International Woman's Day

They laid the old woman to rest yesterday in the family cemetery in Kyle. Her heath has not been good for several years. She has struggled in so many ways, requiring dialysis in order to stay alive. Finally, on Tuesday the time came for her to die. She was at the Kyle Health Center at the end. How many struggles there were in her life. She was the mother of six, one daughter and five sons. One of those boys preceded her in death. There were fourteen grandchildren, always a few of them living with their grandma. Just keeping the house warm and food on the table was a challenge. And there were always struggles with cars. They’d figure out how to get a car that worked and that would break down. Most of the time whatever they were driving was on its last legs. Her boys had to give her rides. And they had to have a car because her dialysis treatments were at Sharps Corner and she needed to go multiple times each week. And it seemed like there was always mud. Not just a little bit of mud, but the kind of mud that meant that no one could get in and out of the road to their house. She lived a life of money troubles. There was a time when her husband had a good job. After years of struggling with addiction, he seemed to get on top of that problem and even became qualified as an addiction counselor. But then he got into trouble with the law and that money stopped coming. They’d have to go to Rapid City for the doctor or for some supplies and would head out without enough money for the gas to get home. Sometimes they got lucky and someone would help them. Sometimes they spent the night in the car. It seems like there was never enough money to get the propane tank filled. So when they were out of propane they’d turn on the electric oven and open the door to provide some heat in the house. But that was expensive too and the power company turned off their electricity on more than one occasion. They had a wood stove, but you have to have wood to keep the house warm that way. Sometimes they would get a load of firewood, and then they’d really get it warm in the house, sometimes so warm that they were opening the windows. And then they’d run out of firewood. She would try to make some calls and get some help. Sometimes it worked.

Then, last week the struggle was finally over. She relaxed and peace came into her after so many years of hard times. Her spirit went to join the spirits of the ancestors in ways that those who are left behind don’t really understand. The old woman was gone.

Only she wasn’t old. I was amazed at the birth date in the obituary. She was a decade younger than me. I thought she was least a decade older. There were times when I would meet her at a gas station at the edge of town. Maybe she was in a friend’s car, or perhaps one of her sons was driving. She was so hard of hearing that I would be a bit embarrassed at how much I had to raise my voice just to communicate. I thought that anyone else around the gas station must think that I was yelling at her. Her face was wrinkled and tired and she was a bit bent over. It always looked like she was living with pain.

Sometimes you just think the wrong thing about another person. I realized that although we had known each other since shortly after I met her husband, and although we had spoken on the phone a lot, and although I’d recognize her when I saw her, I didn’t really know her. I had made some inaccurate assumptions about who she was and how her life had gone. There isn’t a picture of her in her obituary on the funeral home web site. Just a couple of pictures of red roses. But I can picture her in my mind.

I’m thinking of her this morning as we begin International Woman’s Day. It was way back in 1908 when 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter working hours, better pay and the right to vote. A year later they declared a national woman’s day. The next year Clara Zetkin suggested the idea of an International Woman’s Day at an International Conference of Working Women held in Copenhagen. The first official International Woman’s Day was celebrated in 1911, so this year’s recognition is the 109th even though the United Nations gave the day official recognition only in 1975.

In China it is a tradition to give working women a half day off on the day. In Italy it is the custom to present a woman with mimosa blossoms. There won’t be much of either this year. Fears of corona virus means that there are a lot of women who can’t go to work because of closed workplaces in China and flowers aren’t exactly the highest priority in Italy, where the disease has spread. Here in the US March is Women’s History Month and it is a time to tell the stories of the many contributions to our history made by women to our daughters and granddaughters. It is a good time to tell those stories to our sons and grandsons as well.

The theme for International Women’s Day this year is “An equal world is an enabled world.” We are all challenged to work for equality for all people. I can’t get the image of one woman out of my head. She never got an equal chance in this world. She was born into hard times in a hard place. She suffered discrimination because of her heritage. Life on the reservation is always hard. She struggled to get by in the ways she knew. She fought desperately to care for her children and grandchildren. And she died way too soon.

We still have a lot of work to do.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!