After reading so many inspirational blogs and stories recognizing International Women’s Day on March 8 (and honestly, all month for Women’s History Month), I’m slightly embarrassed to admit my ignorance about the struggle that I had totally missed.
Not the glass ceiling, harassment of all sorts, etc., that have been at the forefront for my entire life but my ignorance in the belief that these couldn’t be overcome. I owe this belief to the women in my life who lived what some wish the world could return to. Ironically, these stupid men are oblivious to the fact that those women were tougher and stronger than their “traditional” lives might indicate.
So, in honor of those women, I recognize my mother, my grandmother, and my great-grandmother. Three generations of strong, independent women, who made their way, as mothers and daughters and breadwinners doing what they needed for the most important thing to them: their children and families.
My mother, Joann, has been caring for children since the age of ten when her sister joined her and her older brother. She married at nineteen, had me a month before her twentieth birthday, and three more girls before she was twenty-five. She raised us with a steady hand, somehow navigating and acknowledging four separate personalities along with my father (who could give today’s men a lesson in child rearing and sharing responsibility). Always supportive and firm in their commitment to each other, their faith and their girls, they tag-teamed the insanity and made it look easy. Another ignorance which has since been rectified.
Patience should be spelled with all caps when describing my mother, even if there were times she’d slam the table with her hand while she tried to grab a few precious minutes on the phone with a girlfriend or sibling. Her youngest was still in high school when her second born had her own child and the circle of care and love expanded. When my sister decided to stay home with her son a year later, I added to fold shortly thereafter. My mother watched my son for a year but there was no break when her care-taking switched to her own parents as they recovered from a car accident. As anyone who has had the privilege of growing older knows, healing takes a long time when you’ve had many birthdays. Then came my nephew and two years later, my grandparents again until they were called home.
For a long time, I didn’t understand why she (and my father) always put themselves last. That this duty-bound honor to her children and her parents was priority. I now know the enormous strength in those quiet actions. The dedication and love that defies adequate description. They vented frustration but never complained. My mother gave her children and her family not everything but everything she could. Like her mother and grandmother before her.
I see now that my grandmother, Rose, was a pioneer. Because she always worked outside her home, my mother filled in behind her by cooking and ironing and cleaning and of course, caring for her family. My grandmother worked in the garment district, in sweat shops where hell paled to the hot summers and winters were frigid. She stood with her sisters for union wages and safe conditions. She brought home “piece work” to make ends meet. To care for her family the best way she could. I never heard her complain.
Rose was first generation American. My great-grandmother, Maria, came through Ellis Island at the turn of the last century. She was twenty in 1912 when she boarded the Oceania in Naples-Campania, Italy, with twenty dollars in her pocket. Alone. I’m in awe of this courage. We’re not quite sure, but it’s believed it was for an arranged marriage (more courage) to a graduate of the Art Institute of Rome who had emigrated seven years earlier. He was twenty-five. They had three daughters and ran a small grocery store, a neighborhood staple. We’d visit, almost every Sunday, and I remember being allowed to choose one piece of candy from behind the large, oak counter. The bins filled with sugary treats were a heavenly display as was the aroma of fresh cheeses and meats. I still love that smell. After our prized selection, we always got a pretzel rod. Simple things, yes, but as anyone who is Italian knows, food equals love. Almost fifty years later, that love endures. She spoke little English but always had a beautiful smile for us. That’s her picture above with me and two of my sisters. Looking back, I think she understood everything.
So back to my ignorance at the gravity of their real-world challenges. The right to vote. The right to go to college. To law school. To practice medicine. To wear pants. Seriously, pants.
I never questioned the strength of these women. It was natural and understood and just was. However, in my ignorance, I did not realize what they endured in their place in time. I only saw grace and humility, not the strength that came with the roles they played. In its own ignorance, history has determined that their roles were “traditional.” I’d like to know who decided that traditional meant weak?
I come from this line of female warriors, if you will, whose quiet love and patience and persistence was as loud and as strong as those who marched against and boldly fought the stereotypes, limitations, and prejudices placed on their gender. These women lived the front lines of those challenges and made their own way. A way that continues to shine through their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Through me. Through my daughter who knows no boundaries and doesn’t take no for an answer.
These women didn’t take no for answer either. They roared with their own voices. In their own way. On their own terms. They are my role models for what can be done. With heart and love.
One persistent woman at a time.
Thanks so much for sharing a few precious minutes with me. As an active member of the Romance Writers of America, the New Jersey Romance Writers Chapter and the Kiss of Death Chapter, I write contemporary stories of suspense with a touch of romance where hope and heart prove stronger than any weapon and where happily ever after occurs, even if it takes a bloody route to get there.
Strong men and even stronger women are the stars of tales themed around hope and courage after being betrayed by those tasked with keeping the rules. These brave men and women love and laugh and fight to the death like a mother fights for her child, all while trying to balance the professional with the personal. My stories are born on that balance and I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I have had giving voice to them. All of this sets the stage in my debut novel, Contingencies and my recent release Corrective Measures. All reviews are welcome. Stay up-to-date with new releases via my website with its free newsletter and prologue to Contingencies (along with other giveaways) or follow me on Facebook and Twitter.
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!