Wednesday, March 08, 2006

International Women's Day

Oh, the delicious irony of International Women's Day falling smack dab in the middle of All This Crap.

All the outrage has been exhausting and borderline debilitating. So I won't rant today, at least not yet. Women. Up with women today. Today, the key women in my family line. Nobody even remotely close to famous, although a couple of them pursued the noble calling of being schoolteachers. In fact, I'm somewhat abashed sitting here, realizing I know very little about any of my female forebears who I didn't actually personally meet. Here are the ones I know:

Mom: Oh, I know her quite well, love her to bits. She's retired now and in the midst of her journey to a more metaphysical plane. She's always had uncanny perceptions, and over the past twenty years or so has increasingly devoted herself to meditation and spiritual matters. She follows a macrobiotic diet and eschews material things, dresses in natural fibers, buys organic. One day she will probably simply evaporate into the ether. I'm not concerned about this; I'll probably have full access to her no matter her physical status.

Mom's mom: She grew up in the Depression, the youngest of five children. Her father was an abusive drunk who killed himself when she was eight. She says that at least he waited to do it until she had left the house to visit an older sister, so she guesses he must have cared about her. Her childhood dream was that a rich man would come to their door and give them the money to buy a big new house full of pretty things. He never showed up, but she did marry my grandfather, a textbook hard-working entrepreneur who eventually secured them a comfortable life in the restaurant business in their small Illinois town. He invested wisely and they have been comfortably retired for a long time. She has her houseful of pretty things, antique tea tiles, cups and saucer collections, Lladro figurines, diamonds on her fingers. She begs me to hire an appraiser when she dies, to find a reputable place to sell her collections, because "your mother will just set them out by the dumpster."

Dad's mom: She grew up quite privileged, the daughter of a highly-placed engineer for Texaco in southern Illinois, in what passed for the oligarchy of the tiny town of Lawrenceville. She was promoted a couple of grades ahead of her classmates, started college at 16, and I believe finished with a Master's in education. She remembers her main competition in the third grade, a boy she could never quite beat in the spelling bees (which pissed her off no end), who went on to be an editor of the Webster's dictionary. She is prodigiously musically talented, coordinating USO shows during the war, and found a career as a high school music teacher. She and my grandfather simply were the music program at the county high school, spearheading cultural development programs for the grade schools and the community college, touching entire generations of kids in the thirty years or so they taught.
You have to understand that this was a couple who had close to 400 kids in their marching band, out of a school of maybe 1200. The town threw a long-weekend party for them in 1988, bringing alumni from nearly every state back to put on concerts, shows, and dances. At 87 she still plays the organ for her church choir.

The ones who came before that I remember sketchily or not at all. I see their pretty, fresh young faces in the pictures my two grandmothers keep on the wall or in boxes, hear snippets of stories, wonder what it was like to get up every morning knowing I had to bake pies and roast chickens to feed the farmhands at noon. I was named for one of them, my mom's mom's mom, the one left widowed by the abusive drunk. She managed to raise the couple of kids left at home and see my grandmother into high school before she died at 48, probably of exhaustion.

So I salute the madwimmin who came before me, both the pistols and the wonder-bread specials, the Dems and Repubs (lord knows we got both), the materialistic and the zen. Hug yer mama today if you have one.

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