06 March 2011

Women I admire

Life is a roller coaster.  It goes way too slow uphill and way too fast down.  It has lots of interesting twists and turns.  Sometimes you can't see around the next corner.  Sometimes you can and wish you couldn't.  But that is how life goes.  And the people we pass along the way may all become just a blur, but we usually remember the ones that held our hands through the tough times, and screamed with us during the scary parts, and laughed until tears flowed when the excitement finally slowed.  You don't forget the people who touch your life.  This is my homage to them.  And because each person comes with a backstory, I'm not sure that this will be the last post on this topic.

1.  When I was a kid, my two favorite shows on television were the Carol Burnette Show and the Mary Tyler Moore Show .  In the 60s and early 70s, there weren't many shows on TV with what we might today call "positive role models" for girls.  Oh there were smart, saavy, tough female leads in shows (That Girl, I Dream of Jeanie, Laugh In, and so on), but they generally were obviously subsurvient to the men in their character's lives.  That Girl spent 90% of her time on the phone with "Daddy" and her fiance "Donald" spent all his time getting her out of the jams she got herself into.  I didn't want to be like her.  I wanted to be like Carol Burnette.  She was funny, smart, and she could do a Tarzan yodel.  What else could a girl want out of life?  And Mary Tyler Moore was the first "working woman" I remember seeing on TV who wasn't a secretary or a nurse.  She was also:  A) beautiful, B) cosmopolitan, and C) an executive.  She had a bitchin' apartment with a murphy bed.  It shocks me now to watch that show and realize that Lou Grant was her father figure, Murry Slaughter was her mentor, and that she didn't seem to have readily identifiable set of job responsibilities.  But, hey!  Let's not get caught up in details.  Still, there weren't many shows on TV featuring single, professional women and she would do in a pinch.  And that is all I had to teach me about the working world until I jumped into it myself with both feet.

When I got out of college, I took what I always saw as a temporary job at a greeting card company.  After my father died, I sold everything I owned and moved to Chicago to "make it on my own".  My first boss was a woman named Dorothea Vicari.  She was a tall, beautiful woman with dark skin and dark hair and dark eyes and gentlemen looked at her longingly.  Interestingly enough, she had a mole on her face--on her chin if I recall.  She used to unconsciously place her hand over it when she spoke.  That one movement taught me an interesting lesson.  Even beautiful people can have a perverse sense of their own image.  That mole did not detract from her beauty, but she was self-conscious about it nonetheless.  But that isn't why I bring her up in this post.  I admire her because she taught me what it means to be a professional.  She was everything I wanted to be when I grew up.  She was my Mary Tyler Moore. Except she was better than Mary Tyler Moore.  She was funny, intelligent, competent, good at her job, respectful of other people, industrious, creative, and she trusted me to do my job well.  She taught me, through example, how a good boss behaves.  I think one of the reasons I stayed at that entry level job so long was because she was so good to me.  I wish I knew where she was today.  I'd love to thank her again.

2.  My Grams is 94 years old.  She sure doesn't look it.  She damn sure doesn't act like it.  She lives alone.  She was the oldest of four children.  She married at 17 and had one child, my father.  She spent the better part of a decade caring for her elderly parents, all the while her own husband was dying of lung cancer.  She outlived all her siblings.  She outlived her son.  One would think that she would be hardened from all that loss.  But she is perhaps one of the happiest people I know.  She laughs all the time.  She sends me little clips out of the local newspaper about "finding a man after 40" or something she read about education, or some pertinent advice given out by Dear Abby.  My grandmother is a classic.  But the reason I admire my grandmother is because she taught me one of the most important lessons in life.  She taught me that it costs nothing to make someone's day.  A smile.  A laugh.  A pat on the back.  A pleasant demeanor.  Letting the little things go.  Cutting someone some slack.  You don't always have to be right.  You don't always have to win.  Sometimes, it is better to take one for the team.  And the team is humanity.

You'll be talking to her about people long gone or things that happened so long ago, and she'll open up with some incredibly personal experience that most people would hide.  Like when her husband, my grandfather, struggled with alcoholism.  I was in college when my grandfather died, and I never knew him to have a problem with drinking.  But apparently, he did.  And she speaks of it honestly.  Not with blame.  Not with regret.  But just with a calm understanding that marriage in her day was for life and if she were a young woman today, she'd probably not have put up with those shenanigans.  My grandmother is the kind of life teacher that everyone should know.  Not perfect.  Not by a long shot.  But good at the stuff that counts.

3.  I have my own biases.  I have always liked people older than me. And I have always been attracted to big personalities. Probably because I was the youngest in my family.  I was always racing to keep up.  Always trying to look badder, smarter, quicker, and tougher than any other kid my age. Trying to emulate the one person who could hold everyone's attention. So I have spent a lifetime associating, fraternizing and ingratiating myself with people who were older than me.  Until I was almost 40, if you were born after 1959, I sort of ignored you as a matter of course.  And then, I went back to graduate school where the only people who were older than me were emeritus professors.  And really, how much fun are they to impress?  So I began to talk to the younger crowd.  They're not so bad.  And I'm glad I gave them a chance, because really, wouldn't that have been a loss to have ignored an entire generation of people?  What I didn't expect to find were younger people I admired.  I mean, seriously.  How much could they have lived?  What could they possibly know?  But sometimes, amazing people are lurking in unassuming packages. They are so unassuming that at first you don't recognize how amazing they are.  I almost enjoy discovering this kind of person.  Because you never see it coming and then suddenly, you're like POW!  A.  Maze.  Ing. And that's Liv.  She shows up in the lab one day and I see this little, squeaky, mouse of a girl and then BLAMMO!  She's this Abronia-finding, mountain scaling, wild-west adventuring, good luck charm with a dog.  She can out bee anyone on the planet.  She doesn't lose her cool when an inexperienced driver looses traction behind the wheel of her Jeep on a mud-soaked road.  She bounds up mesas like they are made of Tigger tails.  She leaves the rest of us mere mortals in the dust. But she has one of those personalities that doesn't make you covet her abilities or her accomplishments.  You just admire that someone can pull it off so easily.  And you're damn sure glad she's let you tag along for the ride.  And I don't think anyone who has ever spent any time with Liv would say that a little bit of her didn't rub off on them.  She makes you believe that you can climb that mountain.  That those rocks aren't going to crack the drive shaft into smithereens and leave you both with only a 5 gallon jug of water to split as you make your way back into civilization.  I have no doubt that we'd be swearing and swapping stories and laughing the whole way back.  And picking cactus tines out of dog's feet.  I've had the best adventures with Liv.  She is surprisingly timid.  Then she's brazenly bold.  She is sweeter than rock candy and fiercer than a bobcat.  I've only seen her cranky once.  I thought she might be sick.  I think she was just tired.  She puts me in infinitely good humor.  She introduced me to the West, which stole my heart.  When I see Liv, I certainly don't see myself.  I see myself better.

4.  I grew up in a family of people who don't touch.  We don't hug.  We aren't demonstrative.  We are more than a little bit uncomfortable with having our personal space violated.  But I have always looked upon those people who are with a mixture of curiosity and awe.  They are so unselfconscious about themselves. They just grab hands and dispense of slaps on the back without a second thought.  And the next person is one of those people.  One of those people who can get close to others without feeling weird.  Who is so completely comfortable with themselves that they inspire me to rethink who I am. Someone who is selfless in an effortless way.  Someone who seems to feel closer and be closer to her friends than I think I have ever been to anyone in my life.  And she is full of joy.  She's always smiling in a way that makes you think nothing bad has ever happened to her.  But surely it has, just like the rest of us.  It just never got to her.  And this someone is so completely right for the guy she's with, it's just not funny.  This next person is a sleeper.  She has no idea, I'm sure that she has left such an impression on me.  She is, in fact, the wife of my office mate.  Julie Dumper Schmale.  I wish I had half the compassion and ability to give that she gives away every single day.

This list can go on and on.  But I think it's interesting that the names that came to me today were all women.  And all for very different reasons.  I'm glad I've gotten to know all of them.  And I wonder who will come along next.

1 comment:

  1. My goodness. I am so glad to have shared adventures with you--and truly Liz I've learned as much from you as you from me! Your spontaneity is contagious, and I think about it often ("if Liz were here, she wouldn't hesitate, she'd just do it"). Your laughter, even in memory, makes me giggle (remember when I introduced you to the 'other version' of Johnny Cash's song?), your generosity (as I make chili in my shiny red pot, and as you pat Lucky Scout on the head), your ability to set aside your own emotions until later. These are things I admire... things that have rubbed off on me. Here's to more adventures together!!!