A powerful experience for me of shifting perspective has been reading my mother’s letters and diaries as well as going through piles of old photos. Old photos are not just pictures of old people, old photos are, for the most part, pictures of young, vibrant people who were our parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents, great grandparents, other relatives, and their friends. Though I might have known them (some I didn’t) and/or heard their stories, when I see the stories the pictures tell, or read my mother’s writings, I meet young people, especially young women, who I did not know because who they were then is not necessarily who they were during my time with them. In other words, before our parents became parents, they had lives! And even after they became parents, how many of us, as young children, were that observant of our parents and other “older” relatives to see who they truly were…complex, amazing people who had more going on than their relationship with us. My parents told us stories of their lives when they were younger, but to read those stories not from the perspective of a parent recalling and telling a story, but in the present, in the first person, is a very different perspective.
On this International Women’s Day I think of all the amazing women in my life, my heart is especially touched by the young women I know – raising families, farming, teaching, going to school, following their dreams in a world that too often feels hostile and unsupportive. And I am reminded of the generations that came before my own, the young women a century ago, more or less, who were also following dreams, or perhaps NOT following their dreams because there was no support for them to do so in a crazy world where women’s status was much different than today. (yes, I know women’s status in so many places and in so many ways has not changed). They too were living in a world that seemed to be falling apart with economic decline and war, whether WWI or WWII. There was racism, bigotry, drugs, the whole package, the same though different.
The economic depression and her parents eventual divorce was hard on my mom and her family, there were days food was scarce. She would tell us these stories, but the letters and diaries, written at the time, never mention it, they are the writings of a young woman, they sound like a teenager of any era, (except perhaps for the phrases and expressions used!) and later, like a woman in love and planning her future with her best friend and husband.
Women in their 20s and 30s today are not likely thinking about their great grandparents stories, for my peers and I are the grandparents, great Aunts, ‘older’ women of their world, and we have our own stories! I hope we will also share the stories of those who came before us not as stories of ‘old people’ but stories of young women who thrived, worked hard, grew strong and laid the trails that became the roads, that still need to be made into super highways for women going forward. My mother worked full time while raising three children, and in spite of the term “latch-key” kid that was used at the time for children of working moms, I never felt neglected or alone because of her work life. Her mother had worked, especially when left to be a single mom during the depression. I did not have a concept of women not working and always knew life was about finding meaning work (mom, who told me stories of them, liked her jobs, most of which were office jobs). Looking back I think she was quite the super woman! But of course I didn’t think in those terms at the time. Her work paid for the ‘extras’ in our lives – music lessons, dance lessons, scout camps, and for me, her income and my own paid for my college education. (I was not daddy’s little girl!).
Happy International Women’s Day to all women and the men who love, honor, cherish and respect them.
To those who don’t…….be scared, be very scared! There is a league of women backed by the spirits of those who walked before them just ready to change the world as you think it is!
(just had to add that!)