August 26, 2005


Paul McCartney has been one of my favorite singer/songwriter/composers since I was a little girl. The first song I can recall consciously singing along to was "Let 'Em In." Faintly stored like a snapshot faded by time, I can see him singing it on some variety show, played late at night while I was supposed to be sleeping but instead lay in the door of my room watching down the hall the glow of the television in the dark.

Years later for my 22nd birthday a family friend came to visit R and I. She asked what I might want for a birthday gift. I immediately replied, "A Paul McCartney CD; greatest hits or something." Later in the week she came and she delivered. It remains one of my most played CD's and E claims Sir Paul composed the soundtrack of her earliest memories.

While listening to "Jet" I followed the lyrics. Feeling like a fool, I reached for the dictionary when I got to the second stanza. "Suffragette" wasn't one I recalled. Regardless if it carried intention or simply rhymed (and I think it was both), I realized that I either didn't know much or didn't pay much attention in high school, or did the bored, male coaches somehow skim women's suffrage?

At the time I was employed by an elderly couple to clean their home once a week. Mrs. Williamson hired me for $15, and paid me not only in three fives every Thursday, but in the education of a young woman in the history of her gender. She had never had children; and while we sometimes shared things of depth and connection that surpassed our age difference, without specifically asking me, I understood that there was still a level of respect to maintain, so I never asked why.

Mrs. Williamson had worked in a time when women didn't. She married late and to be very involved in the women's college in which she was employed. Eventually I learned that she had four sisters and that they were all somehow ahead of their time.

We would engage in conversation while I dusted the living room that hadn't, and never did have, dust. 1992 was an election year and I was surprised to learn that Mrs. Williamson was a staunch Democrat. Between sweeping the area rugs, and dust mopping the aging oak floors, we talked about Bill Clinton and George H. W. and Ross Perot. I learned over scrubbing her kitchen floor that she was of the Quaker persuasion but hadn't been raised with any specific religious catechises. As they didn't go upstairs anymore, I rarely had anything to clean, other than the bathroom, and occasionally when they were expecting a guest, the spare bedroom. Then Mrs. Williamson would step out of her wheelchair, determinedly climb the stairs one at a time and insist on helping me change the linens where our conversations would continue on other current events and she would slowly, through nouns and verbs and adjectives that passed the lips wrinkled by time, somehow connect the past to the very day in which we were standing.

I sensed she began to anticipate my arrival, and my hunger for her knowledge and gentle friendship. I once loaded her chair in my little station wagon and we went to see The Firm. She began to pass along paperbacks she had enjoyed, and one day, I found upon my arrival a new cassette player on the end table. Glen Miller moved me through the rooms while Mr. Williamson napped in his usual chair, and she typed on an old Underwood, her weekly correspondence.

When I found out I was pregnant, I shared the ultrasound photo with her. Through her myopic eyes, she made out the arms, the hands; "my goodness, look at the fingers." The revelation of the fetal age being 10 weeks, the average time a baby is aborted, Mrs. Williamson, a long time supporter of abortion, startled. I don't know if her mind ever changed, but I do know that in that moment of realization, that I was leaving her with something she didn't, in all her wisdom, know and now did.

That pregnancy, that baby, yielded A, who was named for both the only woman noted in the Bible for her wisdom and beauty, and another who, in the simple admonition in a letter to her husband to "remember the ladies" when he went off to construct the constitution of a newly free, rebel republic, became the initial champion of recognizing women as equal citizens. I learned of this woman's polite plea in one of my many talks with Mrs. Williamson.

On this date, in 1920, Congress finally heard and "remembered the ladies" in passing Amendment 19 to the United States Constitution granting women the right to vote.

Mrs. Williamson once shared a recipe for meat loaf typed on a 3x5 index card using her old manual. She never demanded Mr. Williamson cook dinner. She seemed content to prepare and cook the food they would eat together in the small kitchen just as she always had. I think she figured a meal or two or three thousand in her lifetime was manageable, but not having the right to vote, to work, to get an education, simply was not.

I think often of her and the weekly dialogue that passed between us. I hope to pass on a bit of that balance of life to my own girls, and maybe one day, to a young woman that comes to clean when I am no longer.

Posted by Rae at August 26, 2005 11:19 PM


Posted by: DEAN BERRY -- REAL AMERICAN at August 29, 2005 08:08 AM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?