Welcome to March, that special time of year that gifts us with the first sprouts of spring and 31 days of celebrating the immeasurable contributions of women.
I am sitting next to a bouquet of yellow roses, their petals glorious under the sun, and thinking of all the women — my mother, sisters, grandmothers, teachers, bosses, friends — who have shaped my life. There are not enough roses in the world to acknowledge them.
This year’s Women’s History Month theme, “Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories,” is music to my ears. I come from an enclave of storytellers, griots. While we don’t share the same storytelling instrument, the way they told stories, the way they lived their lives (including the dreams they did not get to realize), inform my storytelling. My mother is a gospel guitarist, and watching her on stage when I was a child filled me with pride and a deep understanding of the relationship between artist and audience — and between relentless practice and public performance. Her mother, Avis, was born in 1908 (one year before the first Women’s History Day). A quilter and quintessential southern cook, Grandmama taught me the magic of rising at 3 or 4 in the morning to get about the business of doing the work you love while the house is still quiet. I fell in love back then with the sound of her feet against creaking floorboards and, as such, will not live in a house that doesn’t have wood floors. Her mother-in-law, Mary Magee Buckley, was born in 1889 ad lived until 1982. While I don’t have as many memories of her, the ones I do have are profound. Her weighty silences spoke volumes and her teacakes still haunt my dreams.
I soaked in these women’s stories because we lived in the same home — four generations of stories merging under one roof. When a prestigious school contacted me recently with a request to speak to students “about your mother, your grandmothers and you,” I thought of my family’s education story. I’m not sure Mary had any formal education, but I know she learned how to farm as a girl and went on to own and till land well into her 80s. Avis had to drop out of school when she was 10. Her mother had died, and as the eldest of three, little Avis had to keep house, take care of her sisters and stand on a stool to cook for the family. Her daughter, my mother, left school in 11th grade to marry my father and travel the country as a guitarist in his family’s band. But despite their lack of formal education, it was these women — whether they were still here on Earth or not — who got me through undergraduate school and, eventually, graduate school.
The least I can do, this month and every month, is acknowledge their sacrifices and their gifts. My gratitude is an undying bouquet of words.