Hands red and wrinkled scrubbing hard The stains of life stubbornly cling Dreams lie scattered, lost and charred Dashed hopes carry vitriols sting Tears flow freely such loving eyes Hitching sobs burst from trembling lips Supplicant pleas heavenward rise Hope for the future held in grips Drink deep full that elixir cup Dance with abandon in moonlight Hold fast that goal never give up Always keep your children in sight Truths of now in your blood does flow Secrets fertile in barren womb Poured to your spirit long ago No longer housed in marble tomb Strong sure steps imprints in the sand And birth pangs from deep inside groan So continue unbroken strand Three are one Maiden Mother Crone ~ Ellen Apple 5/12/2016
When I look in the mirror, when I cook, when I sew, when I eat certain foods, when I gravitate towards a certain color, or flower.
I see my grandmothers in me.
My father's mother was Mattie Mae Ernest Smith.
She was born in the late 1800's and lived her early years in the Sugar Grove area of Smyth County, Virginia. When she was still quite young, she worked as a seamstress in Bluefield, WV, where she met John Robert Smith. He worked for Norfolk and Western Railroad and they took a train trip to Bristol, VA for their marriage. They still lived in the Bluefield area when my father was born in March of 1915. He was one of, let's see .... Zelma, Fay, JT, Poss, Susie, Geraldine, Christine, Norman ... eight children. The family moved to Richlands when my father was still quite young, and settled in a section of town known as Dalton Addition.
This picture was taken in the 1940's in my grandparents' living room. My father is second from the left, standing.
Granny was kind, and gentle. She was the undisputed head of the family, the quintessential mother hen who always knew where her chicks were and if they needed her. She passed away when I was in the seventh grade.
Until she passed away, I lived within walking distance of Granny. I visited with her and learned to weed flowers and enjoy sliced cucumbers and onions with a cup of hot tea in the afternoon. We were at Granny and Granddaddy's as often as we were at home it seemed, and many of my daily recollections of my early years involve one or both of them.
My mother's mother was Ethel Virginia Cundiff Slade.
She was born in the 1910's, one of ... Sam, Guy, Dave, Ethel, Ruby, Macie, Clara ... seven children if I am not forgetting anyone. Her father passed away when she was young, and her mother remarried. She had a rough childhood, not from want of love, for her mother was very loving, but for the sparse nature of life both before and after Mr. Carter became her stepfather. She met James Roy Slade while still in her teens and after they married they spent all of their married life the in Bluefield Va area. She had 4 children, Sonny, Elwood, Janet, and Jack. Sonny died before his first birthday, and she carried the weight of her sorrow from his early death all of her life.
I am unsure as to when this picture was taken. It does capture her well.
MawMaw was a farmwife, and she toiled hard. She baked amazing biscuits, and lived without hot water in her kitchen, or indoor plumbing, up until they sold the farm and moved into town around 1970. Her cooking was legendary, and there are several things I make today that are recipes from her collection. She also loved handwork, crocheting and embroidery.
MawMaw passed away in 1986, the same year that we lost PawPaw, and Daddy. 1986 was a rough year for my mother.
I spent at least a week, sometimes more, with MawMaw and PawPaw every summer. It was at the farmhouse one wet summer that I discovered what a joy books could be, as I read novel after novel by Zane Gray and astounded my grandparents by reading the entirety of Gone With the Wind in 2 days. MawMaw taught me to embroider, and let me practice sewing on her Singer machine when I decided I wanted to learn to make my own clothing.
The sorrows and triumphs, the laughs and tears, the food and family of these two women are woven so into the woman that I am today. They both lived close enough to me, and were patient enough to have small children around, to have opportunity to pass on knowledge and wisdom to me - even though I was unaware of it at the time.
They both had birthdays in May, by the way. The eight and the eleventh. So today I honor these two women whose DNA I carry, and whose legacy I am a part of.
I heard an interview with someone (do not remember who) on a radio program (do not remember which one ) several years ago, at least ten. The men are from Mars women are from Venus theory was being discussed. The guest commented - (I am 57 now and this was ten years ago, so my 'recollection' is of only the talking point that resonated the strongest with me) - that she views men's brains as boxes, everything compartmentalized and concrete. Defined borders and restrictions. Issues dealt with one at a time, able to put aside the personal while dealing with social or business situations. Women's brains were described as being like bowls of spaghetti. Everything intertwined, with emotion and intuition and empathy holding equal space with analytics and concrete and irrefutable facts. On this Mother's Day in the month that I am celebrating the women in my life, I present to you some of my messy bowl of spaghetti. This is where my mind has been today, and some thoughts and beliefs I hold about being a woman, and perhaps a bit about how I came to be who I am as of this day and hour. Who knows what Ellen will be tomorrow? She doesn't!
I took my mother an everlasting bamboo today for Mother's Day (she also received a bag of sugar free orange candies and a greeting card with butterflies on it.) As is true in many families I have observed, plants, flowers, candy, and cards are the way her children honor her on the second Sunday in May every year. While I was there I assisted her with her noon meal - I got there about 11 AM - and yelled in her right ear for a bit before I came home. Her hearing aid is in her right ear, and you still have to yell. But she is 83 and uses a walker, so she is allowed.
My younger brother was there when I arrived, it was nice to see him. I have been angry with and disappointed in him for several years. I believe this was the first time I had seen him in quite a while, but we were civil to one another. That was a little bonus gift for Mom.
I have two friends who are both spending their first Mother's Day without their mother. E's mother passed away about 11 months ago, and S lost her mother just last month. I also have two friends who had just one son. R's son passed away a couple of years ago and C lost her son a month ago. They all four have been in my thoughts all day. I saw R earlier, and she just teared up and fell into my arms. It just ripped my heart when she sobbed, "Ellen, his birthday and Mother's Day are the hardest". I had no words, so I just held onto her for several minutes. Then she helped me choose the card I was getting for Mom. S just spoke to the bulk of her friends and acquaintances of the loss of her mother, and has decided that Mother's Day henceforth will be celebrated and had such beautiful words of her mother's attributes.
M is an amazing young woman who has honored me by remarking once or twice that I am like a second mother to her. She is not a mother, but her niece and nephew could not be loved more that she loves them. R is part of my heart, also childless. She has two cousins that are her heart, and she would give all she is and has to protect them the depth of love she holds for them is so true.
I know women who have had stressful and anxiety ridden relationships with their mothers and as a result are honest and compassionate and tender in their interactions with all children. And yet I know women who have been unable to escape the patterns and lifestyles they were imprinted with and live adulthood in addiction and abuse because they know no other way. I have seen women who had every traditional advantage who grew to be dispassionate, unable to develop any real emotional connection with their offspring. And yet I know women who had loving, kind, comfortable childhoods and are providing the same to their own children.
There are wild, fierce, strong women in my life who face storms with resilience yet falter and fold when the storms are spent and their rest is at hand.
I am not quite sure where I fit in all of this. Much of the time I feel more an observer than a participant, yet every giggle and every tear from the women in my life resonates deep within my own tangled bowl of noodles. I am acutely aware of my failures and shortcomings over the last 57 years, and often shrug off and paste on a smile when I am reaping the results of my past. I cry often, yet few ever see. I take the disregard from people I long to notice me as being my due. But I also rebel and speak loud when those very ones are slighted by others.
You know, I used to think there would be a mystical age that once I was there all the doubts would be eased, all my questions would be answered, all my efforts would be rewarded. That one day the lessons learned and the travails withstood would bring wisdom. But I now see myself needing to know more, speak less, listen better.
Today I helped my mother wash her hands. I have her long fingers, and it struck me that the 25 years that separate us in age is not nearly as large a gap as I once thought it was. It made me sad, and scared me.
And there you have it, a big messy bowl of spaghetti for Mother's Day.
You see, I have these women in my life that hold vigil for me. These angels that stand in the gap for me. These sisters that keep space for me.
We have a community, a sisterhood. We call each other Sisters of my heart. The amazing, glorious thing is that we do not all actually know one another. Each of us is a personal friend of at least one of us, but not one of us knows all of the others. And we are one of the most transcendent experiences one could ever imagine.
We do not share a common organized (or disorganized) religion. Our relationship statuses vary, as do our ages, formal education history, place of employment. We are not all mothers, but some of us are grandmothers.
Some of us are very, very quiet ... mouselike. Some us are loud and brash and out there opinionated. We do not all live in the same country, or on the same continent. But we are sisters.
Illness. New relationship. Death in the family. New family member. Natural disaster. Change of job. Move to a new city. Loss of a beloved pet. Broken relationship. Financial hardship.
We share. We care.
We hold a sacred space for one another where judgement is suspended and advice freely given. We stand in the gap for one another, giving strength and courage when exhaustion has depleted the spirit. We maintain a vigil of love.
A call will go out, "Sisters ...."
And answers arrive, "I am here" " What can I do" "Any updates"
We share laughter and tears. We are sisters.
Thank you, each of you, on this day before Mothers Day I celebrate you, my wild and fierce and tender and beautiful sisters. I would be lost without you.
Today I honor my wild women, the warriors who walk a rocky path with me, and are leaving cairns for those who will follow.
I went to town on my day off.
I had to go to the Lost Sock Laundry to wash two loads of laundry. My washing machine went to old appliance limbo last Autumn and I have discovered that in this economy it is more feasible to go do the washing at the laundry than to buy or repair. Yes, it sounds odd, but there it is. My dryer still works, so I can be in and out in 30 minutes. Two loads will cost 6$.
I try to combine chores when I drive to town, because the 11 mile/25 minute drive is more fuel efficient that way. The trip this week was to the Lost Sock and to Food City for a few supplies. It is odd the way I shop, because even though I work at Wal-Mart I do not buy everything there.
Part of the reason is that Food City has a program that gives you a 15 cent per gallon discount on a maximum 20 gallon purchase of gasoline for every 150$ spent. I can also go to their website and load coupons directly on my shopping card, and match up coupons with sale items for the week. The coupons available are very consistent with the coupon inserts that are in the Sunday papers, and that saves me 2$ a week that I would spend on a newspaper.
I really do not mind going to a laundry because I always find someone to talk to for a few minutes, most of the time complete strangers, but then, everyone is a stranger until we talk to them the first time, aren't they?
This particular trip found me chatting with a lady by the name of Cathy. She is from the Appalachian region originally, but lived in the San Francisco Bay area for about twenty years. Then, like me, she went through a divorce and came home to the mountains. This is indeed a marvelous area to heal your spirit and rediscover your heart.
Being in upstate New York for the first seven months after I left Moe was very healing. I have memories and experiences and friends from that winter that will ever be held in my heart. But the rebirth of Ellen, the reemergence of me, oh how I needed my beloved mountains for that.
There is a strength to be found here, a resilience and capability and sense of self. Well, for me anyway. Oh, dear one, do not think even for one brief moment that I am complete, or that the 16 years since I last called South Carolina home have been easy, that there have been no trials or tribulations or stumbles. Paths are built of stumbles. We trip on a stone, or a boulder, and we fall face flat or bottom first. Always. Wherever and whenever we are. This is a given, a truth in life, that no woman is immune from. It is what we doing while sitting there with a stone bruise on eye level with the thistles and clover that counts.
Our memories of lessons learned? Those are the stones and boulders that tripped us up. We carry them with us, sometimes just a few steps, sometimes for almost lifetimes. They go into a cairn. A monument of lessons learned and wounds that may have scarred, but by the Gods they are healed. Maybe riddled with scar tissue, but healed nonetheless.
Our cairns are scattered along that path we walk. I envision mine as almost a cowpath, worn into the terrain of a hillside. A hillside littered with small and large pieces of limestone, like the rocks and boulders that are the leavings of the glaciers that formed these mountains and ridges and hollows so many, many centuries ago.
This cairn is in Scotland, but quite fitting. Many of the Scot-Irish who settled here in the Appalachians of southwest Virginia did so because this area so closely resembled their home.
I can see the quizzical looks on faces already. What in the world do Cinco de Mayo, Appalachia and Oz (Australia) have in common? And how do they fit into Ellen's theme of the women in her life for the blog this month? I want to tell a story today, a story of a friendship that travels from the mountains of southwest Virginia, to Australia, and to the limits of human imagination and technology. A friendship that embraces the esoteric, the mystical, the mundane, the creative, the depths and heights to which women can aspire and descend.
I started working at an AT&T call center in Lebanon, Virginia, in July of 2006. We had what was at the time one of the largest training classes to date at the center. I do not remember the exact number, but there were more than 60 of us I believe. Have you ever been in a group of strangers and someone just stood out because their energy and aura were so sparkling, their laugh so infectious? That was Dove. Her full name is Wynonah Dove Bush. I am about old enough to be her mother, but that is neither here nor there. I liked her. She was fun, and smart, and infectious. She was a singer, and could - and can - out-Dolly Dolly. A powerful voice in a short thing with one of the biggest personalities I have ever seen.
We became friends, and this is where Cinco de Mayo comes in. She had a Cinco de Mayo party at her house and Roger and I went. Good Lord, we had fun. We drank too much Sangria, feasted on Grilled Shrimp, and I made pico de gallo, guacamole, and Mexican restaurant style rice. We sang Karaoke, and laughed and cried and talked about stars and souls and spirits and reaching beyond here to whatever is there.
This was not the last time we partied together, not the only time we sat and talked by flickering firelight. Her path went her way, and my path went my way. In the ten years give or take that I have known her, she has been on such a journey, and oh how I have loved watching her and being a small part of it. She went to Australia as a tribute artist (she does Dolly, and is awesome) and met the love of her life, Mauricio. She now lives in Sydney and works at Macquarle University as the FIRST Robotics Programme Administrator . She still sings, and her current business card is shown here.
I love and admire Dove for many reasons, but mainly because, well, she is Dove. My friend, a fighter and dreamer who goes after her dreams with a determination that is beyond belief. She absolutely forges her destiny through grit and determination. And has one of the biggest, most generous souls you will ever encounter.
So Feliz Cinco de Mayo, my lovely Turtledove. May your fiesta of life never end.