Did you know that every March is National Women’s History Month? Its honorary observance was designated by Congress in 1987. The month is dedicated to honor the contributions and achievements of women to our country.
President Jimmy Carter proclaimed the first National Women’s History Week in 1980. In his proclamation, Carter noted that men and women have worked together to help build the United States since the country’s founding:
Too often the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well.—President Jimmy Carter
There are so many women throughout our history who made a difference, not only those whose accomplishments we honor, but those who affected our daily life.
This is a tribute to the women who shaped me. Some of them I never knew but I can feel their love and caring when I look at my children and grandchildren, and I can appreciate their contribution to my life. They give me strength and courage every day!
Both of my grandmothers were deceased by the time I was born, but they still touched me in many ways.
Angelina was my maternal grandmother. Her family called her Lena. Together she and my grandfather, Henry (Hank), owned several farms in Iowa. Lena and Hank raised four girls. My mother, Pearl, was the youngest and was designated the “outdoor” girl to help her dad with farm chores. Her sisters focused on housework, cooking, etc. – the “indoor” chores.
The stories I have heard about Lena reflect a loving and caring person, but one who was not afraid to stand her ground if the situation warranted. For example, my mother was dating a young man that my grandfather did not like. The young man died in an accident and my mother mourned deeply.
My grandfather, who could be quite stern, did not want my mother to attend the funeral. Lena put her foot down, and she and my mother attended the funeral together.
Lena was an excellent seamstress and sewed clothes for my mom and her sisters in all the latest styles. They always looked very chic. As a result, my mother worked in a retail clothing store in college and even modeled some.
Music must have been important in the household because my mother learned to play the piano and had a beautiful soprano voice. The family was active in their church and that is how my mother and father met. My grandparents encouraged their girls to go to college, and my mother, Pearl, attended college at a church school in Iowa until she married my dad.
Lydia, my paternal grandmother, was the second wife of John, a minister. John’s first wife died and left him with three children. Lydia and John had four more children together, one of which was my father, Leslie.
Of the seven children, there were three girls and four boys. Although the family lived in several places, John was the minister of the church that my mother’s family attended and, as I mentioned, this is how my mother and father met.
Music was important in the church and in the household. My dad and two of his siblings became professional musicians.
Sports must have also been important because two of my uncles played sports in college and became coaches. A college education was important to this family, as well. My father graduated from a church school in Illinois with a major in music. I think my dad fell for my mom when he heard her sing and play the piano in church. That is how I imagine it.
I do not know if Lydia was musical, but she was a talented artist, and I treasure the painting my family inherited. Lydia died years before I was born, and, sadly, I do not know a great deal about her. Deduction tells me that Lydia was an extraordinary woman to accept and raise all of John’s children.
Pearl and Leslie were married in a small ceremony on her parents’ farm. My father had been offered a teaching position in Arizona, so that is where my mother went as a bride. Talk about an adventure for a girl from Iowa!
She often recalled how terrified she was as they drove the “Coronado Trail.” My dad taught instrumental music in each of Clifton, Wilcox, and Tombstone, Arizona, and they both grew to love the desert!
Mom not only survived but thrived in Arizona. She loved the sound of rain on the tin roof of their house and the smell of the desert afterward. The tamales her neighbor shared became a favorite, and she thrilled at the colorful sunsets. Mom found her circle of friends in their church where her musical talents were appreciated, and among fellow teachers.
Arizona had its challenges, though. My mom woke up from a dream with a vivid picture in her mind of a scorpion underneath the baby’s crib… and found one there! On another occasion she was aghast that one of my sisters was offered rattlesnake meat and ate it… and then proclaimed, “It tastes like chicken!”
Another time a fire spread so close to their house that they moved out furniture and other belongings, but the structure was saved by a sudden change in the direction of the wind.
My mother missed her parents and sisters, plus her father was not a fan of the desert (remember he was an Iowa farmer). On one visit he asked, “Why would anyone live in this God forsaken country!” So, every summer the family headed back to Iowa and then returned to Arizona for the school year. Two of my three older sisters were born in Iowa during those breaks. My oldest sisters attended early grade school in Arizona. However, as my grandparents aged, my family moved back to Iowa to be closer to them.
My only brother, Arthur, was born after the move to Iowa. He had cerebral palsy, and his short, two-year life had a dramatic impact on my family. Arthur had curly blond hair and the most beautiful smile. Unfortunately, his life was filled with a great deal of pain and often he could not be comforted. That was especially hard on my mother.
Of course, my older sisters and my father took turns with caregiving, but my mother shouldered the burden. Not only was Arthur ill, but also Lena, my maternal grandmother. Lena died of cancer about a year before Arthur. How filled with sadness those years must have been for Mom!
About five years later, I was born, and I am an identical twin. Our older sisters tell us that Mom could not see her feet for weeks before our birth, and they tried to keep her from looking in a mirror. When she arrived in labor at the hospital, a nurse mentioned something about expecting triplets and mom almost fainted! I’m not sure they even expected twins. There were no diagnostics in those days.
Mom loved people and their stories. When I was growing up, it embarrassed me when she would strike up a conversation with a stranger and within minutes know their life story. Now I understand that she was empathetic, and people felt safe sharing with her.
Mom and Dad always had a garden and Mom shared flowers or fresh garden produce with neighbors and others. They also donated to causes they believed in even if that meant giving up something they wanted themselves. Mom especially sacrificed for her girls. She did without new clothes so we could have something new.
I remember the smell of face powder in my mom’s purse and the taste of her fried chicken and the sound of the stereo playing the musicals she loved. I can still hear my mom playing the piano and singing and can picture us all gathered around to add our voices.
I remember the family vacations driving to California to see my uncle and to Arizona to see friends and relive family memories. Mom would pack for all of us, and I do not remember ever needing something she couldn’t pull from the trunk of the car. Those trips and the adventures they held are treasured.
However, my mother was not the kind of person that I went to with problems or to share secrets. My twin served that purpose. Rarely did I ask Mom for advice. I wonder now if she felt bad or worried about that. I will never know.
What I remember most about my mother is how loved she made me feel! She died when I was in my 30s but I think of her every single day.
What did I learn about my heritage from these memories?
Thank you for letting me share.
Who do you give tribute to in the Women’s History Month? Who has been the woman who influenced you the most? What can you say about your heritage at this time in your life?