*First published in the May edition of her Magazine*
I think all women are strong-willed. In our own unique way, in our own temperaments, with our own personalities, we all have strong wills. We live it every day. We are single, we are married, we are divorced, and we are all finding our way. Strong-willed women don’t have to be outspoken trailblazers. They can be, and frankly just are, women who live life with determination. And isn’t that what we’re all trying to do? I am not me because of anything I have done. I am made up of a compilation of influences, by both men and women, that continue to mold me into the person I want to be.
Manuela Garcia- I didn’t know my biological paternal grandmother. She died when my dad was 9. But, she migrated here from Mexico, married my grandfather, and birthed 9 boys. All before she turned 30. All I have are pictures and memories pieced together by those who knew her, but what I know, I love dearly. I have been told by my dad and uncles that she was strict. I would have been too with 9 boys. But others tell me how she was always laughing and smiling. My favorite story is how on Sunday evenings at the little Baptist church in Malakoff, Texas, my grandmother, in her broken English, would tell of her love for Jesus. “Let me tell what the Lord has done for me…” she would say weekly during the time of praise and testimony. What a legacy!
Bashie Irene Argroves Yarbrough- My maternal grandmother, Grammy, was a near daily participant in my life for over 18 years. She had an eighth grade education, loved scrabble, old Western movies, and her grandchildren. She grew up with nothing, number 13 of 14 children, and abused by the men in her life. She didn’t talk about certain things. Like the abuse. Like the fact she was married at least one more time than she told us about while she was alive. She didn’t talk about being deserted by her husband and left to raise her son. She just raised him alone until she met my grandfather who was probably the greatest man who ever lived and, more than likely the first real kindness she ever knew. She had four more children and twenty grandchildren. I keep gum in my purse because she did.
Theresa Solis Garcia- When my dad was 14 years old, my grandfather, Papaw, married Theresa Solis. Theresa also migrated from Mexico. She was beautiful, a devout Catholic, the best cook, an incredible seamstress, and patient. The older I get, the more I relate to her. She was young when she married my grandfather. She was a stepmother to mostly grown boys. And my grandfather was a hard man (this part I relate to very little…). I am not sure how she did it. I’ll never forget a conversation I had when I was about 12. She was wondering in amazement that we all called her “Grandma”, that my dad loved her the way he did, and that we all accepted her. She was all my siblings and I knew. She was Grandma. And a good one at that. My dad obviously loved her…he named me after her. She was a faithful wife, even when my grandfather didn’t deserve that. She was a loving stepmother, even when my dad and uncles didn’t deserve her. She died when I was 14, but I can still hear her voice, see her perfectly put together face, nails, and hair. She lived life quietly, but with strength and grace, never faltering.
Jo Ann Price Surls- When my paternal grandmother died, my grandfather moved from Malakoff to Beaumont, Texas where he worked for Texaco. My dad and his brothers lived with the Surls family. Mr. Joe and Grandmother became his second set of parents and family we visited as often as blood relatives. Grandmother is everything I want to be when I grow up. She is tough. She is the epitome of style, southern grace, and hospitality. She works in her garden and yard year round. She loves to have people over. She has worn her hair the same way, in a french twist, since she was in her early twenties. She says she just tried it once and knew it was her. She and my Mr. Joe had the kind of marriage I try to emulate every day. She loved him and he loved her. Simple as that. I don’t remember them arguing or nit-picking. I remember the way he looked at her. And I know how she still talks about him. She has always been her own woman. She has no children of her own, although he had four. She told me once she never regretted her choices, never regretted not having children of her own. She had all of us and that was enough. She is my “grandmother of the heart” as she refers to herself. She often tells the story of when I was about 5 years old. She had taken me into the garden and picked a rose for me. It wasn’t perfect. So I took petals off until it was. She said she knew right then and there that I belonged to her, that I was her “granddaughter of the heart.”
Elizabeth Ann Yarbrough Garcia- My mom birthed and raised eight children. No twins or triplets. Just one right after the other over the span of 14 years. And then, she homeschooled all of them. And, when needed, she has managed my dad’s dental practice. I’m tired after a full day at work and come home to cook dinner for 2-3 people. I have no idea how she has managed for the last almost 30 years. She has given up anything personal, anything that has resembled her own life, her own dreams, her own time. Eight kids and a husband have been her entire life. She rarely said “no” if she was leaving the house and we wanted to go. She took time to play with us, watch movies with us, and read to us. She has always been the prefered parent to explore new and unfamiliar cities with because of her calm, cool, and laid back personality. She’s more “fly by the seat of my pants” and I am a little more plan oriented, but I owe the laid back part of my personality to her.
Elizabeth Cobb Robertson Parker- This one is perhaps the hardest to explain and write. Elizabeth is my mother-in-law. I never got to meet her. She died from cancer in 2007 and I didn’t meet her son until 2010. But I chose to live my life with the man she raised and I live in her home. Here’s what I know; she was the middle child of eight and she was what her little sister affectionately refers to as a “runt”. Elizabeth was married when she was 18. She had three kids by the time she was 23. And she was a single mother the majority of the time. She worked two and a half jobs almost always. She bought the property that our house sits on by herself and built the house we now live in. When she got to the last mortgage payment, my mother-in-law drove to Mississippi and handed them the last check in person. She was beloved by her family and everyone who came in contact with her. To this day we run into people who tear up when they talk about her. Everything I have at this point in my life is thanks to Elizabeth Cobb. I have a husband who respects women because he was raised by strong mother (and sister). I have a home that is really the first home I have ever felt was truly mine. I hit the jackpot with my extended family, each of them a different version of our sweet Mammy. Elizabeth is the women our family holds as the Gold Standard. She loved unconditionally. She worked hard. She was a gatherer of people. She lived life with integrity and grace. She was forgiving and merciful to those who wronged her. She took the high road always. She brought out the best in people, setting high expectations. And because she had earned the right to be heard in the lives of those she loved, they rose to those standards and met the expectations. That is a legacy I dream of leaving.
Debbie Pritchett Anderson- I feel like I missed out the first 26 years of my life by not really knowing Debbie. She is the wife of Ron Anderson who is so much a part of who I am. What I continue to learn is how much a part of him Debbie was. Debbie is generous and kind. She is selfless beyond what I can comprehend. She is selfless as a wife, as a mother, as a friend, and coworker. And in her selflessness, she somehow maintains her sense of self. She has taught me how to be a wife who knows who she is and loves her husband for who he is, without trying to change him. She lovingly supports me as I wade through the ups and downs of mothering. She shares life, real life, hard life, sweet life, in an authentic way. Ron used to say “Debbie is music.” And when I think about music, I think of something that moves my soul. Debbie moves my soul.
So much of who I am is because of these women. From their personalities, to their style, to the way they raised their children and loved their husbands, they have set examples of independance, strength, and a whole lot of love. I owe so much to them.