Surrounded by 91 laughing, mingling people I leaned into my grandmother, Viola Barksdale, at her 90th birthday party.
Look at all the people you made!” I quipped.
She beamed. I love getting to see everyone, but I most enjoy seeing how delighted everyone is to see each other.
Viola’s parents Sarah and Will Chevalier
In 1923 my grandmother, Viola Barksdale, was born smack in the middle of 13 children. She was born in an itty bitty Mormon colony, Kelsey, hidden away in East Texas, the middle of the Bible Belt, they were religious radicals. The town had a school house, a gymnasium where they held high school and the church that drew newly-converted Mormon families from all over the South. Her mother, Sarah Chevalier, had wanted to move there from South Texas to be among like-minded believers and somehow she convinced her husband, William, to do it. They had 13 children, 11 lived to adulthood. William died early and Sarah and the children had a hard life. They picked cotton in the Texas heat and humidity until their fingers bled. They milked cows in the middle of the night for a local dairy. They gardened. They scraped by. Sarah made rolls so delicious that their taste lingers in my mouth 30 years later.
They went to church dances to fellowship and court.
I hope you dance, she told the 91 people who came to celebrate her at the party, I missed some opportunities to dance and I wish I hadn’t.
Viola’s nickname growing up was Hoppy, because she loved the baby bouncer. My children have resurrected the endearment, calling her Hoppy rather than great-grandma.
My grandmother was the first person in her family to graduate high school. She almost had to stop going to school to help the family survive. As a teenager she was responsible for washing the clothes of 12 people—by hand.
Sweethearts Arley and Viola Barksdale
She married a 27-year-old faithful man, Arley Barksdale, who owned a dump truck business, when she was 19 years old. It was a love match. They married, and were later sealed for “Time and All Eternity” in the Mormon Temple.
He waited for me, she says grinning like she has a little secret. She did. The secret was love and a commitment to shared Mormon values. They would work hard, raise a family and hold to their faith.
Mothering, A Career Path
They built a Rock House, where my uncle Greg later raised a family and now entertains his grandchildren, rocking on the front porch, in the petered out town that is his paradise.
They moved to a nearby town and he took a job at Kodak-Eastman in the maintenance department, where he was passed over for promotions by men with college educations. This made an impression on them.
While he was at work, my grandmother raised the children and she was profoundly grateful that she didn’t have to keep an outside job while she did that.
They had six children together, four girls and two boys. They lived in a home he built himself, on some acreage in the woods with a creek running behind the house. The girls shared a room, each had one drawer. They dug a well which produced mineral heavy water with a sulfurous aftertaste, but which made the saltiest ice, oddly satisfying to children who would run in from the Texas humidity to suck the salt off. While the house was being built they lived in a shack. The couple they bought it from had arranged the furniture in a skiwampus fashion, Viola remembers. She found out why during the first storm when every Texas raindrop soaked through. Later they milked their cows and put a horse named Candy in the shack that became The Barn.
Grandchildren spent splendid summer vacations investigating the history stored away in that barn and roaming the wild places around the property. Excusions were made to The Candy Store, which upon adulthood turned out to be an ordinary gas station.
Hanging from one of the massive trees, a tire swing, the grass beneath worn away. Generations of children and grandchildren have found exhilarating thrills on this swing. So much play has it gotten that it has had to be replaced a number of times.
Higher! Higher! Under! Around and Around! Faster! Faster! children have squealed.
My grandma lives there today, by herself, keeping the yard tidy, keeping her home neat and welcoming. She still makes the best Southern food in the world. Home grown squash is like a creamy dessert. Every meal is a banquet. As one meal ends, she prepares to make the next one. Her secret ingredients? Sugar and butter.
You eat to keep from getting hungry, is her motto.
One of the most monumental things my grandparents did for our family was to send their six children to college. They sacrificed other things in order to send them to Brigham Young University or Rick’s College in Idaho (now also BYU), private Mormon schools.
You’ve heard the jokes about sending girls to college for their Mrs. Degree. It minimizes the impact of sending girls to college to find husbands. However, statistically this was life changing for future generations. When one parent graduates from college their children are 50% more likely to get a college degree. When two parents graduate from college, the odds increase to 75%.
My grandparents sent their girls to college to give them the best chance at a better life. It would have been scandalous for their girls to join the Women’s Revolution or participate in Free Love and war protests—which were sparked as their girls went out into the world—but, they were given the opportunity to be educated women. They were also expected to marry educated, righteous men who could provide for their families.
I am an educated woman in 2013, think of all the choices I have! The root of which is in my conservative grandparents’ decision to send my mother to college.
A favorite photo of Hoppy
I have asked my grandmother what her greatest achievement has been.
Our Legacy, is her simple answer.
Creating a family has been her life’s work.
Some might say anyone can have some babies, who grow up and have more babies. Many people do that, and that would be one definition of a family.
But, my grandmother’s pride doesn’t rest in the mere existence of these people. Is rests in who they are. She really loves us, individually and collectively.She grew a family that loves each other.
Viola and four children: Laree, Sharon, Susie and Nelson
Her work didn’t stop when her children grew up and started families. When possible she attended births, staying during early infancy to help with the other children or allowing the new mother to get some sleep.
My grandparents made regular treks to Utah, the home of the Mormon Saints, where many of her children made their permanent homes after college. My grandfather died on one of these treks, after attending three grandchildren’s weddings that summer. They had enjoyed 56 years of marriage.
Even after her husband died, she continues to visit regularly. Even for her own 90th birthday party. Despite the fact that driving for 24 hours straight or navigating large, confusing airports has became more difficult, her pilgrimages continue.
She has attended baptisms, weddings and graduations of her many grandchildren when she could and still does as much as she can. She attended her family when they were sick. She cooked, cleaned and managed entire households for months at a time when her children needed her help.
She hand-stitched a baby quilt for every grandchild, great-grandchild and even great-great-grandchild. These are cherished beyond words.
Four Generations on Epic Tire Swing
Her Life’s Work
She is proud, and delighted, that 91 people would drop their lives, change their busy schedules, drive many miles, arrive with delicious food and greet each other with genuine affection and love.
The room fills with laughter. How are you doing? What are you doing? isn’t just chit chat between strangers. We look into each other’s eyes and want to know how are you really doing? What’s really going on in your life?
Shared experience can’t be underestimated in creating life-long bonds. Neither can a sense of humor. Through my grandparents annual visits we gathered. Her children continued her efforts, gathering for Thanksgiving, eating and laughing. For many years there was an annual New Year’s Eve slumber party with still more eating and laughing. When family comes in from Texas, there are more gatherings. To be together is the celebration.
The highway between Texas and Utah is a road much traveled. Her children are dutiful, committed to continuing a bond with their parents, continuing a bond between generations.
My brother Klint’s family surprised us from Seattle! Best Surprise Eva!
Rare and Effortful
When I was young, I thought all families had this. By now I’ve met people with some crazy stories about lunatic relatives who do terrible things to each other. Even more shocking to me are the stories people have told me about their parents not even bothering to meet their grandchildren. Or families that let squabbles turn into decades-long falling outs.
Now, I’m painting a pretty picture of my family. I’m not going to lie and tell you it’s all roses and smooth sailing. It’s not. Many people in my family have gone through really hard things. Many of us have made embarrassing mistakes, and somehow these feel all the more embarrassing in front of this group of family than they do in other social situations. I’m not going to pretend there are never any squabbles, never an ideological disagreement and never someone who makes a complete jerk out of themselves or that no one ever holds a grudge.
This is a family after all.
But, this family is my grandmother’s life’s work. This is her purpose. This is the driving force of her life. Within this family are over 100 people who consider her, and her late husband, their personal heroes.
89-year-old Grandma Barksdale posing on a Harley, just for kicks. A sense of humor runs in the family.
What I know for sure
There is no a single person in this family who has not felt the power of her unconditional love. I, personally, have found myself in some pretty dicey situations in my life and she has always been a soft place for me to land. Her home, nestled in the East Texas woods with its open door, a safe place for me to hide and regroup. I have never had a moment in my life where I did not feel her love stretch across the vast Universe, enveloping me.
Family lore has it that my grandmother and my aunt Laree came to help my mother give birth to me in June of 1973 when I was expected. They waited. They waited. They waited. Finally I was born in August. Two months late. My grandma says we had plenty of time to get to know each other as she waited for me.
You always did march to your own drum, even before you were born, she once wrote to me in a card. She is mystified by half of the things I’ve done in my life, and I know I’ve kept her awake more than one night, worrying about me trekking across the globe, often by myself. Still, I know she enjoys the rhythm of my drum.
Grandma, me, and my daughter Ainsley
My grandmother takes great pride in the fact that the majority of her lineage are faithful Mormons who have gone on missions and marry for “Time and All Eternity” in the Mormon Temple. I, myself have taken a different spiritual path. First this was out of shame and rebellion. Now it’s that I’m on a different spiritual path to which I am fully committed.
There is truth in all religions, my grandmother says.
Still, she has asked me to return to the religion of my origin. One day, while in her kitchen, she was expressing her heart-felt desire that I return.
Grandma, I said, I’m not the only one who has left the Church, why are you being so hard on me?
Tracee, you’re special.
This never leaves me.
Oprah has a column in O Magazine and she often asks her guests the question, What do you know for sure?
That my grandmother loves me.
There have been low points in my life where this was all I had.
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Everyone please mark the date for a screening of “Things We Don’t Talk About: Women’s Stories from the Red Tent,” on July 21, 2013 at Whole Life Center for Spiritual Living, 2020 South College, Fort Collins, CO.
Feminists are invested in creating a new feminine experience for themselves, their daughters, their mothers and their sisters.
Creating is the key word.
The movement is sometimes painful, sometimes ugly and sometimes bitchy. So is birth. So are most acts of creating something new. Feminism is by its very essence, stepping into the unknown.
The movement is contentious and discontented precisely because it is born of discontent. While we glamorize the past, and there were some pleasurable things about previous gender roles (even if many are fictitious and romanticized), it only worked for some people. It didn’t work for everyone. Obviously, there was and is a huge faction of the population which wasn’t being served by the status quo—or they wouldn’t have wanted to change it.
This is the United States of America, in which we are self-governed. Which means the very essence of us is about creating our own experiences, our own lives and our own value system. The United States itself was born of discontent. Had we been content with our role as colonies, we would still be colonies today. But, we’re an independent sort of people who believe in radical ideas like the right to pursue happiness and the right to equality and the right of free speech and the right to self-govern. We have chosen this. We collectively share this vision and that’s what makes it so powerful.
Discussion on Feminism and Blogging put on by Feminism & Co. Heather Janssen, creator of get born magazine (in orange) was a brilliant display of smart, witty feminism.
Abraham Maslow, a father of psychology, studied self-actualization. During his research he discovered that the happiest people are those who paid attention to their own discontent. But, it wasn’t simply noticing that they didn’t like the way things were, it was the fact that this set of people did something about it. If they hated their marriage, they divorced. If they hated their jobs, they quit. If they didn’t like what city they lived in, they moved.
The happiest people were not the ones with a perfect set of circumstances. They were the ones who exerted power over their circumstances. In other words, they changed. They sought something better. Even if it was scary, imperfect and hard. Happy people place a high value on their right to pursue happiness.
That is what feminism is. It is a movement of people who have noticed that part of the way culture, politics, speech, media, economics, social hierarchies, religion, families and sexuality simply isn’t working for them as it currently is.
Feminists are people who are exerting power over their circumstances. When we set out to invent something new and unheard of—a self-governing democracy—no one expected that it would be easy or perfect. The way was unpaved. The pitfalls were as yet undiscovered.
Yet we somehow held to a vision. A cohesive vision of what it should be like, what it could be like.
As with America herself, the Feminist movement is divided on many issues. So is the Democratic party. So is the Republican party. This discourse, this discontented back and forth is what makes our self-government a safe and healthy process. In fact, it is how we designed it on purpose. So it is with Feminism.
Feminism is not the end result. Feminism is the art of discontent. Feminism is the power of taking action to create something better. Feminism is the exploration. Feminism is the journey.
I’m going to a panel about feminism and blogging with Heather, the queen of getborn magazine tomorrow.
I’ve long said that blogging and the internet brings Freedom of Speech to reality for women in this country. Women may have had the “right to speak” before, but who would hear them? I’ve also identified as a feminist since my teenage years.
Still, I’ve been disenchanted, shall we say. Here is a rundown of the things that kind of irk me about the whole stupid label.
Feminists give men too much credit. Feminists like to say that women are like men and men are like women. They said that when women went into the workforce, men would step up to provide support in the home. Where is that? Statistics showed that women took the load off men and then men went to play golf and have a beer in front of a football game. As near as I can tell men don’t even want this “utopia.”
Feminists ruined dating. I’m back in the field now and I’m not simply annoyed when a man doesn’t pay for a date, I find them instantly repugnant. Man the fuck up! Dear feminists: I want to be wooed and courted and it looks like you’ve made that irrelevant by being so understanding and demanding to be equal. Dislike.
Feminists make a lot of excuses for their own men. Let’s face it, women still obey men. Wives still submit to their husbands most of the time. They just don’t call it that. They do things they don’t want to do to keep the peace in the house. Whether it’s keeping jobs that they hate, or doing the laundry, or always being the one who goes grocery shopping, feminists aren’t very feminist when they are in relationships. But, they always seem to find a “reasonable” reason for this to excuse the fact that their men aren’t manning up. At least conservatives are honest that he gets his way because he has a penis. Or as my mother always put it, “he makes the money.”
Feminists really require nothing of men. Of course we’ll have sex without commitment or even dinner, we’ll “balance” everything, we’ll pay for everything, we’ll pretend we need no romance, we’ll understand your need to look at porn and even look with you, we’ll do everything. Which pretty much leaves men to do whatever the hell they want. Feminists lowered our expectations of men. Men ran with it. They know a good deal when they see it.
Feminists glamorize jobs, even though jobs mostly suck. What’s so great about a job anyway? “Working women” is nothing new. My grandmother picked cotton for 10 hours a day her whole childhood. My great-grandmother got up at 4 am and dragged a few kids out to milk cows so she could feed her children. My grandmother, when she raised her own family, was grateful that her husband was willing and able to support the family and she wouldn’t have to have a job. My mother was super grateful that she was allowed to devote her life to raising her children and not having to juggle a dumb job. Myself, I spent 12 years fighting off my husband’s expectation that I have the kinds of jobs he thought were awesome. I didn’t want to do everything all at once. Because it’s a joy killer and its exhausting. So thanks a lot for putting that kind of bullshit expectation on me, feminists. It ruined my marriage and it wasn’t much fun. Yeah, I want to be a badass, successful writer and run a profitable life coaching company—but that’s is not equivalent to having a lame job. And I didn’t want to have to do it while I was breast feeding babies or chasing toddlers.Most people think jobs kind of suck. It’s way more awesome not to have to have one. Men don’t even love having a job. If you’re going to pick a battle ground, aim for one that’s more profitable and takes a lot less work. Women should be seeking wealth not jobs. In fact there are about a million more valuable things in the world to try to get than jobs.
Feminists are short sighted. Equal pay is a craptastic goal. Better pay is a better goal. More money than men have is more awesome than scoring a lousy 22 more cents an hour. Whatcha gonna do with 22 cents? Feel all respected and validated because you’re making the same shitty pay as the guy in the cube next to you? Could you lower the bar any lower, feminists? Come on, get an imagination and think wealthier!
Feminists are always talking about moving up the corporate ladder and breaking through the glass ceiling. A better goal would be women building empires and owning our own businesses and designing our own feminine-friendly work cultures. Again, is being a middle manager or a CEO in someone else’s company the biggest thing you can dream up? Is it women’s dream or men’s dream. Just because they have something doesn’t mean we should have to want it. Maybe this is a great dream for some women. But, it’s not my dream. Why do I feel sucked into this common dream? I’m annoyed by it.
Feminists act like single mothers are helpless moron victims. How is a single mother going to Lean In? I just heard on the news. Uh, sit back and watch bitches! This is how. How they always have. It’s not as if single motherhood is a new invention. Having children without having a husband is not the same as having a debilitating handicap. Givemeabreak.
Feminists act like teenage mothers are helpless moron victims. Teenage motherhood is not new. People used to regularly have children before they were 20—on purpose. FYI, just because you need fertility treatments to get your eggs to act like teenaged eggs doesn’t make teen mothers bad mothers.
Feminists act like women and girls in general are helpless moron victims. We all need to be empowered! Because we are what? Powerless? Because we can’t actually do anything without a movement? A grant? A new law? That’s why we need so much empowerment? Most feminist rhetoric sounds like it wants to empower women, but truly it just calls us out as helpless victims who need additional help. Maybe we did in the 1970s, but honestly in 2013 it’s time to get our shit together and put on our big girl panties.
Feminists act like women are at the mercy of everything and everyone. Really, we’re all just jumping up and down asking for permission to be pretty when we complain about prettier, thinner women in magazines. We’re just begging for a nod of approval every time we go to congress and tattle that we’re not being voluntarily granted equal pay. You’re pretty. You’re worthy of equal pay. Believe it. Demand it.
Feminists work for 22 cents an hour less and then whine about it. Grow some balls, Ladies. If you want 22 more cents, walk off the job until you get it. If feminists really were willing to stand up for their own value in negotiations they would be making far more than men.
Feminists are really, really good at keeping women trapped. They act like they want women to have equal say and equal value, but if a woman has a different idea about what that means, or God-Forbid votes for the wrong candidate, they act like ferral cats. Women have always been the gatekeepers for other women, and feminists can get far more venomous than other people about making sure that women stay in the “feminist box.”
Feminists manipulate other women with abortion and birth control issues. And Feminists fall for it. For 40 years we’ve taken the bait. Then one day you sit back and ask yourself, wait what am I concerned about here? Is birth control really in danger or is this hype to manipulate my vote? Is the right to kill my own baby or to have my daughter kill my grandchildren really important to me? Then you reread that sentence and ask yourself how the hell we got here.
Tomorrow night it will be interesting to see if I’m back to enchantment, I’m turning in my feminism member card or what.