I've been blessed by my association with strong women. Both my grandmothers were widowed at a relatively young age. Both had children still in school. Both entered the work force to support their families. All sent their children to college, most received degrees, some received advanced degrees. Until I was 12, my mother stayed at home but went to work after my father suffered a heart attack. For the next 14 years my mother was the primary bread winner in our household.
In my extended family I had 3 great-aunts that never married in a time when marriage was the norm. My mother's aunts, Katie and Gertie were nurses and my father's aunt, Nora, worked as an executive secretary to the president of a large insurance company. I can't say with any surety what issues they faced in terms of working conditions, harassment or pay equity - issues that International Women's Day highlights. As was typical of a generation that faced the economic uncertainty of the Great Depression, they were grateful to have jobs.
So how can I explain the love and reverence I have for these women? They have set the standard by which I judge all the women in my professional and personal life. When I describe them to others it may seem I am writing a hagiography. But I can't overstate their intelligence, resolve and kindness.
Each was a lifelong learner. My maternal grandmother became an expert in football so she could participate in conversations with my uncles and her grandsons. Aunt Nora would recite from memory Longfellow's The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere followed by The Song of Hiawatha. From her I imbibed a deep love of history and reading.
My paternal grandmother, a school teacher, participated in a program in the 1950's that taught prisoners to read. I don't know if this program paid her a stipend or if she did this as her Christian Duty to visit the imprisoned. Unquestionably, there is a definitive mental toughness that corresponds with teaching the incarcerated. She had a wicked sense of humor - she once called my eldest cousin Paul, her favorite grandson in front of everyone. Obviously, we expect grandparents not to openly pick a favorite, but she laughed when explaining, "well, I've known him longer." I can live with this explanation.
Gertie and Kate, the nurses, started their careers at Boston City Hospital in the South End. In my imagination, I see them working the night shift, with film noir lighting - not taking crap from drunks, cops or first year residents - calling people they liked a "good egg" and referring to full grown men as "kids". Kate, an optimist, took out a 30-year mortgage, at 79 and worked in a nursing home taking care of "the old people." Gertie - no words will do her justice - lived on her on terms even when dying. She lived with my family for a bit. Stubborn and willful she smoked despite having cancer. Whenever I did something stupid and I did a lot of stupid things between 6 and 10, she would rhetorically ask - "Are you damn fool altogether?" She once convinced me I could purchase a pony with a $5 bill.
I could go on about the lessons my mother taught me, but she deserves her own post. If I had a favorite, it would be my maternal, football loving grandmother. One word sums up everything I remember about her - Brave.
In the mid 1960's she was diagnosed with breast cancer and opted for one of the few treatment choices at the time - surgery. My family lived in the same town as my grandmother, about 1 mile away. My uncle lived right next door, 100 ft. as the crow flies or 105ft if my grandmother had trained that crow to hop across the adjoining lawn with a note stuffed in its beak saying, "Hey, son, tomorrow I am going in for a radical mastectomy. Just thought you should know." No, not my grandmother - she opted for silence. My mother learned the news from the surgeon, who called to say, "Your mother is resting comfortably." My grandmother possibly shared the news with her sisters, Kate or Gertie or one of 8 other siblings. I don't l know. All I do know was my grandmother chose not to share the news with her children because "what could you do but worry?"
At Sip Java, I have 11 employees, 9 women and two men. On Friday as we celebrate International Women's Day, we will all be wearing purple T-shirts in solidarity with women everywhere. The time has come to recognize that equal work deserves equal pay and that everyone deserves a safe and harassment free work place.
Coffee is waiting - come grab a cup.