Today is the Roman festival of Bona Dea, a pre-Christian patroness of women that empowered them to do things that were normally restricted to men. Centuries ago, this would have been a time of cleaning her temple–a place only for women. For my household, it is a day to tell and listen to stories about the women in our family, past and present. The stories that make them memorable. The big events, the small measures, the misconstrued… we talk about them all.
In my home, there are many women we recall…
My own mother is not a part of our lives and as such, she is often the subject of questions–especially on this day. Inasmuch as we have no relationship, I am very objective about what I share with my children about my mother. I try to explain her strength, her challenges, and the pockets where I was able to see care.
Both of my grandmothers will undoubtedly be discussed. My maternal grandmother comes up more often than my paternal grandmother but this is because my maternal grandmother was ever-present and occasionally got stuck taking care of me. I was also often sent places with her so that she wouldn’t be alone. I spent a lot more time with her as a result, and she had far more influence over who I am today than my paternal grandmother. She was a force to be reckoned with for sure. You dare not cross her path. My youngest aunt and I were like sisters and we saw her soft underbelly. We saw how she showed her care to the people she loved. And because I was often with her alone in public places, I often heard her speak proudly of the very family who would never think she had a kind word for them. She was a strong woman. An impatient woman who tolerated nothing less than your absolute best effort. But she loved her family. Her drive for the best was to ensure that the people she loved HAD the best they could in life. Unfortunately, it wasn’t generally seen that way.
My paternal grandmother is also very important in my life. She is a testament to strength in such a different way than my maternal grandmother. Devoted to her faith and her family, she was unchanged at her core for the entirety of my life. She saw things with an updated eye rather than holding to the old. She considered things carefully. She also had a flair for story-telling and she would often fabricate fact as needed to support those stories. I miss her laughter. I miss her undying support. I also miss her unwillingness to compromise her beliefs or try to hide them. She’d be there for you, but she wasn’t going to say she agreed with your ideas to make you feel better.
Last, my maternal aunt. There are no words. She died six years ago–just months after her mother. I was devastated. In the entire world, there was nobody that understood my complicated life and relatives and circumstances better. She got it. She got the whole thing. We could laugh together and cry together and joke about the insanity of it all. She was the only other person who wanted to care for my maternal grandmother like I did. She was 12 years older than I was and had enough life experience to call me out when I wasn’t doing the right things–but loved me even when I did them anyway. I don’t want to say she was my best friend because she was so much more in some ways.
There are others we will talk about. Papa has stories about the women in his history, too… including his maternal grandmother’s mother that he stayed with in Italy during summers of his childhood. The foods she made, the sayings she had, the home she lived in over there–the kids delight in all of it.
We tell these stories throughout the day with most of it happening at dinner. I suppose that when all of the stories become predictable, we will move on to important women to the world. But today, it will still be about Granny and Gigi and Aunt Jan, and La Nonna…
“Here’s to strong women: May we know them, may we be them, may we raise them.”