The first step to gratitude is Thankfulness. Join us this month as ElderPride lifts up those that inspired us to be our authentic selves. Some held the light so that we might find out way. Others merely let their light shine allowing us to catch a glimpse of its illumination.
At ElderPride we tell stories. Legacy stories. We tell our own stories and the stories of our heroes and sheroes. Recently, I told such a story on my personal Facebook page. I had intended the story to be for my nephews and great nephews who may not have known of their grandmother's legacy. However, so many people commented and shared how the story inspired them or touched their heart; therefore, I deceived
Winifred Margaret Powell was born 108 years ago as October transitioned into November. When she arrived, the doctor looked at his pocket watch and turned to my grandfather asking: “Right at midnight. You call it - either day.” My grandfather fearing the stigma his daughter might face by being born at midnight on Halloween, proclaimed: “One second past midnight! November 1st!”.
For the next twelve years, he’d be her hero. Then when his wife, (her mother) died unexpectedly, he blamed her and her siblings. Wrought with grief that he didn’t know how to transcend, he choose to blame his four children for being bad children; otherwise why would God have taken his wife? For the next three years, her oldest sister, did her best to raise them. Then her father announced that he had taken a new wife, and all of them, needed to go and find their own way in the world.
At 16, my mom found a place with the Bale’s family near Winchester. In exchange for housekeeping, baby sitting and some cooking, she could finish High School. High School was the best of times for her. She met her five best friends. (Helen, B., Winnie, Francis, Helen W., and Gertrude.) They adored one another and they were the unofficial “cheer squad” of McKinley High School. The six of them each dated players on the McKinley High basketball team. Soon after high school, the couples began to marry. The last to marry was my parents. These six women made a pact at their graduation to get together at least once a month. And they did, for nearly 70 years.
My mother says she married her best friend. My father says he married someone he felt deserved to be loved. Years later, my father would tell me: “Jack, I thought, if I could make her feel loved, I would get that love back. It just never happened. She didn’t know how to be a wife.” He went on to tell me he felt they got married, just because everyone else got married.
Even so, for over a decade they pulled off the illusion of a happy marriage. They were known for their philanthropy and community service. They built their dream home and raised my brother in a picture perfect post-war America. Then when my mother told my father of my potential arrival, the façade shattered. After a few humble attempts of doing the honorable thing – one more time dad was gone, leaving behind a 22 year marriage, a 12 year old, and a new born.
Postpartum depression combined with the grief of my dad’s departure nearly took her out but, she persevered. Once again, abandonment was her reality and, once again, her world (the minister, the judge, and her physician) told her - it was her fault. “A man doesn’t stray, if his wife is obedient and fulfilling her wifely duties.” This was the unifying message of the men in her life. She was told not to seek alimony, even though my dad wanted a divorce so he could remarry.
So, in the summer of 1955 she found herself a single mother of two boys. She received no alimony since she failed her wifely obligations, and the court granted child support of $100.00 a month never came. We lived in my grandpa Elliott’s rental duplex, and we ate only what came from their garden for the first several months of my life. Then she took dominion. She went to work at Anchor Hocking Glass Factory.
Her BFF’s stuck with her, however, other acquaintances who once called her a friend, shunned her for being a “factory worker”. She never spoke ill of them, or my father. She did her best, for nearly five years. She sent my brother off to college and then while filling in for someone on maternity leave, she met the man that would be her hero, advocate, and loyal husband, Everett Cox.
Together, they forged a partnership. He told her that she didn’t have to work. That he would be happy to provide for her and me. But she persuaded him to see that if she continued to work, they could have an even better life. She encouraged him to pursue his love of carpentry, and Everett empowered her into a heightened level of feminism and independence.
“Working gives me independence, I’ll never be dependent on any man again!”. She told me. I never knew a time when she didn’t have two or three uncashed pay checks in her purse. Because she had her own money to spend, I was exposed to the arts, dance classes and practically any toy I wanted. We were off to Indianapolis or Dayton for concerts, shopping trips and fine dining, almost every month. We took wonderful vacations every year. Even my four years of college was paid for – in cash, from her pay checks. But even with all those blessings, I witnessed her being shunned by those that saw her as a factory worker and a divorced woman. Even the church she loved.
Main Street Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) was where she was spiritual fed. She loved her church. She volunteered in multiple ways. I remember how excited she was when the church announced a meeting for potential elders. (Woman could now be elders!) So, off she went. The minister met her at the door.
“Surely, you know this isn’t for you, Winifred. After all you’re a divorced woman. What sort of example would that be?”
She accepted the rejection and continue to fold Sunday bulletins and work in the church’s kitchen, as if, that’s what she deserved. A few years later, when the church launched a fund raising for a new heating system, a new minister suggested that if she and Everett would make a sizable donation, he could find a way to get her into leadership. She declined and continued to fold bulletins and serve in the kitchen. But then, I witness the day that she stop accepting the stuff others would try to put on her. The day of my graduation was the day of her emancipation from guilt and shame.
In late May of 1971, my high school commencement ceremony was about to begin, when the principal literally pulled her aside as she was walking down the aisle to her seat. He asked her why she was wearing pants to a graduations ceremony - “like a factory worker”.
She took a deep breath; brushed his hand from her sleeve and said: “This St. John’s Pant Suit and these Ferragamo shoes are worth more than any five of your suits combined. Woman are wearing slacks now, so get over it.” And made her way to her seat. She never knew I witnessed that encounter. And I was never so proud of her.
Years later, while visiting me in San Francisco, we were celebrating her 80th Birthday. We dined at the Hyatt Regency's beautiful rotating restaurant high above the City’s skyline. We’d just came from the theatre where she got to meet Mickey Rooney, Ann Miler and Leslie Ungums. As our view slowly shifted from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Oakland/Bay Bridge to the Ferry Building and back to the San Francisco skyline, I noticed tears streaming down her cheek. “What’s wrong?” I asked.
“We’re moving! This dining room is moving!” (I did not realize that she didn’t know.) “I’m supposed to be showing you the world, but it’s you, showing me, the world.”
I did my best to assure this woman who taught me about feminism (by example); who taught me how to get up after being knocked down (even by those you love) and that told me that God would never give me anything that I couldn’t push through, go around, or rise above; that she had not only shown me the world but taught me how to navigate it. She had taught me about perseverance. What an honor to have caught a glimpse of her light.
What a gift! Happy Birthday Mother! to share it here.
Who inspires you? Who carried the light for you? Sure your legacy story in the comments below, or submit a full post of (no more than 750 words) to Elderprideinfo@gmail.com.