When I speak of influential women here, I am speaking of the intensely personal influence. The influence of my mother and grandmother in my life. Both my mother and my paternal grandmother passed away on the third of August. My mother died 7 years ago and my grandma 25 years ago.
I don’t remember much about my grandma, but what I do remember is that she was kind. Not that she acted kind, but that she was fiercely kind and I remember how she was gentle, and I only remember one sleepover with her and my pops, and how as a curious child I insensitively and with the curiosity of a child I asked my WWII veteran grandfather about his experiences in the war, she gently turned the conversation away. I recently learnt that pops suffered from the invisible wound of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in addition to his scars from being injured by a “friendly” landmine (pieces of shrapnel that were pulled from his shoulder were on top of my grandma’s piano).
It was at this same piano that she patiently taught my sister and I some notes. My sister continued to play for a few years after my maternal grandmother also passed away. What I remember most about sitting at the piano, apart from the love, was some snippets of the stories that accompanied the tunes. I don’t remember many of them, but I remember how when she played us “In the Mood” she recounted that it was a favourite in the clubs that she played at during WWII. (As an adult I look back and think that it’s pretty cool to have had a grandma who was a nightclub pianist during WWII). I also know that it was during this period that she met pops. I seem to recall the story being that she was his nurse, which is so romantic that it is almost cliché, but I have no idea whether it is true or not.
And while I don’t have as many memories as I would like, nor did I ever have an adult conversation with her, I have no doubt that the kindness and tact that she lived every day, strongly influenced my father and probably influenced his attraction to my mother.
My mother and I didn’t have the easiest relationship, for all sorts of reasons. Some of these reasons I know and choose to share, other reasons I know and choose to keep close to me and yet more are unknown to me.
And yet, the more I learn and age and gain perspective, the more I see her influence. My mom was a bit of a rebel, but not in the ways that you would think. As the eldest daughter it took an act of courage and rebellion to choose not to wear the wedding dress that her mother and grandmother before her had worn when they got married. My mother also did a lot of things behind the scenes, and instead of choosing to be become bitter when she was exploited or mistreated, refused to give away her power and kept her optimism and view of looking at the world. As I grow older the more I realise how much courage it takes to live optimistically and kindly, especially when people misjudge that kindness and see it as something to be exploited.
Another way that my mother was influential towards me was by showing me the magic of books, and sharing her love of history and context with us. I believe that her love of history was something she shared with my dad, he too was a history geek. My mom was also a bit of an English geek, something that unconsciously has become part of me. And despite our difficulties she also mentored my public speaking and debating. (I suspect that she was the anonymous sponsor for a junior debate team in my high school the first year that it happened.
I definitely got my love of museums from her, my friends know that I am not a good person to go to museums with if you want to have a quick trip. I want to suck every ounce of information possible out of my visits, and go back for more. When we had our adventure in Costa Rica and traveled through Washington D.C my mom mentioned that she was jealous about the fact that I had the opportunity to experience the Smithsonian. On my trip through Washington after spending some time on the Mall, I deliberately went to the Smithsonian (specifically the Museum of American History) as my first museum.
As time goes by and perspective changes and contexts become clearer I see and appreciate influence differently, I see more and more of these women in me, and I am glad of it.
Love and anniversaries,