Thursday, September 25, 2008

Petticoats in the Middle of the Road

My great-grandmother had seven children. Just before her seventh was born, her husband died in an accident. That was in 1898. I have never been a single mother, but I imagine such a situation was not better in 1898 than it is now. She refused charity. She refused to “sell out.” She raised six of them to adulthood, losing one to a childhood disease. (My daughter shares a name with that child, completely by accident). She was strong.

At the age of 18, my grandmother was sent off on her own by her stepfather. She put herself through nursing school, working odd jobs. My grandmother married that seventh child described above. It was a mixed marriage (she was English, my grandfather an Irish Catholic). That was a big deal. She followed my grandfather onto a gold mine in Alaska, where she was the town nurse, postmaster, and ran the grocery store. She mothered six children.

On December 7th, 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, my grandmother was on a ship between the port in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. They floated for 3 weeks in complete darkness in fear of a Japanese attack. She had three children with her, the youngest was only 7 months old.

I think about that when I am in the grocery store about to lose my cool.

That seven month old was my mother. She does not sit in the corner, a wilting flower. She is as strong as the women who came before her.

When I think of myself as another link in this chain of women, it is natural to ponder the circumstances of their struggles. I wonder if they were ever at liberty to ponder their own role as a link in the chain, if they even had the time to consider how their struggles differed and how their granddaughters might be faced with challenges vastly different than their own.

There is a story that says my great-grandmother was rocking my grandfather in a chair on New Years’ Eve 1900. She told his older siblings that this brother in her lap was the only one with a chance to see the year 2000.

Maybe she did ponder these things.

Maybe that is indeed what my grandmother thought in the darkness, cradling my mother, wondering if any of her children would see the year 2000.

In 2008, what is our struggle? I am sure we could list many this election year.

I will list one: understanding.

Our access to information is phenomenal, our ability to choose daunting, our expectations run higher than ever before. And yet, we wish the same for our children as we did one hundred years ago: a long and happy life.

It is easy for us to imagine that life is more difficult now. The enemy is not clear. The entrance to our best path clouded in fog. I once heard a story about soldiers from the North and the South stopping on the battlefield in our Civil War to celebrate a Thanksgiving meal together. There is a similar story of French and German soldiers in WWII. Were the answers really clear then, or do we just superimpose clarity over time? They were able to fight for their principles, while continuing to appreciate each other as people. Those are the stories in history I wish to repeat.

I am a Republican, and I do hope my party wins this election. However, I also hope that both sides are able to think, to understand, to recognize that every decision is clouded in darkness until our children can judge us with the clarity we judge our predecessors. (You understand that we don’t judge with clarity, right?)

So, in October, I am making a statement. Every day in October (okay, as often as possible), I am going to wear a skirt or a dress. I am celebrating my past. I am celebrating our future.

I want to let everyone who is fanatically blue or fanatically red remember to look for answers in a darker, cloudier, shade of purple.

Anyone in?

Authors note: It is not necessary (especially for the boys, well, unless you choose to, of course) to wear a skirt every day to be in with me. Invite a friend you disagree with to lunch. Read the other parties’ website. Ask me a question. And, for fun, send me a picture or a link of yourself in a skirt (every day if you want) and I will post them along with my own pictures in October.


Badass Geek said...

This is a great and well-written post. You have an incredible family history, and I thank you for sharing that with us.

Indy said...

I love you E but I cannot join you in wearing a skirt or dress every day in October. First of all, I am always cold. I am grateful that times have changed and I no longer have to wear them. Second of all, I only own a few and will not be buying more in the next week. Third of all, I like jeans. :)

I hear you sister. My family surrounds me in political discussions every chance they get. I don't think I can invite anyone to lunch and actually enjoy the political discussion.

Anonymous said...

Awesome post! All of it -- the historical context, your own amazing lineage, the challenge to remember we can't possibly judge the present with clarity. I loved it all!

It reminds me of a post I read earlier this week, by Charles Krauthammer, a member of the Washington Post Writers Group. (Maybe you should write for the Post too, E. The quality of your stuff is certain comparable.)

If the blog doesn't succesfully duplicate the full URL below, you can reach it at, via a search for the article title: History Will Judge.

It's partisan, certainly, but (like E) Krauthammer presents a passionate argument for delayed judgement, suggesting it's really the next generation, or the next still, which views with true clarity.

--Melanie (Still having trouble getting my Google/Blogger login to work)

enthalpymama said...

badass - Thank you.

Indy - Its okay, really. You look good in jeans.

Melanie - I read the article and it is very well written. In fact, I will go back to that website often probably and read more. Thank you for that. As for the comparison, accepting it would put me too big for my britches (then I would HAVE to wear skirts, hee hee hee).

Flea said...

What an interesting concept - skirts the entire month before the election. Like Indy, my skirt selection is limited. Living in Tulsa, if I wore the one skirt I'd be comfortable in daily - denim - well, it would be awkward. There's a contingent of big-haired, denim skirted, plain faced women and girls here. They frighten me. Not happening.

I agree. We are not able to see the present clearly. The waters churn too much. Sometimes that overwhelms me and I refuse to look at the present, retreating into my own little reality. Thank you for pulling my head out of the sand, at least for one morning.

Anonymous said...

Lovely, interesting post.