There is a girl this morning who will wake up before anyone else in her family. She will start the fire and begin to make the matoke and beans that will be their breakfast. She has four brothers and a Mother to cook for, her Father is in the woods making what living he can for them by hunting. She empties the last of the water from her yellow plastic jerry can into the pot on the fire. As the water heats she takes the empty jerry can and begins her walk to the well. The walk to the well is pleasant enough, few people are awake and the day is still and quiet although already quite warm. Mosquitos bite her legs as she walks but she doesn’t notice them. After a short walk down a very steep and muddy hill she reaches the well. This well is nothing more than a pipe protruding out of the earth and pouring water into a little alcove. She knows better than to take water from the little pool the pipe creates. That stagnant water would bring disease and death to her family. She wades up to her knees in the pool and puts her large jerry can directly under the pipe and it begins to fill. The can gets heavier and heavier as it fills with water and her arms ache to keep it in place just a little longer until it’s full. Finally water reaches the top of the jerry can. She lifts it with all of her strength onto her head and begins the treacherous walk back up the slippery steep hill. She knows that if even a little bit of water spills she will have to go back to the well and start again. She walks slowly but confidently up the hill. This isn’t her first trip to the well. Since she learned to walk she has been making this trek with progressively larger and larger jerry cans. The one she carries today is the largest and weighs almost as much as she does. She never reaches a hand up to the can balanced on her head- this comes from years of practice and the jerry can doesn’t so much as move no matter how steep the hill or long the walk. By the time she returns home with the fresh water, breakfast is boiling and she removes it from the fire and divides it into exactly equal portions. How she does this type of division without a measuring cup is almost mystical. Mathematicians couldn’t divide this breakfast more equally. Her brothers and her Mother join her outside for breakfast. They eat quickly and quietly- this might be all they get for the day. After they finish this amazing girl washes the bowls with the least amount of water possible, she doesn’t want to have to walk back to the well until this evening, yet the dishes are somehow spotless. Her brothers pick up the rope they have made out of leaves and begin playing. They are young, they are all young the girl included, but the task of cleaning their home is left to her and her Mother. The boys have the liberty to play. She grabs the broom from outside the curtain door and enters her home. It is dark inside and cooler, she sweeps the dirt and dust into piles on the floor and then carefully, with the utmost caution, sweeps it into a makeshift pan and dumps it outside. Her back aches but she hardly notices it, she just wants to finish her morning chores so she can join her brothers outside and play for a while before it’s time for her evening chores. Finally she finishes. Outside she and her brothers and a few other children from their road create games to play. Duck duck goosie is her favorite but the boys would rather kick and throw around a worn out almost unrecognizable football they have. She doesn’t protest and just enjoys the freedom of being able to, for just a minute, play. She doesn’t go to school, none of them do, their parents don’t have the money to send them so instead she is learning everything a women needs to keep a house and her brothers will soon go into the woods with her Father to learn how to hunt. Far too soon, it seems, her Mother is calling her and her brothers to come and bathe. This is her signal that her playtime is over and chores begin again. For her brothers this is their signal to throw a tantrum and cry all the way to the bath. They hate the cold water and resent being made to bathe. She doesn’t mind the bathing but she would rather not have to start the fire, cook the dinner, and walk to the well again. The girl is grateful to have a dinner though and she holds onto that as she makes her way back home. Her day ends as it began and tomorrow morning it will begin again.
The things we’ve left behind find us sometimes. And there are places you can’t hide from them. But you can’t face them, don’t want to have to face them every day. But they don’t go away.
And you learned and grew from the things you’ve left behind but they were left behind for a reason and though you know that reason and even if it is a valid reason doesn’t mean the things accept or acknowledge it. They force themselves upon you. They leave you alone for 15 years- enough time for you to feel confident in their never returning to your life again- and then they show up. They show up innocently enough until you realize it was a trick to force themselves back in your life. And they want something from you but you aren’t entirely sure what but you know, you KNOW, they want something from you. And the last time the things you left behind were in your life you almost suffocated from the weight of them. And they hurt you. And you have spent many many hours in therapy recovering from the wounds they gave you. And now they found you again and you don’t know what to do. Continue to hide? Respond forcefully? Feign Ignorance?
But you are an adult now. There isn’t anything to be afraid of- you can take care of yourself. You don’t have to communicate with anyone you don’t want to. You control your life. You will not be manipulated and lied to again. You won’t let them near your family. You are stronger than them. Still, they try to force themselves on you. Why now? Why 15 years later? Can you sense my complete happiness? Is that why you want to talk to me again, so you can take it away? I won’t allow it. I forbid you from infringing on my happiness. I LEFT YOU BEHIND. I don’t belong to you and you don’t belong to me. We are free of each other- let that be.
I never realized. I didn’t know. What’s worse is, I didn’t ask.
Thankfully, luckily, blessedly, my Grammy and Popsie shared with me some pretty astounding facts about the women from our family. They were strong. They were superhumanly strong.
They owned and worked on farms- I mean they worked- farm life isn’t easy, on the contrary, it’s rather difficult. They never complained, early mornings, calloused hands, wailing children, mud, manure, harvest, long winters, and no rest. My great-great-grandmother, my Momsie, who I was lucky enough to know before she died, lost her husband, her “dearest Willy” , when my great grandmother (Nana) was only 5. She was left by herself with a farm to run and a child to raise. Who came to her rescue? Another man? No. Her sisters were at her side instantly, not to only offer condolences and casseroles but to work the farm with her. These were real women, quiet but powerful, seemingly unbreakable. When my Momsie and Nana moved to Ft. Worth it was her sisters who took over the farm and kept it until they passed, and it was to that very farm that my grandmother and then my mother visited during their childhood summers, and it is my belief that it was at that farm they learned to be strong women.
My Popsies mother (Mom Riddle) survived a fire that took the life of both her parents and burned the hands of her little sister. She survived an orphanage, and in the early 1900′s that was truly an accomplishment, and she was able to keep what was left of her family together. She never succumbed to the rampant tuberculosis or the nightmares of the fire. She met the love of her life there, a man named James who lost both of his parents to TB, they married and with her sister moved to Ft. Worth. She was the first one at your house with a casserole when there was sickness or death. She was the first to offer to mend the clothes for those who couldn’t do it themselves. She was the one who would give money whenever it was needed and usually more than was asked for. She was compassionate, she was the hardest or workers, and her love was given unconditionally. She overcame and she thrived. She died when I was 10, but she never told me any of these things about herself, that wasn’t her way.
They didn’t discover anything, or create a fashion trend, they weren’t famous, but these women, my women, were extraordinary. Nothing ever broke them, there wasn’t anything they couldn’t do, they loved their men fiercely but didn’t crumble without them, they were strong. They were powerful. They are the women whose blood and legacy flow through me and remind me that because they were strong, I am too.