Saturday, February 12, 2005


The women in my family have always been renegades, as I was reminded again today.

My great-grandmother, Juanita, was a nurse to Rebel soldiers during and after the Civil War. I have her journals, a few photos of her with recovering wounded (mostly amputees) and a doll that she gave me. The only book she ever read was the Bible. One time, when we were sitting together in the back of a big car, she told me that she knew when she was going to die. It was the same day she gave me the doll. She scared the daylights out of me so we didn't talk much. She died of a stroke.

My grandmother, Steve, helped GreatGran and her siblings survive during the Depression by cutting off her hair, dressing as a boy and getting a job pumping gas and fixing cars. Her real name was Thelma, but she was Steve from that time on. She loved politics and followed them avidly. She nursed my invalid grandfather for twenty years. She also continued cross-dressing, in a more restrained sense, until she died when I was seventeen. She was a poet, an artist, and the most intelligent woman I've ever known. I will forever worship the ground my grandmother walked on. She left me many things, including a letter that she wrote while she was dying of cancer. Cancer didn't get her, though; she committed suicide.

My mother, Joan, is still alive, and out of respect for her privacy, I don't talk about her life. Suffice to say, it also sucked. She was a Major in the Civil Air Patrol and helped to rescue downed planes in the Everglades. We've never had an easy relationship, Mom and me, but she is the strongest and most courageous woman I know. She writes Christian humor and is a talented speaker. She doesn't think I'd set myself on fire for her, but I would. In the same way I worshipped Gran, my daughter worships Mom. Not counting a bad hip, Mom is in fairly good health and I pray she'll hang around for a few more decades.

Each of these women shaped me, and there is no one I respect more. So much of me belongs to them.

My daughter is a golden-haired, long-legged, pretty-much-everything-I-wanted-to-be kid (takes after Dad, not Mom.) She's funny, brilliant, and compassionate. She likes animals and insects a little more than people. She has hand-tamed countless lizards and snakes, and is doing things on her computer that dumbfound me. She grew up with only brothers so she's a bit of a tomboy, and nearly fearless. She will not hesitate to punch out a bully. Her oddest habit is that at any given meal, she always wants some of my food, even if we're eating the same thing -- and only my food, no one else's. She lives in her own world much of the time, but we're always welcome to join her. Like any mother, I would happily die for her.

This afternoon I went to church, and lit a candle for Gran, whose last letter came to me twenty-five years ago today. I imagined a future when my daughter or granddaughter, God willing, might do the same for me, and wonder if I'm in a good place, and will they see me again when it's their time to go.

Gran, I love you. I miss you still.

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