I’ve been teaching this Women and Story workshop for the past couple of years. Me and a couple of super talented friends have travelled to be with a bunch of different women’s groups, and we’ve talked about our stories and how important it is to share them. The workshop has changed over the years, and we don’t do this introduction exercise any more. But I kind of loved it when we did.
We’d ask each woman to stand and introduce herself by sharing her name and then the names of her grandmothers. It always touched my heart when it was my turn to offer my introduction, and it was interesting to see the reactions of the workshop women as they did the same.
I usually got a little choked up. Bad workshop leader.
The women had a variety of responses. Some couldn’t remember the names of grandmothers. Some were conflicted in who to name as mother, depending on their circumstances. Some offered mini histories with the names they spoke.
It’s important, I think, to stop from time to time and remember who we come from. To remember the women we come from.
My mom was the oldest girl in a large farming family in southern Saskatchewan, which translated into lots of work and very little money. I’ve seen the house she grew up in. Very small, very crowded, very few luxuries, but extended family coming out her ears. Aunties and uncles and cousins galore, and a little Lutheran church in which to gather for Sunday sermons and summer weddings and funerals. You couldn’t throw a rock without hitting a Norwegian in those parts. Uff da.
I knew her mom, Gladys, as Grandma, and by the time I was aware of her, her face was lined with her years. She was widowed young, and moved off the farm when I was a baby. Her tiny house was the gathering place for family dinners of KFC and goulash, and lefse-making each winter. She was a constant in my young life. When I moved back to my home town, when my own boys were babies, Grandma and I spent many hours in her little nursing home room, looking through photo albums and talking about the good old days.
My dad’s mom, Pearl, was something else. I remember marvelling at her long, white hair and her little flirtations with my grandpa. They were old, it seemed, but they still had fun together and I knew there was something special there even when I was a little girl. She gave me a white bible with a zippered case when I turned eight, and she taught me how to tat, and I thought she was amazing. I grew up surrounded by Norwegians, and her American background and accent made her seem exotic.
Each of these women had a harder life than I have had. They had fewer opportunities, less education, tougher financial situations. They struggled in ways I’ve not had to. I hope I’ve learned the important things from them. That God loves me. That family matters. That even when life is hard there is joy.
I’m grateful to be the daughter of Shirley, and the granddaughter of Gladys and Pearl.