Since leaving home (again) for this solo adventure in the Midwest I have heard countless times from many people that I am “brave”. I always smile, thank them, and quietly wonder whether I am brave or stupid. Sometimes I feel brave and other times not so much. I guess it really depends on what brave really looks like.
Brave is an adjective that is defined (according to my Macbook dictionary) as “ready to endure danger or pain; showing courage.” Courage is defined as “the ability to do something that frightens one.” Moving to a new part of the country, eight hours from your support system is frightening. The unknown always is frightening. Not knowing how you will fit in or if you will, if you will be successful, if you will have friends, where the grocery store is or where you will live are all frightening things. Dangerous or painful? I am not sure if I would use those words. Indiana isn’t that scary. Pain, well, I guess there is emotional pain. Pain of missing those I love. Pain of loneliness. Maybe by that definition I am brave.
But I am not sure I buy it. It is hard for me to wholeheartedly sign on to the idea because I have seen and heard of what living a life of bravery looks like. And comparatively, I am just living and trying to be happy everyday.
That doesn’t sound very brave. But If it is bravery, I get it honest – I come from a long line of tough broads.
My family is by unfortunate circumstances very matriarchal. Both my parents were raised by single mothers. Women who were by definition brave. Women who faced situations that left them to rely upon faith, themselves, and the kindness and support of others. I am in awe of their relentless spirit and dedication to their families.
My maternal grandmother, Grandmommy, was approximately my age, in her early thirties, when her husband left. After years of traveling around the world supporting him in his military career and their household she found herself alone with a seven year old. It was 1955. During the next 10 years, through a divorce, she raised her daughter in a coal camp house she shared with her mother, my Nanny. The house had no indoor plumbing or other luxuries. It was cold in the winter and hot in the summer. That alone is harder than anything I have experienced.
Grandmommy also cared for her mother-in-law, father-in-law, and her ex-husband’s cousins and their children. She fed whomever was at her table. She put herself through nursing school and worked hard every day. In 1965 Grandmommy and Nanny bought a new home. A house that they loved. They remodeled it to include a full kitchen and bathroom. My parents lived there with my Grandmommy and Nanny after they married and after by sister was born. I would later renovate that house again and live in it for five years. It is a special place. Every one in my immediately family inhabited the home Grandmommy built at one time or another.
Grandmommy worked relentlessly to make a good and respectable life for her and my mother. She worked hard every day. After my Sister and I were born she spent all her free time trying to be with us and loving us. She never complained (to me) about her life – how hard it was, how lonely it was, or how sad parts of it had been. She just lived in the face of whatever was thrown at her. She never quit.
She loved and trusted God and shared that faith with others. Many people loved her dearly. It seemed that she had an insatiable appetite for caring for others no matter what, although she did not suffer fools. If you needed a favor she would do it no questions asked. If you need her to keep a secret then she was your vault. If you needed the truth then you came to the right place because that was all she spoke. In fact, one of your classic lines was “you have asked for my opinion, so now I am going to give it to you.” She had to live the life of both a man and a woman and she did it with integrity, grace, good humor, and with shoes that always matched her belt and handbag. She was brave.
My paternal grandmother, Granny, was widowed in 1955 at 42. She had four children between the ages of 3 and 10 (three boys and a girl) and a 19-year-old daughter who was married with a daughter. She wasn’t left with a lot, but she had a home and a way to make a living and that is what she did.
This little lady, she was four feet eleven inches tall, spent the rest of her life being her family’s sole provider by running a restaurant, caring for the four little ones, helping with grandchildren, and caring for her mother and brothers and sisters. My Auntie M affectionately refers to her as the “original social worker” – she took care of anyone who needed taken care of and she was a rock for many.
I have never heard a story from any of my aunts, uncles, or my Daddy indicating that they ever went without. Each of them and everyone that I know who knew Granny has a deep abiding respect for her. She provided at a time when most women were not providers. She disciplined at a time when most women were not the family disciplinarians. All of her children grew up to have college degrees, families, and lots of successes. Sadly, I did not know Granny personally. I came along two years after she passed away, but I never tire of hearing stories about her and seeing her pictures. She was brave.
I think of the lives of these two great ladies often. They both endured tragic life transitions that made them the sole support for their families, including small children. They did not get a lot of choices about their lives. And in the face of those circumstances they built lives that mattered, lives worth remembering and talking about. Together they raised at least six children who became good, responsible people.
That is courage. That is brave.
I am grateful for the lives of these two women. Their legacy of bravery lives on in their children and, I hope, in their grandchildren.