Happy International Women’s Day to all who celebrate! And tbh we should ALLLLLLL be celebrating, because even if you’re NOT a woman, you at least came from one. Best remember. But don’t thank her today for bringing you into this world like it was some kind of favor. Save that sappy sentimental shit for Mother’s Day. Today is about honor, and there’s no better way to honor amazing women around the world than by sharing their stories. Because at the end of the day, all we really want is for our voices to be heard. And for them to echo into future generations for other women to pick up where we left off. I’d take that over a greeting card any day.
So today I’m paying tribute to the two generations of women who came directly before me and left some big-ass shoes to fill. Thanks guys. Set the bar nice and high why dontcha. Take this sassy-looking lady leaning against the bar, for example. That’s my Grandma Linda, and yep, she’s probably had a couple a brews before this shot was taken. But I’d say she earned it after some of the trials and tribulations she had to endure in her life. Like being chased out of own country after her husband was sent to war, getting tossed into a displaced persons camp (basically a concentration camp, minus the gas chambers), sneaking two babies across a WWII battlefield (because FUCK IT at that point, amirite) and then jumping on a ship headed to a country where she knew no one and could barely speak the language. NBD. I’m sure that kinda thing happens all the time. OH, I forgot to mention that she was in medical school before getting rudely kicked out of her country. She wasn’t about to let all that damn work go to waste so when she got to America, she tried to pick up where she left off. Except the internet wasn’t around back then and the local hospitals in NY were not about to chase down academic records from some war-torn country they’d never heard of (Estonia, btw – it’s ok, most people still haven’t heard of it), so her doctoring dream was out of the question. She became a nurse instead. And raised two young kids on her own in a strange new world until a decade or so later when the US government sent her a letter saying, “Hey, we think we found your husband.” I’m paraphrasing here, but you get the idea. While Gramps was overseas fighting communists, a noble effort in and of itself, Grandma was just taking care of her business while the world was LITERALLY burning down around her. So yeah, she deserved those brews. Years later she died comfortably in her favorite recliner, watching her favorite channel (CNN), with a can of Miller Lite in her hand. Even in death she had to go out like a BOSS. This is herstory, and it lives on.
Then there’s this angelic lil Scandinavian beauty. Hiiiii Nana Jeanette! She could have passed for Audrey Hepburn (the cuter Hepburn, let’s be honest) when she got married at 20 to an old school German/Lutheran guy with a VERY dominant personality (we still love ya Papa C). She grew up in Chicago during the jazz age, which must have been pretty dope…too dope, apparently, because her own mother ran off to join the mob (Al Capone’s gang, allegedly) and left a husband and two little girls to fend for themselves. Talk about having to grow up in a hurry. It was a subject she never wanted to talk about, so we can only assume the hurt ran deep. But like all strong women, she carried on and even helped raise her younger sister until she was ready to start a family of her own. And turns out, even without having a mother, it’s still possible to be maternal AF. Nana went on to have 5 kids of her own and mother-love the SHIT out of them. Seriously, stories of her unconditional love and devotion are legendary in our family. Let’s just say that if mothering (or even grandmothering) were an Olympic sport, she’d be the all-time gold medal winner. Once again, way to set the bar high for the rest of us, Nana. I’m proud of myself when I remember to feed my kids before the end of the day. But her story is about more than mothering. It’s a story of genuine kindness and grace. Here’s a woman with every excuse to be angry at the world for robbing her of a real childhood, and then later robbing her a of a child, yet it didn’t break her spirit. I can’t speak for her own kids, but as her granddaughter, I never heard her utter an angry or bitter word towards ANYONE, even when they deserved it. Not to say she didn’t speak her mind; she just was the picture of elegance and grace when she did. As if to say screw you life, throw me all the lemons you want and I will just continue making the sweetest damn lemonade you’ve ever tasted. Even up to the point where her memories of this world started to fade, and she was meeting everyone again for the first time, that gorgeous smile never left her face. In what turned out to be the last conversation I ever had with her, I told her that she was about to become a great-grandmother for the first time. She was quiet for a minute and then asked, “Now how in the world did that happen? I didn’t even know I was a grandmother!” And then she burst into a fit of giggles and hugged me, probably not even sure who I was at that point, but ready to celebrate new life nonetheless. This is herstory, and it lives on.
And that child she was robbed of? That was my mama, Janet, pictured here on her wedding day, which happened to be a Friday the 13th (still one of my favorite dates btw, to hell with the superstition). She was 39 in this picture, which was considered old as dirt back then for marriage, and having a kid at 40 was even more unnatural. She had endured all the jokes from friends about becoming a “spinster” and endless pressure from her parents to settle down and start a family, blah blah blah. But she had important shit to do first. Like put herself through medical school at Ohio State, even if it meant driving in at 4am to set up cadavers inside the classrooms (how freaking METAL Is that?!) to help pay her tuition. Like moving from small-town Ohio to Chicago to practice medicine, with a specialty in women’s health. Like being accepted doing breast cancer research, which eventually led to her being selected for the “Who’s Who of American Women” publication in the 70’s. Talk about a mic drop for all the haters. (Rumor has it she was extremely opinionated, so I’m guessing she had her fair share.) Could she have done all of that while raising kids and juggling a family? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe she wasn’t willing to take the risk. Maybe she knew she could have it all, as long as she didn’t try to have it all at once. It’s too late to find out because fate stepped in with a bitchslap one day and said, here ya go, have some breast cancer. Oh, the irony. Years of dedication to women’s health and she couldn’t save her own. So three years later, she left this world, and with it, a goofy, awkward, bowl-haircutted little girl who would forever be trying to live up to the memory of someone larger-than-life. This is herstory, and it lives on.
So what of MY story? TBD. It’s still unfolding. And while I can admit I am nowhere near as brave as Grandma Linda, as kind as Nana Jeanette, or as successful as Mama Janet, I know that at least PART of my story is being driven by theirs. And those betches set the bar so DAMN HIGH, the least I can do is reach for it. They’ll never let me live it down in the afterlife if I don’t. And if you don’t believe in the afterlife, believe this: People live on as long as their stories do. So learn them. Dissect them. And then most importantly, SHARE THEM.
Happy International Women’s Day!