We are halfway through the week and halfway through September! I guess it is true, the older you get, the faster time passes. This realization hit me hard this week when my daughter-in-law sent photos of my grandson Eli’s newly redecorated bedroom. He turned ten this past spring, so it was time for an update. This reminder of his growing up prods me to want to slow time down. I want to be able to savor this feisty, inquisitive ten-year old, but experience tells me it will feel like the blink of an eye and he will be taking driver’s training!
If like me you are a long-distance grandparent, you may want to try my Facetime Reading Project. I choose a book to read incrementally over Facetime or Zoom, then go about preparing corresponding snack bags for each reading time. Keeping in mind the preferences of the audience, each day is a different treat. There is an individual bag for each grandchild to open.
Last month I read Mañanaland by Pam Munoz Ryan with my grandsons. It was declared a success by all. But as with most endeavors, you can find ways to improve. Books that appeal to one age, may not work as well for another. This week I’ve been reading with three of my granddaughters, considering their age differences and attention spans. With that thought in mind, almost four-year old Elizabeth and I have been reading Junie B. Jones is a Party Animal by Barbara Park. Olivia and Emily have indulged me and listened to me read them a childhood favorite of mine, Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace. We begin with them opening the snack bag of the day. Theoretically they munch their snack while I read aloud. If they have had half as much fun as I have, it has been a glowing, glittery success.
My recent post on the 19th Amendment led fellow blogger, Betty Chambers, to bring the book, Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts to my attention. I quickly requested it from the library and found it to be a totally satisfying read. Written as fiction but based closely on the truth, it tells the story of Maud (Gage) Baum and Frank Baum, author The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Maud Gage was the daughter of suffragist, Matilda Joslyn Gage. Having previously lived in Ithaca, NY, I particularly enjoyed the early part of the book describing life as the daughter of a suffragist in upstate New York and going off to Cornell University in 1880. Maud and Frank married in 1882 and set about building a life together. Sadly, Frank died in 1919, leaving Maud a widow. In 1939, when Hollywood was developing The Wonderful Wizard of Oz into a movie, Maud, age seventy-eight, was determined to see that the film remain true to her husband’s vision. It is a fascinating story and I thank Betty for bringing it to my attention.
Betty writes the blog, Chambers on the Road. She and her husband are both retired and plan to spend much of their retirement traveling, primarily in their 23FBKS Micro Lite travel trailer. While her blog does include some great RVing tips, it is so much more. Her recent post, Retirement (or Life) Checkup, reminded me of the importance of reflection, checking in to see whether I’m doing the things I truly want to do at this point in life and not just getting caught up in my “to-do” lists. I’m trying to be guided by the wise words her friend found on the wrapper of a piece of Dove chocolate, “Be the sculptor of your dreams.”
It was never one of my dreams to live through a pandemic, nor probably one of yours. I recently read on someone’s Instagram post that they are feeling impatiently patient. They know the right thing to do is be patient, wear a mask, social distance, and wash their hands, but some days the impatience wins out and they just want to pout. I get it. There are days when the funk wins. But not today. Today when Mr. Smith arrives home, I will pour him a glass of wine, we will talk a bit about our dreams, and we will celebrate Wine Wednesday.
New season, new closet! Go ahead, get it in every color! The New Neutrals you need now! Scrolling through my inbox any day of the week, you would think the Pandemic was behind us and I needed to freshen up my wardrobe and get ready for all the fall fun. If only that were the case. Sadly, I don’t see a lot of social outings in my near future. I guess I could up my game for the grocery store.
It may seem trivial, but along with many other pre-Pandemic activities, I do miss shopping. I know online shopping is thriving at the moment, but I prefer brick and mortar. Browsing the racks, touching the fabrics, seeing what’s new. It’s one of the oldest stereotypes: women love to shop. Not all women, there are always exceptions, but for the most part it’s true. But why do we love to shop? There are many theories. One is that it comes from being the gatherer in the hunter-gatherer relationship, the partner usually responsible for feeding and clothing the offspring. But I believe it is also tied up in our sub-conscious.
I have cherished memories of my Aunt Ruby taking me back to school shopping for many years. She didn’t have a driver’s license, so in August 1961 just before I started first grade, she also took me for my very first taxi ride on our way to our seasonal outing. While we were standing on the corner waiting for our cab, my dad drove by in his work truck. He offered us a ride downtown, but I very politely told him no thanks, we are waiting on our taxi! Aunt Ruby always made me feel special, but those shopping outings made me feel like a princess. I don’t specifically remember anything that we purchased, but I remember how I felt.
By junior high and high school, most of my shopping outings were with girlfriends. There is a touch of magic in spending the day with your friends, searching for the perfect pair of jeans or flirty sweater. Taking a break to huddle around a table in the coffee shop inside Hilbish Drug Store, we would devour baskets of hot, golden French fries, sip Cokes and listen to each other’s woes. It was always more about the companionship and the bonding than it was about what you bought that day, we just didn’t know it at the time!
Fast forward and I’m the mother of three sons! I did have fun back to school shopping with my boys. Our day out always included lunch and conversation. They could be a talkative bunch! But what probably saved my sanity during those crazy, demanding years of child raising, were shopping dates with girlfriends. I was extremely lucky to have a circle of confidants that offered a colossal helping of camaraderie along with expert shopping advice. I did bring home a few shopping bags of treasures from those outings, but most importantly, I brought home a feeling of contentment.
When Mr. Smith and I moved east, New York City became my shopping mecca. I’ve written many times about my adventures in the Big Apple. Sometimes with a friend, but often solo. These trips not only provided me with all this great city had to offer, but also with a sense of independence as I learned to navigate and explore on my own. I came to appreciate and understand the value of my own company.
These days my main shopping buddy is my sister, Jeanne. I am sorely missing our much-anticipated shopping day during our visits. We always have a project or two planned that we want to accomplish during our time together, but normally reserve a day to hit the stores, have some lunch and talk. Those shopping trips have resulted in several full shopping bags, but the fabulous companionship still outweighs any treasures scored.
As much as I love fashion and perusing my favorite brands’ new seasonal offerings, I wasn’t born to shop. I have a very distinct memory from when I was five years old. It was the day after Christmas and my mom, my Aunt Ruby and my sisters “went to town” to exchange some gifts that didn’t fit or didn’t suit. I was shocked at all the people out shopping. Hadn’t they had their fill of shopping during the Christmas shopping season? Wouldn’t they rather be home with their families eating Christmas cookies and enjoying their new Christmas presents?
I have no doubt that living through the COVID-19 Pandemic is going to have a lasting effect on me. My dad survived the Great Depression. A lasting effect on him was that he refused to ever be without cash in his wallet. Hopefully I will survive the Pandemic. And hopefully a lasting effect on me will be remembering that camaraderie and togetherness are the most important things in my shopping bag.
Guest post – a rebuttal of sorts – from my sister…
Mea culpa, I do call my beloved Stormy OCD, but I mean it in the nicest way. My little sister is one smart cookie. If we had had a different mother, I’m fairly confident, she would have landed a challenging career in New York City. But growing up, what could have happened and what does happen are often quite different.
So Stormy took lemons and made lemonade. She hunted down the man of her dreams and married him. Now to the OCD. At one time (and possibly still) Mrs. Smith had a schedule for each day, clean, vacuum, dust each room, scrub bathrooms, change sheets, clean bedrooms, scrub floors. I was fascinated and once set out to follow her example. But as I was working sometimes 12 to 14 hours a day all hopes of following an organized schedule fell apart. With my four kids and several dogs in a single mom household it just was not workable.
Even today my youngest sister remains my role model for a well-run home. A place for everything and everything in its place. Her home is always beautiful, artful and tidy, and yes, extremely clean. As an old tired curmudgeon my rooms are not so much. Projects pile up in the sewing room and office with writing, editing, sewing, and League of Women Voters projects. I no longer have a house full of kids or dogs to track in dirt or pile dirty dishes in the sink. I’m too short to see the top of the refrigerator but still have no excuse for my less-than-perfect housekeeping. The truth is I am not bothered by a few days dust or the bedroom chair piled with yesterday’s sweats. Yet I am envious of the energy and organizational skills my baby sister brings to her home. She’s a fantastic mother, wife, grandmom and party planner. But it seems as I push my 8th decade my energy reserve has left on a Caribbean cruise. And now that I know that she is irritated by me saying she has OCD, I should stop, but probably will not. Why be good when you can be naughty.
I love and adore my sister Jeanne, I truly do. She is an outstanding big sister. She has my back, she spoils me, and I have no doubt she is my cheerleader for life. She bought me my first bra for goodness sake! But every once in a while, she really gets on my nerves. Like when she tells me – over and over again – that I am OCD when it comes to cleaning. All I have to do is mention in a phone conversation that I’m going to wash the kitchen floor that day and she is off. “Again??? All you ever do is wash that floor!” And she proceeds to tell me how OCD I am, that I clean way too much. Her persistent haranguing on this caused me to go over her head, right to the top. While out on a morning walk, I asked Mr. Smith if he agreed with her diagnosis. “Well, you can be a little obsessive.” Hmmm.
I decided this called for some investigation. I Googled OCD and read over the list of ten symptoms. I am not a mental health professional, but I believe I can emphatically state that I am not OCD. I simply like things the way I like them. Perhaps a better description of me would be persnickety: placing too much emphasis on the trivial or minor details; fussy; requiring a particularly precise or careful approach.
I apparently started on the road to domesticity at a young age. I’m not sure who scooted me up to the sink in this picture, but there is a good chance it was my sister. Perhaps she is concerned I may be OCD because she put me on the path!
I quickly graduated to the fashionable ruffled apron.
It was somewhat disconcerting to come across this description in my baby book, written by Jeanne stating that I had “Special Interests” in housekeeping. Interesting…
I wish she had dated the entry. I like to think I was much more interesting than that! I don’t remember ever really thinking that much about housekeeping while growing up. Then, shortly after my marriage to Mr. Smith, my Aunt Ruby asked me if I was a good housekeeper. I was a bit nonplussed. It wasn’t on my list of attributes of a good wife. I considered it more of a 1950s value than a 1980s value.
A few years later when Mr. Smith and I were building a life together based around our three young sons, Aunt Ruby’s words came back to me. At this point in time I reflected that while I might not be a good housekeeper, I was a good homemaker. We had created a space to raise our sons that was safe, welcoming and filled with love. And yes, it was cleaned regularly. Not just by me, but also by our sons. They all washed floors, cleaned bathrooms and did laundry. Maybe not quite how I would have, but that’s ok.
Now Mr. Smith and I are weathering the pandemic in our nest, an oasis of sorts. We have filled it with his photography, pottery we have collected, and beautiful music. I have a penchant for lovely table linens and yummy sheets. I love lightening candles, pouring some wine and enjoying the view. And for me, cleaning is just a part of keeping our home comfortable and cozy. I’ve decided to embrace my crown as queen of my castle. Now if I can just find my apron!
Along with frequently having to remind myself what day of the week it is since the pandemic hit, I often have to remind myself the month. September has arrived with subtle signs of what is to come. The days are getting increasingly shorter and the early morning temperatures for our walk along the Susquehanna River are a little cooler.
This past Sunday Mr. Smith and I decided to take advantage of the waning summer weekends and headed out to hike the Nescopeck Ponds Loop Trail near Mountain Top, Pennsylvania. It was a fairly easy hike with part of it running along Lake Frances.
Back home post hike, I decided to gather up some of my favorite pampering items and retreat to my bathtub. After a lovely soak (long enough for Mr. Smith to poke his head in and inquire if I needed anything), I emerged and lotioned up with some of my favorites. Even though it was only 4:00 p.m., I donned a white vintage cotton nightdress that I’m very fond of. I’ve never been a “sweats” girl and have finally discovered my comfort zone in flowing caftans, silk robes, classic pajamas or elegant nighties.
While I adore my beautiful lounge wear, it’s not practical for me to hang out in it all day. I enjoy getting dressed to greet the day. I dress in my favorite clothes which these days leaves me all dressed up with nowhere to go! What’s a girl to do? Apparently, even NPR now thinks we should put on a house dress!
I grew up on Donna Reed and June Clever. I watched them vacuum in pearls and heels and make dinner wearing an adorable little, albeit useless, frilly apron. That of course was TV, but even in our home my mom ran the house all while wearing a dress for years. Where did the house dress come from you might ask? Enter the Mother Hubbard dress. A daughter of the Victorian dress reform movement in the early 1900s, the Mother Hubbard dress, a long, wide, loose-fitting gown was designed to cover as much skin as possible. The gift of the dress was that it freed women from the constriction of corsets that fashion often imposed on women.
Then came Nell Donnelly Reed, a woman who wanted to look nicely dressed, even while working at home. She eschewed the unflattering 69 cent dresses being marketed to housewives in the early 1900s, telling the New York Times that she wanted to “make women look pretty when they are washing dishes.” A fashion designer and businesswoman, she founded the Nelly Don brand and in 1919, established the Donnelly Garment Company. In 1922, Kansas City voted Nell its most illustrious businesswoman for her success in turning them into a successful center for ready-to-wear production.
In 1942, another American fashion designer, Claire McCardell, introduced the “popover” wrap dress featuring copious pockets and a matching oven mitt. Although an informal garment, the house dress, particularly during the 1950s, was intended to be stylish and feminine.
As NPR queries, “Can a simple dress become a coping mechanism for the pandemic age?” I certainly understand the appeal of a dress, the one and done concept. Pull on a dress, brush your hair and you are ready to meet the day.
I’m quite sure I’ll never match the coolness of my granddaughter, Elizabeth, and these days I’m more likely to push a button to start the dishwasher than to spend a lot of time washing dishes, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to look good. While I continue to search for my perfect “Stormy” housedress, I may have to order some fancy rubber gloves to up my glam game!
Check out the blog on Sunday when I try to figure out – am I domestic goddess or a control freak!
Every morning in my email I receive a message from The New York Public Library, introducing me to their Book of the Day. Last week, a book by Anna Quindlen popped up. I was thrilled, a new read from one of my favorite authors! I jumped onto my library’s website and confirmed that they had the book. Not only did they have the book, it was available. They have recently reopened with limited hours, so I quickly added a stop there to my to-do list. Arriving at the library and pulling the book from the shelf, I immediately realized Alternate Sides was not a new title and that I had read it when it was released back in 2018. I put it back and stood there, lovingly looking at the row of books by Ms. Quindlen. I was thrilled when I discovered a title I had not previously read, Still Life with Breadcrumbs. I quickly checked out the book and headed home to indulge in an hour (or two) of gratifying reading.
Still Life with Breadcrumbs by Anna Quindlen
Settling in with my book was like sitting down with an old friend. I wanted to call Anna up and say, “Hello! I’ll be in the city next Thursday. Can we meet up at Café Luxembourg for a glass of wine?” That thought led me to remember a book I had read years ago when I was a member of a book group, The Book Babes, on ideas for your reading group. I was looking for ways to keep our troop engaging, beyond drinking wine. One thought was that since we all had our favorite authors maybe we should try contacting one just to see where it would go. The book’s advice on author meet-ups was – wanting to meet the author because you liked the book is like wanting to meet the cow because you liked the hamburger! While I understand the intent, I still want to meet Anna!
The heroine of Ms. Quindlen’s seventh novel is Rebecca Winters, a 60-year old photographer. Her early success has waned, she is helping support her aging parents, occasionally assisting her film maker son with an influx of cash and her supercilious husband has left her. “‘Peter is so European,’ women would occasionally say and later Rebecca wondered if that was their way of telling her that he sleeps around.” With Rebecca’s bank account quickly dwindling, she sublets her beloved Upper West Side apartment for an infusion of cash and rents a cottage in upstate New York sight unseen. The book is a somewhat predictable romance, feel good read, but I loved it. The passage where Jim makes Rebecca a grilled cheese sandwich was laughable. The (somewhat) quintessential New York City woman meets 900 calorie deliciousness. The book has been described as literary comfort food. It certainly was a comforting, satisfying read, but also inspiring. Yay for sixty-year old women who make their own way. I give it four grandmas out of five!
The Daughters of Erietown: A Novel by Connie Schultz
When I learned that Connie Schultz had a novel out, I knew I wanted to read it and I wanted to read it as soon as possible! Ms. Schultz has long been on my radar. My oldest son and his wife, Emmet and Emily, were both working at The Cleveland Plain Dealer along with Ms. Schultz when she received the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary. They both remember gathering with the entire newsroom, waiting for the official notification to arrive. Connie was standing with the managing editor and editor in chief, who was holding a bottle of sparkling wine (Cook’s to be exact), ready to pop the cork as soon as word arrived. Word came, they heard the “pop” of the bubbly and the newsroom erupted with applause and cheers. Savoring her moment, Connie raised a hand to acknowledge her colleagues. Emily shared, “I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who walked back to my desk (after grabbing my glass of Cook’s, of course) inspired to work harder and dream bigger. The award was obviously hers, but she made the entire newsroom feel like a part of the win. I kept my plastic champagne glass on my desk as a reminder of what’s possible.”
In her debut work of fiction, she tells the story of four generations of women in a hardscrabble Ohio town. Beginning in the 1940s, it tracks the rhythms of daily life in a blue-collar community. Ellie is being raised by her maternal grandparents. She has the best grades in her class and dreams of going to nursing school and marrying her high school sweetheart, Brick. Brick is a basketball star who is offered a college scholarship and a chance to escape his abusive father. Everything changes when Ellie learns she is pregnant, and the young lovers revise their plans and marry. This is the story of women, marriage, friends, mothers, grandparents, daughters, husbands, choices made and secrets kept. In other words, it is the story of life. In Ellie’s own words, “Everybody starts out as one kind of person and ends up being somebody else. Even if you don’t notice it, life is rearranging you.”
While I value Ms. Schultz’s journalistic endeavors (you can read her article Finally, a Convention for the Rest of America for Creators Syndicate here), I’m delighted she took the time to venture into fiction. I rate this book four grandmas out of five!
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
And now for something completely different. Mr. Smith is quite a fan of Trevor Noah and that led his thoughtful son to gift him with Trevor’s book, Born a Crime, for Fathers’ Day. Mr. Smith quickly devoured the book and passed it on to me. Oh my! It is the story of Trevor’s childhood and growing up in his native South Africa during apartheid. Trevor was born to a white father and black mother in 1984. At that time in South Africa this was a crime punishable by five years in prison. His parents tried to conduct their relationship in secret, but his mother was frequently jailed for short periods of time and Treavor would often be hidden from authorities.
Each chapter is prefaced with commentary helping me understand the times, followed by tales of his early experiences as a mischievous child who grew into a restless young man. His stories weave together to provide a sometimes funny, sometimes moving picture of a boy making his way through a crazy world in a dangerous time. Although the descriptions of life under South African apartheid were revelatory, I believe this book is primarily a love letter to his mother, Patricia Nombuyiselo. Ms. Nombuyiselo grew up in a hut with 14 other occupants yet created a life where she could eventually provide a house for Trevor. She was stubborn, fearless and deeply religious. And she loved Trevor unconditionally and unconventionally. Part of her deep love manifested in severe discipline. When Trevor was arrested for stealing a car, his first thoughts were of how much trouble he would be in with his mother. But it was his mother who paid his bail and paid for his lawyer.
“…Everything I have ever done I’ve done from a place of love. If I don’t punish you, the world will punish you even worse. The world doesn’t love you. If the police get you, the police don’t love you. When I beat you, I’m trying to save you. When they beat you, they’re trying to kill you.”
Considering the state of our nation today, I would recommend this book to everyone. Not preachy, but honest and gritty. And with a nod to Trevor’s extraordinary mother, I’m giving it the much coveted five grandmas!
The Dutch House by Ann Pachett
A couple weeks ago I received a text from my friend LouAnne, inquiring if I had any books to suggest for The Book Babes. They were making up their reading list for the year and she needed to come up with her selection. I suggested Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver and Connie Schultz’s book reviewed above. When I asked if she had any recommendations for me, she shared she was reading The Dutch House which had been suggested to her by a literary friend and I decided to give it a try.
Ann Pachett’s eighth novel is the story of a brother and sister, Danny and Maeve. It spans five decades and details their obsessive connection with the iconic house they lived in as young children. Their father, Cyril, bought The Dutch House, a 1922 mansion outside of Philadelphia, fully furnished in an estate sale as a surprise for his wife, Elna. She hated the house, both aesthetically and ethically. When Maeve is ten and Danny is three, Elna leaves both the house and her family. Cyril is obsessed with work and leaves the lion share of care of his motherless children to the kind-hearted cook and housekeeper. The fractured fairy tale feeling continues with the entrance of the evil stepmother who systematically pushes Danny and Maeve out. The years pass. When Danny and Maeve are both in town, they spend hours sitting in Maeve’s car outside The Dutch House, going over and over the past. Danny eventually asks, “Do you think it’s possible to ever see the past as it actually was?”
Ann Pachett is another favorite author of mine. I read Bel Canto and The Patron Saint of Liars years ago and I found The Dutch House to be just as engrossing and satisfying. Again, I give it four grandmas out of five.
I purposely didn’t provide a complete plot summary of the books, I simply attempted to whet your appetite. When I read a book, I don’t want to start out knowing everything that is going to happen. I want to be brought along with the author’s twists and turns. In these crazy times when we can’t even cross the Canadian border, we can spend hours traveling around the world through fascinating books. Happy reading…
There are minds superior to mine that can debate whether or not the internet is friend or foe. While I prefer to read books than surf the web, I still think of it as my friend. Thanks to the photo app, Instagram, I am able to welcome the day with a fun photo of a granddaughter from hundreds of miles away.
Or perhaps a picture of my son’s first coffee of the day in his handsome handmade mug that he pulled out of the kiln the night before at pottery class.
With an active family and hungry blog, I use the internet daily. Maintaining communication and accessing information has never been easier. I have solved many “how-to” problems thanks to YouTube. The internet has been amazingly helpful to me in searching out background information for my blog posts. But I guess I’m not as good as I thought!
In my ode to National Book Lover’s Day, I talked about wanting to find the book that my father had been reading during my mother’s pregnancy and that I was named after, that I had scoured on-line for to no avail. The same day that post published, I received an email from my niece in California. “Great blog post today auntie…found this…”. She had done her own internet search and found the cover of the book, the author’s name and the first page! Following the clues that could be found in her amazing find, led me to Trove, Australia’s free online research portal. I have emailed them and am eager to receive a reply.
Perhaps Beth finding this for her old auntie isn’t exactly a random act of kindness, but more a nod to her superior research skills, yet it certainly kind and made my day. A true random act of kindness was another high in my week. My daughter-in-law Becky delivers groceries for Shipt. While already a thriving business before the pandemic, having groceries delivered in the age of coronavirus has been invaluable to many who don’t feel safe venturing out. It warmed my heart this week to hear that one customer had tipped Becky $70 when she delivered their order. I hope she treated herself to a bottle of wine! Maybe it’s the pandemic, maybe it’s my age, but kindness wins every time.
Please check out my blog old Sunday when I tell you about the books I’ve been reading while I’m not on the internet!
A century ago this month, after a many decades long fight, the United States ratified the 19th Amendment, finally securing a woman’s right to vote. Well, white women anyway. The fight would continue for others.
We are all familiar with Suffragettes like Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, Carrie Chapman Catt, and “General” Rosalie Jones who were at the forefront of the fight for women’s voting rights through public demonstration and political advocacy, often facing arrest, jail time, force feeding during hunger strikes, physical violence and wide-spread harassment. It seems even President Trump is familiar with Susan B. Anthony as he pardoned her on August 18, 2020. She was arrested and charged in 1872 for voting illegally as a woman. You can read Ms. Anthony’s response from the grave thanks to Lynn Sherr and Ellen Goodman, co-hosts of She Votes! Podcast. Turns out, he can keep his pardon! The Susan B. Anthony Museum also rejected the pardon, proposing instead, “if one wants to honor Susan B. Anthony today, a clear stance against any form of voter suppression would be welcome.”
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
When federal law makers finally passed the 19th Amendment in June of 1919, my mother was two months old. On her first birthday, 10 months later, it still hadn’t become law. The Amendment required ratification by three-fourths of U.S. states and by the summer of 1920, only 35 states had seen the light. The magic number was 36. That takes us to little ole Tennessee and a world-class mothering moment.
My sister recently introduced me to Harry T. Burn, a 24-year old Republican member of the Tennessee House of Representatives, and his mother, Febb Burn, a college educated widow who read three newspapers a day and believed her mind was the equal of any man’s. The State Capitol in Nashville was a frenzied hot mess on August 18, 1920. With Tennessee forced into the limelight, supporters from both sides of the suffrage issue had camped out at a hotel across the street from the Capitol. Their intense lobbying efforts became known as the original War of the Roses. Most representatives entered the Capitol that morning with roses in their lapel signifying the choice they planned to make, yellow to ratify, red to deny. The all-male Tennessee legislature twice voted that morning to table the ratification decision and both times the vote was tied 48 to 48. They had no choice but to vote on the amendment. The state Senate had already approved the amendment, but a tie in the House would mean defeat.
Harry T. Burn had twice voted to table the amendment, all while wearing a red rose in his lapel. This is where it really gets good. In his suit pocket was a letter delivered that morning from his mother, Febb Burn. Her letter included updates on the farm and the family, news she thought her son might like to know. There was no brow beating or condemnation in her six-page missive, simply a few gentle thoughts from Mama in which she asked him to “be a good boy” and vote for the amendment.
“Hurrah, and vote for suffrage, and don’t keep them in doubt.”
Yes, Harry ended up voting Aye that fateful day, later explaining, “I knew that a mother’s advice is always safe for a boy to follow and my mother wanted me to vote for ratification.” Suffragists had lobbied Burn, but he came from a conservative district so his vote in favor of ratification came as a surprise to everyone. Harry was still wearing his red rose when he fled to the attic of the state capitol and stayed there until the frenzied crowd downstairs dispersed.
For every leader in the Suffragette Movement, there were thousands of others whose names and stories I’ll never know who picketed the White House through a world war and a flu pandemic, organized marches and protests. Many of these heroes also suffered great indignations and sacrificed to allow their descendants to now exercise their right to cast their ballots and participate in the democratic process. What I do know is that this November we can and must honor our foremothers and VOTE!
Forty-two years ago today, with stars in my eyes and no inkling of what lie ahead, I married my husband, Mr. Smith. Under a flowered arbor and wearing a crown of stephanotis and gypsophila and a flowing white dress, I said “I do.”
Some statistics suggest the average American marriage lasts eight years. With my 42 years of experience, I feel entitled to pontificate away on what keeps the magic alive, or at least what keeps a marriage intact. At the very least, at some point to be able to post Stormy’s Top Ten Tips for Staying Married. What I have learned over time is that what is right for one couple, may not be right for another. Many, many people say it’s important to marry your best friend. Interestingly, I have never thought of Mr. Smith as my best friend. In fact, the concept of marrying your best friend always seemed a little disconcerting to me.
On our morning walk yesterday, I inquired of Mr. Smith if we were friends, if he thought of me as his best friend. He said “Well, we like spending time together and if that is the benchmark of being friends, I’d say we are friends.” When I pushed him as to whether he considers me his “best friend”, he acknowledged that we both need others in our lives to add dimension and depth, but I am his primary person.
This gave me much to ponder. I didn’t marry Mr. Smith thinking of him as a best friend, I thought he was hot and interesting. Perhaps over the years we have grown into friends. He certainly embodies many of the characteristics of a best friend. He admires how much I love being a mother and grandmother. He accepts me with my flaws but encourages me to be my best. He has loyally stood by me during my biggest challenges and most painful failures. He listens to me when I need him to but backs off when I need him to. And he still thinks I’m pretty!
We have certainly had our ups and downs during our 42 years. Fortunately, we have been able to deal with the tough times as a team. Sometimes one of is captain of that team, and sometimes the other steps up. There are times I have to filter the stars in my eyes with rose-colored glasses and I have no doubt Mr. Smith has his own coping mechanisms. Yet I know for sure we have made a life together that combines romance and friendship.
Chances are you have had a seemingly random encounter or two in your life that you long remember. Someone, sometimes even a stranger, makes a random comment that strikes a nerve and stays with you. I had such an encounter back in 1970.
I was an awkward, restless sophomore in high school, trying hard to be “cool” and trying to find my place in small town, Midwestern teenage wasteland. Somehow, one fall afternoon I ended up in an empty school hallway while classes were in session with one other person, one of the truly popular girls. We had a brief conversation that stayed with me over 50 years. In her mini skirt and groovy sweater with her amazing long dark hair looking like she had just stepped out of a shampoo commercial, Barb could have graced the front cover of Teen Magazine. She was a senior and the epitome of cool in my eyes. That day Barb shared that she was on her way to deliver a note declining the Letterman Club’s nomination for homecoming queen. She felt a little weird turning them down and didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but she didn’t believe in beauty contests. I couldn’t believe my ears! Had she lost her mind??? How could she not want to be paraded out in front of the student body on the arm of a letterman? How could she not want the sash, the flowers, the crown??? At least that is how I remember it…
Fifty years later, I came across Barb’s name on a Facebook group from our old stomping grounds, Rolling Prairie, Indiana. I decided to send her a message and thank her for our encounter that day which planted a seed of feminism in me. She quickly responded and we commenced on a fascinating exchange that I will long treasure.
Barb doesn’t remember our interaction, but she does remember going to deliver that message to the Letterman Club. She suspects she didn’t refer to beauty contests, but to popularity contests, because of something niggling at her. During her junior year, her mother had initiated a conversation with her about popularity, with her mother going so far as to inquire, “Why don’t you let somebody else have a chance to be a cheerleader?” Barb had been a varsity cheerleader since her freshman year. That had put her on the “popular” track, and in a small town like ours, it became part of your definition. In addition to the status that came with cheerleading, she loved the athleticism and choreography. Our country was on cusp of Title IX, but it would be years before young women in small town Indiana had many choices. Her mother’s words stuck with her and she opted out of cheering her senior year. However, that didn’t stop the Letterman Club from nominating her for homecoming queen, the nomination that she declined. By the way, the Letterman simply nominated another girl in Barb’s place and that young woman went on to be crowned homecoming queen. Oh, the power of the Letterman Club!
Much like Barb’s discussion with her mother planted a seed that stayed with her, Barb’s words and deed that fateful day planted a seed in me. It broadened my viewpoint and raised my conciseness a level or two. I will always be grateful. Through our exchanges following my initial contact, Barb shared that she thought her rejection of popularity contests was more of a justice issue than a feminism issue, but we decided that justice is feminism and feminism is justice!
During a particularly reflective moment, we may wonder if our life has touched or influenced anyone else’s. Reminiscing about this long-ago encounter reminded me that even the briefest of exchanges may be meaningful to someone else. Chances are we will never know if we have made an impression on someone. So, it’s pretty darn cool when you can let them know and thank them – even if it is fifty years later.