Recently I recounted a story of a woman taking out a wife beater with a baseball bat. This anecdote was one of random bad-assery. It had everything you could want in a story – a conflict, a villain, a hero, and an oh-so-satisfying ending. It’s one of the many reasons I adore the woman who told it and so many others.
I’m at a strange crossroads in my life – both looking forward with excitement and trepidation, and looking into the past to learn everything it has to tell me. As I do this I recognize that all the women surrounding me through out my early years were intense. They were strong, independent, resourceful, and absolutely inspiring on all levels. Most of these women came from a hard background, uneducated, born into poverty, they managed the best they could and did so with so much courage that I am moved to hear each and every tale.
I guess I can start with my grandmother. She was smart, really smart, although she never thought so. Growing up in a culture that demands women be docile and stupid seemed to have left permanent scars on her psyche. Still, she was probably one of the strongest women I have ever had the joy of knowing. She got married to a drunk in the fifties, and was part of a church I can only classify as extreme and Puritanical. Still, even with this going against her she got a divorce. She even managed to get approval from the church which was not a pleasant process and included proving her husband was unfaithful without a shadow of doubt. She did this. For herself. In the fifties. From here she went on to marry another mean nasty drunk who did nothing for the family. Because of this she pretty much single handedly raised five children, including my mother who was born six weeks premature. The doctors seemed to think this was because she was dragging water from the well, up a hill, and to the house, every day, while eight months pregnant. They didn’t have plumbing or electricity. And when all this wasn’t enough she even found work and started to be the breadwinner as well. Tough as nails this woman was. She’d eventually divorce a second time.
Her sister shared in the misery of poverty – where good men are nearly impossible to find. She had five children of her own when her husband came home from church, family in tow ready for Sunday dinner, and shot her and himself killing both in front of several carloads of witnesses. This wouldn’t be my grandmother’s only loss. She persisted, raised her children to adulthood, eventually earned a stable life, but was only broken when two of her adult children died a slow and painful death from an inherited disease. That would have broken anyone.
My mother was more stubborn than anything. From her premature birth she struggled to live and survived at a time when premature babies generally didn’t make it. She not only made it but she suffered remarkably few long lasting effects from her early arrival. She grew up with the same backwoods mentality that women do all the work. Maybe this is why she didn’t find having a man was necessary to having a family. She was unmarried when she decided to have kids and she had two of them as a single mother, starting in the 1970’s. When my brother was born the nurse at the hospital took such offense to this abomination she made sure to shame my mother at all opportunities and even started to feed her infant in secret so that she could further humiliate her when the baby refused to eat for its own mother. That was the beginning of a long journey for the both of them and seven years later, when I came onto the scene, I just added to this strange family ahead of their time.
In those days my mother worked for a sweatshop owned by another women, something absolutely unheard of in a small town in the 1980’s. I have no idea how this happened but I know she did on her own – without the help of a man. The business employed a handful of other women and did well for a while until globalization became a thing and clothes manufacturers realized it was cheaper to send their garments to impoverished third world countries to have children and peasants sew them for a penny an hour… Sadly that’s what broke this woman the rest of the way. The owner of the company fell into a life of alcoholism and died when her liver kicked out a few decades later. An unfortunate end that still doesn’t discount what she managed to accomplish in life.
Recently I was with a woman in her 60’s who was standing over pieces of a felled tree. She was lamenting how she did have a wood splitter but it was borrowed and needed to be taken back so now she had to resort to taking her chainsaw after the rest to make firewood for winter. She didn’t mean she was hiring some burly dude to do this, she was doing it herself… in her sixties… because she has always done everything herself. Married to a narcissist for more than 30 years, probably closer to 40, she had gotten accustomed to doing everything. She took care of all domestic chores, raised two of her own children and adopted eight more (that’s two other whole families if you’re wondering.) She also had a long career and was a full time breadwinner during all this. So wielding a chainsaw when she should be playing pinochle somewhere… didn’t raise an eyebrow.
I’m starting to see why I am so independent. I’m in my thirties now and have found my voice. I’m brash, opinionated, adventurous, and I don’t let anything stop me. I ran a farm for a while, raised my own food, and like my grandmother before me, I can slaughter and process a chicken with the best of them. I also travel alone – to destinations unknown, often wandering into the woods by myself when other women warn me of serial killers and bears. I follow my passions and I create. I do so in honor of all those that came before me that made this life possible. My own struggles are unique and at times petty in comparison. My predecessors were married to cruel men. My biggest relationship challenge is I am too independent and American men are more or less afraid of me – or worse disgusted by such a ostentacious display of gender fuckery. A single woman following her passions and speaking her mind is an incredibly dangerous thing after all… but even though this may mean I don’t find the love of my life or settle and have a family of my own, I have slowly learned to accept a few things. 1) Life is never what you expect it to be and 2) The universe provides you with what you need, not what you want, but if you play the right cards they can become one and the same. 3) I am but one of a long legacy of bad-ass women and that will not stop with me, no matter the condition of my womb.