The mood around our “aging-in-place” neighborhood has been somber of late. Several people have had a cancer scare, and Brenda’s husband hanged himself.
Brenda had come home from her federal job where she deals with sex trafficking issues, and gone to the animal shelter where she recovers from the stresses of work by dealing with animals in need of care. When she returned home she discovered her husband hanging by his neck. She immediately called the police and began searching for her cat. Police surmised from information the deceased had left behind that he had intended to kill Brenda and the cat. Mercifully, he had been able to do neither. Brenda found the cat hours later. Most of the neighbor women could not care less about the husband, but the cat was a different matter.
The husband was a serial womanizer and as any woman whose ever been married to one knows, you don’t miss them when they are not around. Thank goodness Brenda was at the shelter.
Yesterday, I began reading Rachel Cooke’s wonderful new book, Her Brilliant Career. Cooke says she wrote this book because women today need heroes and women of the fifties were the heroes who brought about real change for real women in those early heady days of the second phase of the women’s movement.
Cooke’s book is not a rehash of the same old tired examples, like Queen Elizabeth or Elizabeth Taylor, but rather, relatively ordinary women who took charge of their lives. Many women in my generation will recognize themselves if not their mothers and maiden aunts.
I was attracted to this book, a collection of abbreviated biographies, because it includes Margery Fish, gardener extraordinaire, who enjoyed brilliant career after the death of her overbearing control-freak husband.
The book brings back warm memories of the time after I left a control freak, alcoholic, womanizer who did everything he could to keep me from having the life I wanted (he told me I would starve if I left him). It took hospitalization, a priest (recommended by a female friend), who told me to go home and take my birth control pills (he left the priesthood); and two different psychiatrists, father substitutes, who helped facilitate the changes I needed to make.
The first psychiatrist, a Cuban Refugee named “Papa Bear” suggested I find a job. The EX could not say “No” and it gave me Friday evenings and Saturdays away from the kids. Several years later, the second physician, and father figure and Harvard man named Marvin, gave me permission to go back to school. Books by Betty Friedan and Simone de Beauvoir, and these bits of encouragement from enlightened men completely changed my life.
I remember the day I experienced joy for the first time….in my car, on my way to school and then work. John Denver was singing “Sunshine on my Shoulders” on the radio.
I have never regretted making the changes I needed to make to have the life I lived.
Continuing work on my family tree, I discover I am descended from four great-grandmothers, each of whom married around age fifteen or younger with little education. Obviously, they were all mothers, or I wouldn’t be here.
One of them, Great-grandma Schmidley had 14 children, my paternal granddad being her second to the youngest. The great-grandfathers died young, but the grandmothers lived long lives as widows, each one discovering she too “had a life.” Amazingly, grave markers from the middle of the Twentieth Century often show the maiden names of the wife, as seen in the example below of a great aunt. I am descended from a long line of strong women.