Take for instance the line of women from whom I come. My mother's mother grew up in a working-class Italian family in the '30s and '40s in D.C. When she was in high school, there were sororities that all the girls joined. Unless you were Italian -- you weren't allowed to join, because of who you were. A lesser woman might've admitted defeat and sat at home feeling sorry for herself. Not my grandmother. She and her friends started their own sorority. They continued to meet regularly for more than 60 years -- in fact, until she died, she continued her friendship with her high school sorority sisters.
In the 1980s, the "club girls" all bought vacation houses in the same neighborhood in Rehoboth. As a kid, I can remember riding my bike all over the neighborhood to see my "aunts" every summer. When my grandfather died, one of the strongest memories I have is all the club girls walking down the street to my grandparents' house to console my grandmother -- this group of little old ladies, united in solidarity for one of their sisters. It was heartbreaking and heartwarming all at the same time. The remaining women -- there aren't many left anymore -- still meet. What a way to stick it to the bigots who wouldn't let them into their clique. I can't think of anything more valuable than the longevity of their friendship. This is a lesson I learned from my grandmother -- a lesson that I took deeply to heart.
And what about my mother, the daughter of my determined Italian grandmother. She decided to run for office when I was in high school. She became a school board member -- a brilliant leader committed to making our schools better. And then there was that one time she strong-armed the President (of the United States). Yes, you read that right. There was a conference in town where a collection of school board members from various places around the country were convening in her district to visit schools. As the president of the school board, she had extended an invitation to the President to meet the leaders at one of the schools, but he declined in favor of another event, so she made other plans for the visitors.
The morning of their visit, she received a phone call from the administrator for her school board saying that the President had changed his mind and would in fact like to attend the school visit. "Too bad," she told the administrator, "we have other plans." The adminstrator was confused. "You mean, you want me to tell the President 'no'?" That's precisely what she meant, unless, she told him, she and her guests could have a private audience with the President. "You want me to demand an audience with the President?" She did. So the administrator delivered the message that, unfortnately, the visitors were busy and were unable to meet him, unless of course he could make time for a private audience with them. I'm still not exactly sure how that conversation transpired, but it ended with the most powerful man in the world agreeing to my mother's demands. Don't take no for an answer, even from the President . . . another valuable lesson learned from the toughest woman I know.
When I think about my recent $4 windfall, I realize that it's probably the best I'll ever do in the Powerball. You see, my luck fell somewhere else. I won the legacy of hard-assed determination from two brass-balled ladies who refused to be put into a box, who refused to take no for an answer, who knew the value of standing their ground, and the strength of female friendship. I don't know, I guess that person who won the lottery thinks she won something pretty special, but I'd rather have my prize -- it's priceless, after all. And it's a legacy I hope I can live up to.
|My great grandmother, gandmother, mother, and me, 1975.|