For the past several months I have eluded to new work coming from yours truly. I have now finished the first piece in what I hope will be a long series with a wonderful cast of characters! After telling so many of my own stories, I decided to tell stories of elder women.
When I was in my thirties, I began to really consider my grandmother as my wise elder. I thought a lot about the wisdom of all elder women, and how each one had a story. At that time I considered going to rest homes and speaking to elder women.
Life intervened, marriage, motherhood, worker bee, volunteerism, retirement, art-making. And still the elders called to me. What I had learned since my 30’s was many of the women residing in ‘rest homes’ or assisted living or memory care units or skilled nursing facilities were not lucid. Many of these stories are locked away for good. So I began to look elsewhere for women who might talk to me.
As an elder myself, I chose women 80 plus as my starting point. To date, I have ‘interviewed’ six women, two in their 80’s and four in their 90’s. Many more are on my list. When I hear about an elder woman, usually someone’s mother, I query, is she lucid? Would she talk to me? Recently a friend said of her mother, she won’t talk to me about her life, maybe she will talk to you!
I have had only one refuse. We had quite a lengthy face to face conversation about it. She really does not want her story told, nor her photo displayed. She even asked what would become of the quilt with her face when I am no longer here? Many of her friends and family told her to do it, but she simply is not comfortable with it, and I completely honor that. Ironically she has had a noteworthy life, but we all face decisions in life, some that make us squirrelly. Sometimes facing the fear is just not the right choice for that person in that moment.
I also have been torn about the title for the series. Marion actually told me it would come to me in its own time! At first it was the Women’s Wisdom Project, then it was Aging & Resiliency, the Resiliency Project and Resilience in several other combinations. It is pretty rare I believe for a woman to live a life; full of aspirations, challenges, successes, defeats etc without developing resilience. Just the fact that many women give birth more than once shows tremendous resilience!
As much as I loved that, I then started noticing that resilient and resiliency are the new buzzwords. Nix that. And then, just as Marion said, the other day, it came to me…The Wisdom Gatherers. Women have been gatherers since the dawn of time. They have gathered food, children, community, resilience, wisdom and so on…
So I present Frances, 98.
Frances was born in the countryside of Cochine County, AZ. Her mother was a pioneer woman and her father a mean man; a jack of all trades. She left home at 16, as valedictorian and moved to California. Shortly after she moved to Kansas City and worked hard to put herself through 3.5 years of nursing school, graduating with honors. She worked as a nurse in the first aid clinic at Marinship during WWII, where she met her husband, who placed wells at the shipyard. He got a slag burn through his leather pants and came to the clinic for treatment. Despite her nursing degree, she made the same as the man picking up trash off the ground. Her husband bought the house where she still lives for $6500 in 1943, and then proposed. They raised their brilliant and successful children there! She went back to college at 50 to earn another degree. Her mother’s best advice was to hold your head up, and look the world in the eye. What matters most to her in life today is to get the toxins out of the creek behind her house; buy stamps to keep the post office in business; being kind to city council officials as one day one might need their help, and for people to talk to each other again instead of texting. She has a mint condition cherry red Jaguar in her garage but no longer drives. She is now 99.
I screen-printed and digitally printed her story to the background. I screen printed her handwritten portions which I used as ‘frames’ for the many photos. All of her photos I took with my cellphone camera when I went to speak with her. She is a vibrant, engaged, elder and a very wise woman!