Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Power of Women

It's not uncommon for me to post about both of my grandfathers' WWII experiences, my dad's time in Vietnam or my husband's time in Lebanon when the Marine Corps barracks were bombed and his significant hearing loss in his right ear (I think? I swear to God he changes which ear it is based on how interested he is in what I'm talking about and whether I'm on his right side or his left). But I usually don't write about the amazing women in my family.
This is pertinent today because I dreamt last night that my Grandma Krause died and I was in London driving my first car, a 1986 two-tone maroon Chevy Citation even though it was present-day, and I had no time to shop for something to wear. I woke up crying. I rarely wake up crying from dreams, more realistically, nightmares, so when I do I know something's going on in my subconscious. My unfinished business, as it were. I've studied (ok, been exposed to) Freud's theory of dreams, and the theories of Jung and Perls as well. That's not what this is about. It's for me to reflect on the strong and influential women in my family. I need to untangle it in my brain by writing it down, which brings me to this moment.
A few weekends ago we celebrated my Grandma Krause's 89th birthday and my great-aunt Shirley's 87th birthday. They are sisters. Auds (my grandma) lives at a nursing home in Shawano and Shirley lives at a nursing home on the Oneida reservation. Their youngest sister, my great-aunt Kootchie (given name Margaret which no one ever called her) would be 82, but she died in 2010 at age 74.
My great-aunt Shirley, 87, and my Grandma Krause, 89

Also at this party were my great-aunt Delores and her two daughters, my second cousins Vicki and Ginny. Delores married my great-aunt Victor Ziemer, who died in 2013 at age 86.
My second cousins Vicki & Ginny with their mom, my great-aunt Delores

My great-aunt Shirley, 87, with her daughters, my second cousins, Stacy & Mary Beth

Auds with all her granddaughters; L-R: my sister Jan; cousin Danette; cousin Ann; me; cousin Sara (Ann & Sara are sisters)

So that's enough information. I hope you get the idea: there are many of us and we are strong. My great-grandmother, Auds & Shirley's mother, Margaret and her siblings were forced to attend a catholic school in Keshena; snatched off the rez where their native dress, food, language and history were not respected or taught to them. 
My grandma grew up during the Great Depression and my 8th grade US History class had an assignment to ask our older relatives what life was like during those years. Auds answered, "We were poor. Everyone was poor. No one knew the difference." I have seen the land my great-grandparents farmed on the banks of the Red River. It is supernaturally green in the summer, lush and fertile.  I have also seen the land my paternal great-grandparents farmed, and it is shady in the summer, but the cows continue to roam the fields and corn continues to flourish.
Auds, Shirley and Kootchie all worked their entire lives. Even after they left the family farm. Shirley worked in Marion in the office of some sort of auction business (I think), I could be totally off base here, but the point is she worked outside the home at a time when many women didn't. As did my grandma. She worked for 40+ years at Shawano Memorial Hospital, more often than not walking to and from the hospital at least five days a week for over 40 years. There were times early in their marriage when my grandpa did not treat her well, and there were times when she did not treat him well either. Grandpa's poor behavior often involved other women and liquor, where as grandma's behavior was made up of shouting insults. Once my Grandpa Krause was permanently living at a nursing home in Shawano, they treated each other much more gently. She would call him and he would ask how things were at the "Little house on the prairie" and she would ask him about how things were at "the plantation" i.e., the big house.
Shortly after my grandpa's funeral in 2012, Grandma asked how she was going to deal with living all alone. I told her that Grandpa had given her the gift of five years of practice, as that was the amount of time he spent at the nursing home before his passing. She thought about that for a long moment and said, "Yes. I guess he has."
Kootchie and her husband, my uncle Norton, never had children, but they were the absolute best great-aunt and uncle a kid could ask for. My parents lived with them in Oshkosh when I was a toddler. I have no idea why. I've never asked because I think my parents wouldn't tell me. Despite all of the kick ass aspects of my family, my nuclear family continues to function on the "avoidance principle": if you ignore it, it will just go away. A story my mom has shared with me is that she was making spaghetti for supper when we lived at Dave and Kootch's and shouted to Norton who was taking his routine post-work shower, where the colander was. He yelled back that it was behind the kitchen door. He heard calendar when my mom wanted a colander. This tete-a-tete went back and forth for some time before she realized he had  no idea what a colander was and proceeded to rummage around their kitchen cabinets to find one.
Kootch and Dave spend every holiday at my grandparents' house in Shawano. Norton was the type of uncle who let me, at age six, sit on his lap and drive their 1977 Thunderbird back to Grandma and Grandpa's after running a quick errand to the grocery store at Thanksgiving. He also corralled all of us grandkids to play Bingo at the dining room table after Christmas dinner. Christmas 1985 I wore a hat as part of my ensemble. When we sat down to eat dinner, my dad told me to remove my hat for the prayer. Kootchie immediately stepped in and said, "Rog, women don't remove their hats. It's considered part of a woman's entire wardrobe." I looked at my dad and gave him "the smug look" of raising both my eyebrows, thinking, Well, well big shot. How about that? I swear my dad could read my mind, yet he said nothing more about it.
My hat that was allowed at the dinner table, Christmas 1985, with my great-aunt Kootchie

So I guess it's time to bottom line this rant. 1) I come from a maternal family of strong, opinionated, hard-working, tell-you-how-it-is women; 2) Each generation of women have wanted better lives than they experienced for the next generation; 3)  There is nothing more powerful, encouraging or exhilarating than unconditional love which the younger of us have been blessed with from our older relatives; 4) Whether we know it or not, all of us have made each other proud to say, "Yup. She's my grandma/great-aunt/great grandma/cousin/second cousin/third cousin/sister/mother/aunt"; 5) We love each other unconditionally and will always know that.