I had the pleasure of spending a large chunk of today, International Women’s Day with one of the most humble, self-less, inspirational women I’ve ever met. I spent the day with my Nana, a women who has spent her life serving others. Who has no idea how many people’s lives she’s touched, with a smile, a phone call, or a loaf of her famous banana bread.
She grew up in rural South Dakota, the only girl in a family of five boys. From the beginning she learned to take care of them, hegemonically embracing the roles she was taught to fulfill. She didn’t grow up in a time or a place where most women had access to higher education or opportunity. She learned the domestic duties of life: cooking and cleaning, tending to the other members of her family, especially the males, and became incredibly good at them. She got married at a young age and quickly started a family, following the same path her mother did before her.
She had a special love with my Papa. The deep, best friend, can’t live without each other kind of love. They both had their specific roles and duties in their relationship and knew how to support each other. My Papa was the head of the household. He worked as a successful banker, providing for the family. He paid the bills and spent his free time outdoors, fishing, skiing, golfing, biking. My Nana took care of the kids, cooked for the family, and cleaned the house. She spent her free time with friends and doing things like volunteering at the hospital gift shop. My grandparents maintained a very active social life, extremely involved in their church, the bank, and the greater Fort Collins community. They constantly hosted guests and attended functions and events. They knew how to care about people in the way most people don’t these days. They’ve maintained many of these friendships for decades, something I deeply admire.
My Nana has and never will think twice about her roles or the limitations imposed on her by being a woman. Still to this day, in her eighties, she is one of the most delightful people to be around. She attends to everyone else before even thinking about addressing her own needs. She cares about everyone she meets so deeply and wants to see the best both for them and in them. She always makes sure everyone has had enough to eat, enough dessert, a napkin, a drink, or anything else she can think of before sitting down and enjoying the occasion. She might not completely understand the rapidly changing world around her, but she has no interest in judging others for their choices.
My Nana may have never received formal higher education, but she supports her grandchildren in every way she can to see them accomplish their dreams. Because of the support she gives me, I’m able to have so many opportunities to receive higher education, and create a life for myself where I can be self-sufficient and successful. I live in a very different time than she did, and my goals could not be more different. My Nana never had to worry about passing organic chemistry, paying off student debt, or finding the right internships and experiences. She didn’t have to worry about whether or not she would be able to find a job after graduation, or if the field she went into would support and give fair opportunities to women. She married happily, raised her kids, created life long friendships, and lived a much simpler life than I dream of.
But she’s happy, and I’m happy, and by spending time with her I realize that the world has changed. Her generation of housewives is no less intelligent, incredible, hard working, and accomplished than my future generation of engineers, doctors, and scientists. We have so many incredible women from her generation that paved the way for us to have opportunities and fight to even be able to work alongside men in these male-dominated fields. There is so much work to be done, and we need to keep on fighting, but thanks to so many phenomenal female leaders, I can have goals that were unimaginable for most women two generations ago. Yet because of the simplistic, American-dream style life my Nana lived, I am able to have the opportunities she never did, and never wanted to have.
So on this International Women’s Day, I thank all the women who paved the way. I thank all of the women who inspire me to live and greater life and be a better person. I thank my family who have raised me with the ideals that I can do anything I put my mind to, even if I had to work a little harder for it. But most importantly, I thank my Nana for being an example of what a human, not just a woman, should be. To care for others. To check-in on people when they need to. To be a source of love and support. To help others realize and accomplish their dreams. Thank you.