I’m proud to be the Y-chromosome-equipped period at the end of a long line of strong, self-sufficient women. My great grandmother, Viola, not only raised her own produce and livestock in the far-flung rural expanses of Western Maryland, she also raised eight children almost single-handedly while spending a significant portion of her life doing sweaty, dirty work cleaning dorms, waitressing, and slinging hash in a hot university kitchen. She was an indomitable rock who worked harder than most people of this swiping, griping generation could imagine.
Not surprisingly, her daughter Violet, one of the eldest, labored heartily on the home front while mom was away and picked up a lot of Viola’s spunk and self-sufficiency. What she added to that mix was a sense of daring that manifested itself when she became the only female member of her brood to move away from her small town, staking out to the West Coast with the sailor who won her hand and heart at the ripe age of 18.
After settling down in San Diego for the long haul, Violet used every bit of her heart, soul, muscle, and grit to make a lovely life for her and her husband. It was a life made all the lovelier by the birth of their daughter, Karen, who grew up under a watchful and cognizant, yet always caring eye. Growing up, Karen benefitted from having an ever-present role model doling out lessons on responsibility, work ethic, accountability, discipline, generosity and, above all, self-reliance.
Before it was commonplace, Violet controlled the household’s finances, often on a shoestring budget fed by military and post-Navy civil service jobs. She would have been a dynamo in the workplace, as evidenced by some of her volunteer work in her later years, but to this day she approaches all she does with the unflagging determination and gusto of someone striving to do the best job she can. No boss in the history of the world could be the taskmaster she has been for herself. Failure — which, to Violet, translated to anything less than perfection delivered on time — simply wasn’t an option and she never let anyone down.
I believe it was Violet’s example that helped Karen know that she would be just fine when her husband decided to go his own way. Though she was a young mother with an energetic, precocious, and undoubtedly odd son, she kept her wits about her and forged a new life for her and me with such outward assuredness that I never felt anything was out of the ordinary.
Karen benefitted from Violet, who spent a great deal of time watching me while mom worked to support us…on her own for the most part. As a brilliant fringe benefit, I have two exemplary frames of reference on what it means to be resilient and independent.
Today, I proudly tell people I was raised exclusively by women. Many half-jokingly, half-seriously reply: “That explains a lot.” And I think they’re absolutely right. Many people think it takes a man to teach a boy how to be a man, but my upbringing disproves that short-sighted theory.
Violet certainly had no trouble being the leader of her family. My grandfather, Clarence, was no pushover, but he respected all his wife did and her overall capability. When they argued, she stood her ground. For the most part, she didn’t have to resort to yelling, and rarely did she lose. And though she expects a lot from people, she is always willing to give of herself, her time, and her personal funds. Many were the times when I was growing as a very young single father that she helped me not live in the impoverished state my hard-earned yet meager salary would have left me in.
Karen also benefitted from Violet’s generous spirit, while inheriting the ability to keep things in line on the domestic front. When she married a headstrong second husband, rather than let him walk all over her, she mustered up courage and inner strength on a regular basis while still remaining loving at the core. Their fights were far more numerous than Violet and Clarence’s, so now her love is doled out to someone who deserves it.
Viola, Violet, and Karen each faced unique struggles and lived very different lives. But the overarching fortitude and faith in themselves they shared, yielded unique triumphs. I respect them deeply for all they are and all they’ve accomplished.