington.
Raising a young girl alone in section 8 but reminding her young daughter
where she lived in no way defined who she was. Working 2 to 3 jobs
at a time just to get by with a little extra but never complaining about
her lack of sleep, swollen feet, aching muscles, always striving for
better than they had. Sending her daughter to good schools, buying
her the latest and greatest even when her own clothes were 5 years out of
date. Taking off from work to go to her Christmas pageant and soccer
games. Never missing a thing. Advising her on broken hearts,
toting her back and forth to her various activities, moving her to a
better neighborhood, putting her through school, sacrificing herself for
the life of her child.
Alone, but not completely…
Opening her house and heart to refugees of a tattered
relationship, helping to raise a young black girl in a constant war.
She was the tissue that caught the tears the mother cried when the mother
didn’t think she had strength to go on. She was the friend that
played hide and seek or pillow fought when the only child was
lonely. She was the babysitter on the mother’s long nights of work,
she was the teacher that taught the young girl how to braid on the red
tail of her blue my little pony, while she sat on her Gran’s lap in the
rocking chair, as they pumped, pumped, pumped ’til the little girl’s
pigtails flew in the wind. She was the counselor listening to both
sides of the fight when the mother and daughter got into it, listening to
the teenage angst, college worries, broken hearts, moments of triumph of
the growing girl. She is the foundation of the empire.
I am the little girl the soldiers sheltered in the
war. I am the combination of strength, wisdom, and courage, of what
a true black woman is. Raised fatherless by two divorcees but with
two ever present forces pushing me when I stopped. Lifting me when I
fell. Supporting me when I was weak. Being my flashlight when
I was afraid of the dark unknown. Loving me when I was
unlovable. Hugging me when I was unhuggable. Being there when
no one else was. Accepting me no matter who I was, who I am, or who
I grow to be. They are my heroes, my best friends, they are my
grandma and my momma.
And to them I owe them thanks. Seldom said but
always thought. Without them I would not be who I am now strong,
aggressive, confident, head held high with a march more powerful than all
the black people on Washington. I owe them my life, my education, my
future. To the most beautiful, respectable, black women I know,
I love you.
Through a commitment to Christianity that, at the time
that she lived in late 18th century America seemed the road to freedom and
equality, Phillis Wheatley made a name for herself as the first
African-American woman to be a published poet. Wheatley got her name
from the ship that brought her to America and the family who bought
her. Her actual name was lost along the Middle Passage, as was any
familiarity with her native language. She was a quick study,
however, and her aptitiude in English and Latin soon gave her the power to
express herself through the Neoclassic forms and language of the poetry of
her day, as well as the coded message--based on African-American
understanding of the liberation gospel--that exists between the lines of
One thing Phillis did not forget was the image of
herself as a seven-year-old (her owners having calculated her age from the
state of her teeth) being torn away from her African family. As she
writes in her poem to William, earl of Dartmouth:
I, young in life, by seeming cruel fate
Was snatch’d from Afric’s fancy’d happy seat:
What pangs excruciating must molest,
What sorrows labour in my parent’s breast?
Steel’d was that soul and by no misery mov’d
That from a father seiz’d his babe belov’d.
Scholars who claim that Wheatley was a sell-out to the
white establishment have not read her poetry carefully, nor do they
understand the empowerment that Christianity gave to both people of color
and women during the 18th century. Wheatley believed, as the Bible
said to her, that God did not care about color or gender, but embraced all
committed Christians with a message about the correctness of their longing
for freedom, both in this world and the next.
It was Cassiopeia
I saw every night
As I lay down
and turned out the light.
And lay my hand
to feel you inside
a little kick
just to say hi.
Read August 28, 1998, at her funeral and 88th birthday.
I wanted to share you some thoughts about the person
known to some of us as Mom Mom.
The name, Mom Mom, was simple to pronounce when I was
young. “Mom” is surely one of the first words we learn, and then all
you have to do is double it, or triple and quadruple it as I’ve heard Sam
and Sophie do: mom mom mom mom. As I grew older the name still
seemed to fit right, because, raising four kids by herself as she did, she
was twice the parent, twice the mom, twice the woman, like a double dose
Her strength was a quality I admired in her and will
always associate with her. I’m not talking about a physical
strength, though she must have had that too, but an emotional one: a
groundedness, a solidity, the kind of strength that comes from being
perfectly comfortable in your own skin. With Mom Mom there was never any
pretense—you always knew what to expect—you always knew you’d get Mom Mom,
you’d always knew there’d be a pie when she came over for dinner.
She told you what she thought, too directly perhaps, as
for example when she was asked if she liked the names we had picked out
for her great grandchildren. “Oh no, I don't like that,” she would
say, when being polite, or just plain “yuck” when she wasn’t, but at least
you got a straight answer. She knew what she liked, and what she
And yet, that same confidence and suremindedness was
slowly leaving her during the course of this summer, and was part of what
was so hard for many of us to watch. There’s a medical and scientific
explanation for what happened to Mom Mom, to account for the cancer that
spread through her lungs. It’s all on the level of cells and
proteins—my sister can help you out.
But how else to deal with what happened to Mom Mom
except by talking about spirit? For what else gave her that confidence,
strength, and life-force but her sense spirit, a spirit that was
maintained in the end by the daughters who cared for her, but was slowly
ebbing away. If you believe, as I do, that spirit never dies, than
the spirit of Mom Mom never will. It will live on in her children,
and in their children, and in their children still, some yet unborn.
(Some, I might add, any day now).
Mom Mom asked to make one excursion outside her home
during the past summer. She wanted to see the house in her old
neighborhood that Tom and Cathy, newly engaged, had bought together. I
don’t know if she ever made it to the house, but I’m sure she wanted to go
there so she could be with them in spirit as they make their new
When she heard the news about her condition, of all her
possessions Mom Mom worried about what would happen to her pictures, which
seemed strange at first, but makes perfect sense: she worried what
would happen to her images, her recollections, her memories. Those
pictures are now in good hands, and they will be preserved. When
they are taken out and looked at, so too will the memories, and Mom Mom’s
In fact, what I would urge you to do today is assure
Mom Mom that the pictures you have in your minds of her be preserved, so
she might always be with us in spirit.
Whether it be the way she jiggled when she laughed, or
the way she said oooh, oooh, oooh to get your attention, or called
everything by the name “watchamacallit.” Or Maybe it’s her “reckless”
driving down Parkway Avenue, weaving in and out of police officers, or
summer days at the beach house at grampy’s. Maybe it’s how surprised
she was at the Johnny Appleseed to see men’s underwear instead of my Miami
Dolphin pajamas, or how genuinely happy she was with Pops. Keep those
memories safe, and tell them to each other so they might take on a life of
Maybe it’s the flabby arm gene, or maybe it’s the
pies: my god, the pies: apple, lemon meringue, rhubarb, and, above
all, cherry. Maybe it’s that picture of her standing by the Picerno
stationwagon with her arm on the surfboard, or sitting in her chair with
the crossword puzzle, watching Jeopardy, or sitting with her friend Fran
on the porch on River Drive during the 4th of July. I can still see
her sitting there now, above the din of the parade, the fireworks and the
reunion of old friends.
Do not worry about your pictures Mom Mom, we shall keep
them keep them always in our mind’s eye, and your spirit in our
RICK VAN NOY
My grandmother was born in 1907 in the United States
but grew up in what is now Slovakia. She was able to complete only
the 6th grade, but she dreamed of being a writer. She learned to
speak five languages, but she never learned to write English, never
learned to drive, and never held a job.
My mother was born in 1936. Women of her
generation were not encouraged to go to college. She finished high
school and has worked in the legal field most of her life. She never
gave up on her dream to go to college, taking an occasional community
college course, but she was never able to complete a degree.
I was born in 1963. My grandmother and mother
insisted that I get as much education as I could. It was my dream to
finish a Ph.D., and with each graduation, they marveled and celebrated my
opportunity. Now I have the privilege of teaching the next
generation of women.
My daughter was born in 2000 and has attended what she
calls “school” for three years already. I hope that she will
continue the dream and have even more opportunities, but right now, she
just dreams of being a princess!
DIANE M. HODGE
For Granny Kate on St. Patty’s Day
My grandmother died when Eileen, her daughter, went
home for lunch. She was like that: polite to a fault, refusing to do
something so private, so personal while someone else looked on.
Granny Kate taught me about the solitude of dying. It is not a
family outing, though when I learned that she had fallen and was in ICU
refusing to wake up, I perversely, obstinately wanted it to be. I
dragged my mother to Arlington where she stayed for weeks miserably
waiting for her mother to die. I drove up and down I-81, back and
forth, between summer school and ICU, hovered restlessly by Granny’s bed
grading papers or reading for class. She was conscious only on my
second vigil: The night before, doctors had taken her off the
morphine drip to which her tiny body had been reacting like it was a club
hammer: no movement, just pale stillness. Now her arms and legs were
wild. She was in restraints and her head was turning from side to
side. As I walked in and whispered her name, she looked toward me
and said, “Cute.” Later, I dutifully reported as much to my mother and her
siblings. All but Ed, the only son, jubilantly declared she would be
better in no time, she’d recognized me after all. I, like Ed, wasn’t
so sure. I didn’t know if she had recognized me. I suspected
“cute” was a comment on the horrible ridiculousness of being restrained in
a hospital bed, a sarcastic reproach for allowing this to happen to
her. She was like that, too: charmingly caustic when you least
expected it but most deserved it.
She had a quirky sense of humor, one I didn’t get all
the time but which charmed me nonetheless. When I was a teen, we
would travel north for a visit, and the first thing she would have me do
is stand at arms’ length so that she could scan me from top to
bottom. “So this is what girls today are wearing!” she would
enthuse. “How delightful, darling! Aren’t you lucky to be
young today!” At the time I thought she was patronizing me as I was
hardly going for “delightful,” my eyes smudged in gothic charcoal, my all
black wardrobe worn as a suit of armor. And yet, I think she was
delighted. She delighted in everyone and everything. Her
affection for absurdity was infectious, and she never failed to make me
smile at myself, even when my moods most matched my apparel. She
also giggled at birds and at the mysteries of nature, spent hours gazing
out her back window watching armies of squirrels and carpenter bees, wolf
wasps, and hummingbirds. Each discovery of a war or of a peace
elicited a chortle, a hurrah, a call to others to come and see.
She met President Clinton once: she had just
finished golfing at Army-Navy with her group. As she and her friends
sat in the Grill awaiting Cobb salads and iced teas, in strolled the
President. “He has so much charisma,” she recounted. “He
seemed too big for the room. And then he came over and asked us what
we shot. I was just bowled over. He must miss his mother very
much.” Such a simple act, asking a group of seventy-ish women about
their golf games, but she saw in it the implications of something deeper
and more profound, grief and loss and yearning.
When George W. came into office, she cancelled the
Washington Post: she couldn’t believe in a paper that gave the Pretender
(one of her many names for W) such soft coverage, especially after
pillorying Clinton for being a man, an incredibly flawed man,
certainly. But with greatness comes greater flaws, she
explained. Straight Shakespeare.
Granny Kate was a singer and a dancer. She grew
up in Brooklyn, and at night she and her four sisters would walk to jazz
clubs, watch the dancers, and then go home and practice the moves, spend
hours twirling and jitter bugging. The Larkin sisters were famous,
the catch of the town. Strong swimmers, witty, beautiful, great
dance partners. And kind, incredibly kind. Honestly, the
stories I grew up hearing about Granny Kate made all romance heroines seem
shabby by comparison.
She married relatively young: a strapping man, a Navy
pilot who went to law school between wars. They had 4 daughters and
a son in rapid succession, and moved from post to post with
efficiency. Granny Kate’s intolerance for baggage remains legendary,
and as soon as her own 5 children reached adulthood, they began to horde
and collect and stash “stuff” away with impunity. Granny Kate, however,
remained a firm believer in minimalism. In the months before her
accident, she had pared down her already modest list of possessions,
perhaps preparing for what she felt was coming by giving to Goodwill and
the Church, outsourcing to family any and all things she no longer
needed. The hardest things for her to part with were also the
hardest for her to keep: the effects of my aunt Kathy, Granny Kate’s
second eldest who died of a sudden heart attack in 2001. In truth,
Granny Kate’s ending started that April morning when she found her
daughter lying on the dining room floor, painfully crouched down to cradle
her like an infant, and waited for the paramedics to confirm what she
already knew. Her baby was gone.
Granny Kate lived a life of jubilance and tragedy, of
great joy and enormous sorrow. She taught me many things such as how
to make a virgin screw driver (“just ice and OJ, no vodka for you, little
girl”), sing harmony, and dance while cooking. She also taught me to
read the pathos in everyday acts, to see the depth of emotion all around
me. I miss her terribly. The world seems a smaller, meaner
place without her.
ERIN WEBSTER GARRETT
Most people can’t tell what my tattoo is and even if
they can they don’t understand it. I don’t blame them though, you
don’t see many tattoos of a wooden spoon. But she would have known
what it was and why it was there and she would have called me a damn fool
Calling people damn fools was just one of her many
catch phrases along with, “If you work with assholes you’re gonna get shit
on.” And of course the normal things that you would actually expect
a sweet and tiny grandma to say like, “You’ll catch more flies with honey
than vinegar.” But grandma was always doing (and saying) what was
unexpected of her. She was light years ahead of her time. Like
opening a restaurant when women were supposed to sit at home and knit.
I spent a lot of time in that restaurant making rolls
and playing with the regulars. She had the best food in town.
All home cooked and totally country. It was very informal, people
just came up to a window and told them what they wanted. They were
welcome to come back as many times as they wanted for only $3.00, $3.50 if
you wanted some kind of meat. It was your choice of seventeen
vegetables, 2 meats, and as many hot buttery rolls as you wanted.
She was famous in our little town.
Eventually she became more known throughout our
state. She received multiple community service awards and many
programs were started in her honor. For example, at a local church
in my hometown there is a program called Gwen’s Meals. This provides
food for shut ins and people who couldn’t normally afford food.
Grandma was very compassionate and giving. She wasn’t about to let
anyone go hungry. She did what she could to help as many people as
possible. After she died our community wanted to do something to
honor her and continue her good work. Shortly before she died a
documentary was made about her and she was given a person of the year
award by the Shepard’s Center. But all these awards and all the
honor she got she found very silly. She truly wanted nothing in
Most of who I am today came from seeing who she
was. She valued education, strength, hard work, faith, independence,
and compassion. Every single one of these was evident in her work
and her life. She was feisty and full of life until her very last
days. She truly was superwoman.
So why the wooden spoon? Because everyday it is a
constant reminder of what she was and what I am striving to become.
Mom says that grandma will be waiting for her at the pearly gates to yell
at her for letting me get a tattoo, but I know that in her heart she is
smiling and I know she is proud of me.
I want to thank you, mother, for always keeping my
hands smooth by dirtying your own. You are always there, no matter
what or no matter whom; I always know that I can count on you.
Straight from the office you come, assuring us that we get a warm meal,
and never forgetting to remind us of medications that need to be
taken. Sometimes it seems impossible for one human to do so many
things in one day and I use tell myself, “No way”. Of course, that
was before I saw you do your magic. You’re unbelievable, Mom, and I
love you forever and always.
When she was a young woman, my paternal grandmother married a man she
did not know and came to a country so distant from her home that she knew
she would never go back. An often-told story in our family was that she
and her sisters hid behind a door giggling while my grandfather, dusty and
sweaty from his bicycle ride from a nearby town, talked to their father
about marrying one of his daughters.
Once married, the couple left Belgium to travel to the Canadian
prairies, where my grandfather was sure he could start a new career as a
homesteader and farmer. My grandmother never saw her parents or her
youngest sister again. As a child, I used to wonder how she found the
courage to leave home for so foreign a life, and whether she grieved the
loss of contact with her family. Years later, as a teenager, I visited her
sister in her tiny house near Bruges. Through a translator, she peppered
me with questions about my grandmother. The one that came up over and over
again was "Why doesn’t she come to see me?" For reasons both economic and
emotional, neither sister ever rode on an airplane.
My grandmother had no more than an elementary school education. Her
life on the farm was physically demanding and all-consuming, but she made
sure her three children went to school. When I was a child, she used to
write to my father in Flemish (she never was very comfortable in English),
and he struggled to translate for the rest of us. She already seemed like
an old woman to me when we visited her on the farm. Short, wiry, and
stooped from years of bending over her vegetable garden, she was still
carrying in wood for the iron stove, making soup from the vegetables that
she could not sell, and baking bread.
She scared my mother. Uncomfortable with idle chat and uncertain of her
English, she was not someone a daughter-in-law could easily get to know.
But my mother, trying to forge a bond, made a dress for her and was
touched to learn later that she treasured it. She scared me a little too,
but I was fascinated to watch her harvest her beans, stock her root
cellar, feed her chickens, and keep her modest house in order. I have
always maintained my awe at her courage in leaving everything behind to
claim a new life in a new country. Whenever I talk myself into doing
something brave, I think that a little bit of her is echoing in me---and
helping to make such occasional bravery possible.
She has pretty small hands. Delicate; three or
four rings on each hand. Her determination and perseverance amaze
me. I can only picture her checking people into the Motel 6 and one
day saying, “I’ve had enough! I’m going back to school!”
They’re the hands that took too much. They’re the
hands that finally said “Stop.” They’re the hands that create, build,
dream while sitting on the couch watching fuzzy television. They’re
the hands that fix things: the VCR, the microwave, the torn up tie dye
curtains. They’re the hands that have known a warm embrace and harsh
abuse. They’re the hands that write, clicking away at the computer
as she sits on the floor of her room writing a paper on punk rock or
poetry. They’re the hands that hold her Camel Light, shivering on
the porch in the snowfall; one holds a mug of coffee, the other, her
cigarette, as we talk of Freud and Kafka and Kerouac; or perhaps it’s
about bikini lines and eyebrows and ankles that aren’t really ankles at
all. Her hands are no measure for what she’s done, what’s she’s been
through or what she’s capable of. They sculpt her life each day, the
rings accent her delicate fingers, much like the beauty of her strength
that shines through her smile.
On September 11, 1973, a military coup under General
Augusto Pinochet overthrew the democratically elected government of
President Salvador Allende in Chile. With full diplomatic, economic,
and military assistance from the Nixon Administration and the CIA, the
dictator Pinochet governed through terror from 1973 until 1990, creating a
National Security state, dismantling Chilean democratic institutions, and
unleashing a torrent of human rights abuses on his own people. Upon
Chilean society, Pinochet’s state-sanctioned terrorism cast a pall of fear
and silence, mandating denial, historical amnesia, and a rewriting of
history to justify unspeakable abuses. At a time when most Chileans
were stunned into silence, a group of Chilean women whose husbands or
children had been “disappeared” by the junta, courageously resisted the
dictatorship by weaving their protests into simple tapestries called
arpilleras, which broke the silence imposed upon them and bore witness to
the crimes of Pinochet’s regime. Transforming their traditional
domestic roles into powerful forms of resistance, Chilean women created a
new form of political protest in their arpilleras. Fashioned of cloth
scraps sewn onto squares of burlap, the arpilleras depicted the truth
about the regime, demanded the return of those disappeared, and
represented the daily struggles and joys of Chilean women under the
“Donde Estan? Where Are They?”: stitched
into the scene of many arpilleras, this haunting question at once
articulates a woman’s grief over her lost partner or child and demands the
truth about his or her disappearance. Within days of the coup,
thousands of Chilean citizens were herded into the National Stadium in
Santiago, which became one of the many secret detention and torture
centers scattered throughout the country. 250,000 Chileans were
detained for political reasons by the end of 1973. One million
Chileans, about one tenth of the population at the time, were forced into
exile. Official figures indicate that nearly 4,000 people were
“disappeared,” interrogated, tortured and murdered in clandestine torture
centers. The bodies of the disappeared—“los desaparecidos”—have
never been found. In their weavings, the arpilleristas refused to
consign their loved ones to oblivion; their tapestries provided a space
within which women could begin to put their grief into narrative form so
that they could incorporate it into their experience to begin the work of
healing. At the same time, their arpilleras bore witness to the
sufferings and injustice wrought by the Pinochet dictatorship and raised
consciousness of the political realities in Chile.
The work of the arpilleristas is as important to us
today as it was to Chileans during the dark era of the Pinochet
dictatorship. For the valiant struggles of the arpilleristas to
preserve Chile’s historical memory, to speak the truth to power, and to
bring human rights abusers to justice gives us hope that we as U. S.
citizens may also someday face our own responsibility for the atrocities
of the Pinochet regime that our own government helped to install during
the dark era of the Nixon Administration.
To Anita Khan
I know you care;
I know you‘re concerned.
I know you love me
I love you too.
I have my own worries.
And I owe lots of apologies!
But it’s my time to gleam
With the lessons you taught me
That will help me uncover my dreams!
I know I’m yours
And you’re mine,
But mom, please,
let me shine;
Let me fly and glide.
I know you will always be
Near my side.
Let me experience the stumbles,
And even sometimes the crumbles!
You have taught me well,
For I know once I fall,
All I have to do is to get back up,
and stand Tall!
I know I’m yours
And you’re mine,
But, mom, it’s
Your time to shine!
You have done what
Makes us happy
For the last twenty-three years
By making our fears disappear,
Soothing our tears.
It’s your time!
So you don’t feel like hell.
to see you stressin’.
To see the pain you’re in,
Sends chills through my skin!
When I see you happy and in a delight,
It brings to my mind what’s right!
I love you dearly,
But maybe I don’t show it clearly.
I love you with ever fiber of my heart;
I could never depart.
I rediscovered pussy willows on the streets of Maribor,
Slovenia. My two children and I were on one of our earliest excursions in
our new city, shuffling through the freezing fog that had huddled over the
city since our arrival.
Near the city square, a woman had set up a table to
sell her wares. We noticed the small nosegays first, a cluster of early
spring blooms surrounded by waxy, deep green leaves. Cocking her hand
sideways, Elliot pointed toward her favorite with a mittened thumb. But my
eyes had settled at the far side of the table where thin wands of budding
pussy willow branches were set. I picked one up and held it closer to my
eyes, scarcely believing the sight. I pulled my gloves off so that I could
run my finger down the longest slender twig. The catkins were as gray
velvet soft as I remembered.
I can’t explain why I had never thought of pussy
willows until then. It had been three years since Nanny’s death and three
times that since she had reigned in her home, having joined my parents’
household after my grandfather died. Somehow this plant had never crossed
my path. And now, it reminded me how much I enjoyed this unique species
and how deeply I missed the person I most associated with them.
Nanny had a line of pussy willows in her yard. They
were tall, gangly bushes, bare and unnoticed in the fall and winter, but
always the earliest harbingers of the northeast Ohio spring. We stopped at
Nanny and Dzaidzi’s house every Sunday after church, the crunch of car
tires on their gravel driveway announcing our arrival. We may not have
noticed the shy crocuses peeking out at the earliest hint of a waning
winter. We might brush past the daffodils spiking their way through moist
soil. But we never missed the pussy willows. They took center stage on the
kitchen table or the living room coffee table, or both. She preferred
long, arching arrangements, picking them early enough so that some wands
were all branch, the aments still tightly enclosed by the thin, but tough,
husk. Each Sunday, we watched the pussy willow progress, from branch with
barely discernible bumps, to cautiously emerging gray tufts, to plump
ovals of silvery fluff. The only thing in the universe that could
righteously be called a catkin.
didn’t buy the pussy willows that day, but I sought out that same vendor a
week later and put down some tolars for a bundle. They graced my own
kitchen table, delivering Nanny’s presence to our household, bridging time
and space, supplanting the foreign with familiar. And then I found some on
my own, on a mini-pilgrimage when spring resolved to stick around for
longer than a three-day stretch.
My find joined the others in
the kitchen. I replenished the vase water regularly. I rearranged the
boughs, fluffing and poking. I pulled them out to smell them, to run them
across my neck. My children and I sketched them using crayons one day,
colored pencils the next. A tangle of white roots formed at the base. The
catkins plumped, then shrunk, then dropped to the tabletop below.
Brilliant green leaves emerged in their place. My centerpiece would be a
My husband convinced me to
abandon my horticultural enterprise. I had aspirations to keep the willows
alive until our June departure, and bring them along for a two-week
camping trip through Italy and France. I would persuade customs agents
with my tale of rediscovery, how it took a trip halfway across the globe
to reconnect with one of my childhood passions. I would tell them about
Nanny. It was an impractical scenario. I already had my hands full with
two kids and luggage for six months. He was right, and I unceremoniously,
perhaps a bit peevishly, extracted the willows from their vase and threw
them in the dumpster behind our apartment building.
It has been a year since we returned from Slovenia. I
have called several local nurseries this week to find some pussy willows
that I can plant in my yard. I will have them for springs to come. Tender
gray catkins tentatively creeping into view, unlikely furry blooms. Quiet
reminders of loves lost and found.
CATHERINE COPICH VAN
Her that is She
They clamor to see
Her, that is She
The powerhouse, the brick house
The lone possessing the might of we
Seek to free and always to be
Her, that is She
The one who lives within thee
Like the honey bee
It’s hive in a tree
Her, that is She…works diligently
Her, that is She
Any woman you may be
I sing your praise, willfully with glee
In All Ways A Woman
Being a woman is hard work
Not without joy or ecstasy
But relentless, unending work
Intact and happy
Tender and tough
Her values, her choices are important
Sense of self
Sense of humor
Laughter is therapeutic
Laugh as much as possible
Struggle for equality
Armed with wit and courage
~A ‘found poem’ from Maya Angelou’s *Wouldn’t Take
Nothing For My Journey Now*
TRACEY MARIE MATTSON
Others before Herself
Mother so wise and full of
Never wanting anything in
She is always there to embrace.
Constantly wanting more to
She always showed her care.
With an accepting potion.
Like you were the only one there.
Your love overpowers any
"They flee from me,
that sometime did me seek,
with naked foot stalking in my chamber.
And I have seen them
gentle, tame and meek..."
This essay is for Mary Lynn Camper. Horse lover,
people tamer, sponsor, and wife. She has rescued many
alcoholics; pulling them dripping with weeds from the distant
pond that alcoholism creates for those who suffer and
Mary Lynn showed horses for a living before coming
to Alcoholics Anonymous. Her employer crated her and shipped her off
to a dry 'farm' for her birthday one year; a fact she says she did not
appreciate at the time. She was down to 98 lbs. and hiding vodka in the
feedbags by then, breaking horses between bottles. She once, at a hunt,
rode her horse into a tree.
She loved an ex-Marine for ten years and tamed him
enough to become the fourth and final Mrs. Camper, before he died of
cancer eighteen months later. She drove him up into the mountains he had
hunted for the last time, into the mist and rain of a cool fall day:
a falconer releasing the tresses.
She faced down a robber in her home, talking him
out of killing her by placating him with airplane bottles of booze she
acquired while working at the liquor store.
She saved my life, pulling me out of the darkness
a rape, a divorce and the death of my father put me
into. She set me down beside Bonnie, a Clydesdale
mix, in the patch of green grass out behind the barn. I stood there
for an hour everyday, letting Bonnie eat, and soaking her warmth and
sunlight into the black terror that my mind had become.
She let me lean against her, throwing her steam off into
the silver morning.
She lets me lean against her, curbing me not with the
bit, but with the halter. She is an inspiration and silent poet.
Nana always said, “Respect Age and Wisdom”
Decaying, yellowed afternoon light surrounds her.
The building rooftops become shutters on theatrical fixtures, defining her
area of illumination. Within the earthen colored rebossa the form
moves. Shoulder movements swell the faded fabric. First a head
and then the neck appear from under the layered material. I stand
and watch as arms emerge. Those graceful brown forms move upward and
outward stretching the fragile garment into what looks like wings. The
rebossa falls behind her. She seemed to shiver in the afternoon
air. Her skin is an earthen red brown. The bottoms of her feet
are grayed from walking. Her hair is long, uneven in length and a
dull silver-blue. Watching this old woman from a distance has
stirred a childhood memory.
I stood in the back yard of Nana’s house. I was a
curious child. I remember wandering through the backyard drawn to
the noxious odor of Nana’s prize lilac bush. I looked over the
bush’s surface and endless swelling of color. There in front of me
securely attached to one of the fragile branches and in-between the
fragrant purple flowers was an eggshell colored fuzzy looking lump.
My hands gently moved the blossoms so I could gaze at the finger length
sack. Standing there alone, I inspect this things shimmering
surface, when without warning the capsule moves. My hand lurched
back from the branch. What had I awoken? Regaining my courage,
my fingers again move closer, when I see a small black form pierce this
velvety envelope. What appeared next were two fragile legs
gripping the freshly torn edge of its wrapper. The creature pulled
itself free from its prison. It seemed to shiver in the warm summer
What I saw next defines beauty. Two elegant wings
unfurled, they resembled lemon yellow lace outlined with black and crimson
markings. The creature sits poised on its perilous perch, its wings gently
starting to move. Then with a sudden downward thrust of those delicate
forms, the creature moves skyward. Floating up into the air, it
circled my head, then it rode an afternoon breeze out of my view.
The rebossa fell behind her. She seemed to shiver
in the afternoon air. Her skin is brown. The bottoms of her
feet are grayed from walking. Her hair is long, uneven in length, a
dull silver-blue as I move closer her head turns toward me, and I see her
eyes, milky white without color or reflection. Within a step of her, I
stoop down to look at her as she turns her head and looks directly at me.
She says, “Buenos trades, senior." I am un-mirrored in the
opaque titanium pools that are her eyes, yet she senesced my
presence. I respond to her greeting, wishing her a good
afternoon. She carefully lifts a blanket in front of her covering
three small woven baskets a fourth about half-finished stuffed with a pile
of assorted colored reeds.
Picking up the unfinished vessel her hands become
busy. Over, cross under, cross over, cross again and twist the dark
strand to keep the pattern migrating, circling, around the
container. Her hands seeing what her eyes can't once again, over,
cross under, cross over, cross again stopping momentarily holding a strand
between her thumb and forefinger, her eyes again meet mine. Knowing
she sees without eyes, knowing she sees me. Silence falls between
us, broken by her fragile utterance, “Would you like to look at my work?"
I say yes and pick up one of her baskets. They are precisely
woven. The baskets are covered with an intricate colored pattern
flowing over their contours and there is not a strand out of place.
How can this be?
Nana, always said, "As one senesce diminishes another
takes its place." Nana came to live with us after Richard died. The
same Richard whose name I was given. Her eyes also had grown weary
of seeing but what Nana couldn’t see she made up for with her acute
hearing. Sitting there in her room, down the hall from mine there
was the daily glare of her work lamp. My father fashioned it to help
her sew. I really think it was too keep her upstairs. The
combination of her thick lens glasses and that light let her sit and
stitch hour upon end. Over, cross under, cross over, cross
again the needle pulled the brilliantly colored thread through the
material making beautiful and intricate patterns. Over, cross under,
she sat there listening to, "Joe Franklin’s Memory Lane" and when her
hands grew weary; she would read her big print German bible or Lutheran
She was attentive to all that surrounded her. She
could tell when I came up to my room and beckon me if she needed a pattern
outlined or a needle threaded. My mother wrapped the arm of her worn chair
with tape and foam rubber; Nana always started the day with a full
compliment of threaded needles and many colors of thread. She always
had them organized the lightest colors to the front the darkest near her
elbow. For fun, I would walk on my toes and try to sneak up on her
but always she’d say in her gravely German accent, "Why do you wish to
Nana was especially wonderful to watch around my
father. You see she wasn’t particularly fond of Joey and if she heard, her
name mentioned she would instinctively turn up her hearing. His
comments weren’t always flattering so, Nana would listen, move closer to
him and then bombard him with suitable colorful German rhetoric.
Nana always said, one must respect age and wisdom.
Looking at this woman in front of me I ask, “Senora,
please tell me how do you know the colors?" One of her hands reaches
down to the blanket in front of her, the other extends out toward
me. At that moment, our fingers touched. She took my hand in
hers and turned my palm skyward. My lesson is about to
Fingers aged with experience move through the reeds
scattered on the blanket in front of her. Her eyes never leave
mine. She picks up a single strand, placing it in my open hand, she
says, “Rose." I look down to see a red reed resting in my
hand. She repeats the lesson again saying, "Negro…black,
amber…yellow, natural…tan. I take her hand in mine and
say,”Senora, please tell me, how do you know the colors?” She pulls
her hand away, and takes the reeds from my hand. Without a word, she
goes back to her work.
Over, cross under cross over, she looks up to see if
I’m still there. She stares at me and says; “I can feel the
color!" Thinking, is this possible? Thinking, remembering what Nana
had said about learning from age and wisdom. Thinking I must open my
mind to what is possible, and learn to close my eyes. I must learn
the beauty of nothing and explore its possibilities. I ask her,
“Senora, please, may I hold them again?” I turn my hand skyward, and
I close my eyes. I hear her say, “Feel the fire of autumn." My
fingers tingle with the warmth of this piece. My lips utter the word,
"Red." I roll the strand in my fingers and a tear rolls down my
cheek. Her hand wipes the tear away as she says to me, "What have
you learned?" I open my eye’s to see her holding the fragile vessel
again. Over, cross under, cross over, cross again looking into my
eye’s she says, “Adios senior," as she twists the dark strand.
RICHARD J. BAY
MY ANGEL HAD TO KICK ME IN THE BUTT
Once upon a time I was an older woman who just turned
52 and thought I was dependent on my husband. By dependent, I mean
financially and also emotionally. It turns out that I was not
getting a whole lot on the emotional side, but I kept lying to myself that
I was “in a stable relationship”, “older”, and doing “OK”. We will not
even discuss what I was not getting on the physical side. After all,
I WAS an older woman.
And then one day, I decided to just stop lying to
myself every day of my life and go ahead with the big “D” word. Of
course, I had been silently using this word for about 10 years, while I
was lying in my own bed in my own big fancy house.
The whole moving out thing was very empowering and I
thought I had built up quite a support system of girlfriends to help me
make it through the divorce. Although one of my closest friends said
that I would lose my “identity” when I was again single “at my age”, I
persisted, knowing in my heart that it was the right thing to do all
along. I still thought it was the right thing to do when that night,
the first at my new apartment, I cried out to the gals not to leave me
alone. Julie took me to her big fancy house and tucked me into her big
fluffy bed and I felt like a young girl again—protected and cared
for. But this could not last because poor ol’ Julie was fighting
with her husband in their big fluffy bed in their big fancy house that
very night. He said, “We are not responsible for HER and cannot keep
HER for more than one night. She is just going to have to get used
to living alone because that was HER choice.”
I went back to my own tiny plain apartment in the cold
and the snow and still kept telling myself that I had done the right
thing. It didn’t feel so right now. Where was the sudden sense of
“freedom” and feeling young again? I could barely get out of bed in
the morning and ran right back to bed after work. But the time spent
sleeping didn’t help either because the dreams brought demons. Now I
lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my voices to stop. Maybe
I pray that I will not wake up in the morning. The black hole can
take over and the only way to get out is to rely on people. I ask
you—“Where would we be without our girlfriends?” Think about it—who
helps us in our times of dire need?
When did the “voices” and the haunting dreams
stop? Was it suddenly or gradually? What was the turning point
so I could tell other women who are in the black hole? Funny—it was
the conversation with my hubby’s best friend who said, “Make a list of
what you really want in life. Make sure that you let go of the
marriage first and then go for it!” I e-mailed him the list which
was simple enough. And that was the BEGINNING of the end of the black
It was that early February day we were snowed in and it
was 4 a.m. when the cloud lifted. It was not really a cloud lifting,
it was like a ton of bricks falling on me. I sat straight up in bed
and said,”I want to live and work in Maui.” I didn’t even put on a
robe! I ran right to the computer to type in a search for
Maui/Nutrition/Public Health. The whole screen filled with a real
job description—Needed Registered Dietitian with Master’s in Public Health
and at least 10 years of experience. I laughed because it also
required a mature person. Is that a 52 year old woman who is free to
move to Maui where she has always dreamed of living?? Of course it
is! This is MY job!! In the next 12 hours, I had completed the
application, updated the resume, called the contact person at personnel,
and ordered official transcripts from the dark recesses of UCLA. All
of this was off in the mail by the next morning in spite of rain, snow,
sleet, and the US Postal Service.
Fast forward to spring break 2005 and the trip to Maui
for the interview. The plane trip was the only part that was
uneventful. As soon as I touch down in Maui, I am not in
control. First off, I find myself looking for a restaurant and stop
at the first little town that looks promising. I sit at a table for
two and the waitress says that I must sit at the ‘communal” table. I move
to this table and a man taps me on the shoulder and says,” You are Kim
aren’t you?” It is Charlie, one of my first patients from cardiac
rehab in Knoxville, TN. He asks me what I am doing in Maui and I
tell him about the job interview. He says, “I always thought that I should
give something back to the people in cardiac rehab who helped me so
much. I am living here now and work in property management, so take
my card and be sure to call me night or day if you need help. By the
way, I think that you will get this job.”
Maybe this would be enough, but I have no idea what
this whole trip will bring me. The next morning, I am sitting on the
beach trying to think about the interview and a giant sea lion washes up
next to me. OK, this could happen to anyone, right?! The
wildlife management folks come out of nowhere and tell me that I must
baby-sit the giant creature while they run off to help another
animal. They take enough time to tell me that “she” is an endangered
Monk seal and I must keep people away from her so that she will not get
upset. See, I have a job already and I have only been here one
day! Hours later, they return and tell me that I have done a good
job protecting her. They explain that people who come to the island
to “take” or not blessed. People who come to the island and “give
back to the island” are blessed and they can stay. I tell them about
the job interview the next morning and they all agree that I WILL
GET THE JOB.
Maybe this would be enough to get me to the interview
at 9:30 on Tues. morning, but I still have to call my girlfriend Toni back
home to tell her about what has happened. She says that I may still
need some extra help and insists on lighting a candle at the time that I
am traveling to the interview. It takes both of us time to figure
out the time difference between Virginia and Maui, but we manage to set a
time. At the exact time that we set, I am driving to the
interview. I see a brilliant rainbow in front of the car, so I stop
to take a picture for Toni. I turn to go back to the car and the
rainbow is gone, just fanished.
The interview is light hearted and the people on the
panel are nice. At the end, they tell me that I GOT THE JOB!
It feels like this is no surprise because I know that it is MY job.
On the way back to the bed and breakfast at “my beach”,
I stop in the little town of Paia to tell some of my new friends the
news. One shopkeeper gives me the name of a woman who needs a
roommate—a “mature” woman to share a house in Pukalani. She says
that Pukalani translates as” the hole in the heavens”. I am not surprised
by anything at this point. Robin, the 48 year old mature homeowner
looking for a roommate, turns out to be a great match for me and we
celebrate by having breakfast at a local Mexican restaurant—yes, an
authentic Mexican restaurant in Maui! We have tamales for breakfast
and this makes me think about Toni back home. Toni is a Mexican
woman from Texas and all she talks about is the tamales she enjoyed in
Texas. I talk to the restaurant owner, Amelia, and she says that she
will give me one dozen free frozen tamales to take back to Toni in
Virginia. Toni will be sooo excited to get this special gift!
The trip back to Virginia is long and it is hard to
leave the place where I have finally found peace of heart. The next
morning, I call Toni to surprise her with her special gift. The
tamales were a pain in the butt to get on the plane, but I know that she
will really be excited to get her special gift. I even decide to
include the note from AMELIA that says,” These are free for your friend
Toni in Virginia.” When Toni sees the tamales, she bursts out in
tears. I can’t figure out why she is so emotional over a dozen
tamales. She is caught up in thoughts of her dear sweet mother who has
been dead for 15 years. I bet that you can’t guess her mother’s
Spirit of Woman
And that yet to come
It’s a promise of
life and growth
Woman is Spirit
You are Spirit
…I am Spirit
TRACEY S. MATTSON
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