Sunday, November 16, 2008

Vive la femme


I love this picture of my great-grandmother Jessie, smiling and barefoot in her bloomers. I only knew her as Nannie, my grandmother's mother, a rather stern presence in her horn-rimmed glasses, and a determined genealogist whose idea of a family vacation was tramping around old cemeteries looking for Kerr family headstones.
As I think about her, I'm struck by what she accomplished. She raised a child alone in a day when being a single parent was looked upon with raised eyebrows at best. She worked a paid professional job, wrote novels in longhand in Steno pads, and labored over the aforementioned genealogy for well over a decade. We still have many of the letters she wrote to fellow investigators in Ohio and North Carolina and Iowa, looking for a great uncle who fought in the Revolutionary War, or somebody's second wife's birthdate.
Nannie would be proud of the women in this family, I think. Her own daughter achieved her master's degree in her 40's and went on to teach learning disabled kids, retired in her 70's, and then took up a third career which is still thriving. My mom recovered nimbly from a bad divorce to find a new career, to remarry and live happily and fully.
My sisters and cousins and nieces can take lessons from these women. To work hard. To follow our hearts, and our passions, regardless of what society might have to say about it.
Sometimes, when I get discouraged, I think about Nanny and Gram and Mom. They inspire me. They keep me going.

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