Her-Story 2008


The "Her-Story" Project

A local celebration for all of the Radford Community in honor of

National Women's History Month


Students Going Home circa 1920

[Students Going Home, c. 1920, care of Radford University Archives <http://lib.radford.edu/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 year's celebration. 

horizontal rule


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 particular?)

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 the listserv?

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 a tribute?

You may send it to the Women Studies Committee wstudies@radford.edu. 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). 



Tributes from Her-Story 2005

[pardon the mess; we're still under construction]


Stories for girls

Laura Ingalls played
in the Big Woods,
on Plum Creek
and told stories about a childhood
not like mine.
Anne Shirley came to live
at Green Gables
on Prince Edward Island
in stories about an
not like mine.

Jo March grew up in New England,
visited Europe,
married, all the while
writing stories
about a womanhood
not like mine.

Elizabeth Bennett, with a keen eye,
observed her neighbors in Hertfordshire.
Her captivating wit lured Mr. Darcy
into a great romance
not like mine.

I lived their lives,
over and over,
because I did not want
to live a life
like mine.




            For Sarah

All day I look at hips,
the rolling swales of marbled mountains,
the sleek slopes of burnished hills,
landscapes I cannot visit,
nor want to.

But at night, I am home
in the smooth curve of your roundness,
the hollows and scented crevices,
the tender peaks I touch
with lips, tasting the sweetness
of that hidden spring, familiar
yet always a mystery.



 This Morning
for Momma
This morning, Saturday morning, we lie lazily in bed
waiting for the sun to peak through the skylight.
He sleeps as I read. I wait;
he sleeps. By mid morning I grow impatient.
This morning I know French toast will
help him wake up.
I roll over, kiss him, and tell him breakfast
will be ready in thirty minutes.
This morning I grab the phone and walk downstairs.
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 minutes,
then her voice changes.
I wait, anxiously, wondering what she will tell me.
Pause. “Your what?” I ask.
This morning she replies,
“My uterus.”
A hysterectomy.
I start to cry.
This morning she says,
“Honey, it will be ok. I didn’t tell you
because I thought you would worry.”
Worry. She knew me too well.
This morning I cry as I hold my
“How do you feel?” I ask,
“Will you feel different, I mean…”
This morning she answers, “No I won’t
feel less of a woman. I had you and your brother…
and I don’t need it anymore. Just think,
no more cycles.”
This morning, through the tears, I laugh,
still holding my uterus. We finish our
conversation. “Good-bye,” she says,
“I’ll call when I’m home… from the hospital.”
This morning, as I pull ingredients out of the cabinet,
my husband comes up behind me
and puts his arms around me.
I cry.
This morning I picture her in the kitchen,
knowing very soon, her husband will wake up
make her coffee, kiss her forehead,
and in four days take her to the hospital.



Home from Work

Forty long thin braids, fiery orange,
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 bottom
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 stairs,
and lifts up her heavy breasts,
so the cold, damp air can hit
their undersides. 
But she hasn't relieved
the real trouble. Her temples simmer—
an angry pulse ignites behind her eyes—
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.



 Show of Hands

These are the hands that never Grow Old,
They may look worn and tattered; but, from them many stories can be told.
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 do?”
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 could be.


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




Parul Gurung


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 rarely seen.


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 all.


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
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind;
In the primal sympathy
Which having been must ever be

William Wordsworth, “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 another month.


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 her head?

“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 alive.

“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 could do.

Her children said sadly, “don’t go mommy, we need you.”

The doctors replied “we couldn’t save her, we tried”

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 along.


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


The mother…

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…


The grandmother…

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.


And I…

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, Momma, Gran,

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 her poetry.


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.




Jake's Song

It was Cassiopeia

I saw every night

As I lay down

in bed

and turned out the light.

And lay my hand

on my

big tummy...

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 of strength. 


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 didn’t. 


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 home. 


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 spirit. 


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 their own. 


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 hearts.   





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!





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.  





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 and smiled. 


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 return.


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 junta. 



“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.






Never Depart

      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!


Get well,

So you don’t feel like hell.


It depressin’

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.


I 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 bush soon.


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.





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

Woman warrior

Armed with wit and courage


Celebrate victory!


~A ‘found poem’ from Maya Angelou’s *Wouldn’t Take Nothing For My Journey Now*




Others before Herself

Mother so wise and full of grace.

Never wanting anything in return.

She is always there to embrace.

Constantly wanting more to learn.

She always showed her care.

With an accepting potion.

Like you were the only one there.

Your love overpowers any emotion.




"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 are silenced.


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 air.


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 Witness devotional.


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 scare me?”


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 begin.  


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.







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 hole.


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 name!!





Spirit of Woman

embraces all

You… me

Past… present

And that yet to come










It’s a promise of

life and growth

Within us


Woman is Spirit

You are Spirit

…I am Spirit




Be sure to check back for more updates on Women's History Month Events at Radford University.

Questions?  Didn't find what you were looking for? Drop me an email: