We’re getting a divorce.
Our recent decision to end the marriage came for me in the same way as when we met in college… 21 years ago; The earth shook, my knees buckled, my heart cracked open wide. My work suffered, responsibilities were forgotten as The Most Important Boy In The World held my attention 24/7. This time it was different… but exactly the same. We’ve both re-calibrated, finding new ways to relate to each other. We are about to become another statistic. I still don’t think he’s told his family.
To answer your first question: I married my best friend and we grew apart. To answer your second: We still get along well so, no, you don’t have to hate him. That’s all I have to say about this right now. I’m sure somewhere in my patched-up heart there are a few blog posts percolating about self-love, communication and connection, but that’s not what this one’s about…
This blog post is about the tenacity and hardiness of the women in my family. Tenacity, because they manage to “keep on keepin’ on” despite incredible challenges. Hardy, because, well, you’ve got to admire people who shovel themselves out of the snow six months of the year; year after year after year, snowflake after special snowflake. As P and I finalize our divorce arrangements (Is Joint Cat Custody a thing?), I find myself sorting, selling and storing many of my material belongings.
I came across a handwritten report that I wrote in the 4th grade (no laptops way back in 1986 at Roosevelt Elementary). It was an interview I did with my maternal grandmother. I remember sitting at her kitchen table. A nervous woman, the linoleum was worn under her chair from her shuffling feet. She carefully answered each of my questions, even repeated things so my pencil could catch up. I am not sure that anyone had ever asked her much about her story before. I vaguely remember her crying at one point.
I was told my great-granddaddy ran moonshine during prohibition. My grandmother came from a big family. She would remind you of her brothers and sisters and her children… even more often as the Alzheimer’s enacted it’s tragedy, filling her mind with the same few stories, then only words, then nothing.
One story she often told was how her sister would cheer her on at the dinner table, “Hurry up Vernabelle and take some food before it’s gone,” and as soon as my grandmother started to reach, she would say, “Well don’t take it all! Save some for someone else!” For some reason, I remember my grandmother telling that story over and over again. I think it was because she remembered being taunted often at the dinner table. My mother says that growing up, they were never allowed to tease each other at the dinner table. My gramma wanted fond memories at HER dinner table. I like to think the fondest memories lasted the longest for her before the disease claimed them all.
My gramma had a 6th grade education. School was one of those Little-House-On-The-Prairie, single room, wooden schoolhouse deals where all the kids went. When she was in 6th grade, the family needed her at home to work, so they took her out of school. That’s what ten-year-old me wrote (in barely legible, sucky, handwriting I might add. The teacher was way too lenient with her grade, in my now thirty-nine-year-old-Christina opinion.). Gramma’s family raised animals and gardened and cleaned and prepared food and cooked food all day. Like, that’s all they would do from the time they woke up to the time they got to eat and sleep. They spent a lot of time canning a lot of their food, also. For fun, they would do things like jump off the barn roof into the snowbank, but my grandmother never did, instead letting the other kids jump because it was scary. Think about that the next time you start feeling like complaining about your 8-hour work day with two 15’s and 30 minutes for lunch (with optional barn roof jumping at the end of the work day, of course).
Most of their meat was shot or caught (dear, birds, bear, fish, even turtle). My grandmother was a great hunter and loved fishing. I can’t even imagine how long it took on laundry days: heating water on wood stove and washing cloths by hand in wash tubs, wringing them out by hand and hanging them on clothes lines to dry. Baking their own bread must have taken hours.
My gramma had her first baby when she was 14 yrs old. She had the option of going away to a “school for girls” or marrying the baby’s father – MANY years her senior. She chose marriage and had one more baby with him before (gasp!) divorce.
There were 5 more children (two afflicted with polio) that came with her second marriage; the youngest of which is my mother. Even though my Uncle Donnie had muscle atrophy on the entire left side of his body from the polio, he was treated like everyone else and expected to pull is own weight. As a result, he became very strong on his right side and very independent. He had the kindest heart ever. And MAN! he could tell a tall tale. He could have an entire room going for an hour, before finally giving up the joke (of course, on the flip side, he was also an incredible bullshitter. One of the best. I think that’s why I’m so good at spotting when someone is delivering up a bunch of B.S.).
My family, we are a hardy people. My grampa and Uncle Boone were buried alive in separate cave-ins while working in the copper mines (on more than one occasion!), which caused life-long back problems for them. Hardy people need hearty foods. Mom used to take us there and every time we went to gramma’s house she made venison steaks and lumberjack pancakes the size of our heads. I learned it was because back when the mines were open, my gramma ran the lumberjack camp back in the woods (she went on to cook in a lot of restaurants and even owned one herself at one time. #Female #Entrepreneur). She’d make hundreds of pancakes and eggs and venison for the miners and lumberjacks every morning. She grew up in a time when society considered it healthy to have a little meat on your bones.
As my gramma’s health deteriorated and she lost weight, she used to say, “Oh boy, I used to be good and fat, too, you know.” She would puff out her thin arms to show how healthy she used to be. Then she would tell you she came from a big family and her sister used to sit next to her at the dinner table and tell her, “Hurry up, Vernabelle, and take some food before it’s gone…”
Everyone was expected to pull their own weight in the family. That’s just how it was.
My mom recalls being nineteen-years-old, 115 pounds and hauling a chainsaw thru the Northwoods in the fall with my Uncle Boone (when the ground and trees are firm and dry they are easier to cut and the big machines don’t get stuck in the mud).
I remember back in college we handled chainsaws in one of my Forestry classes and I had to take the next day off because my entire body was so sore, just from cutting one measly PART of a tree trunk. I couldn’t imagine cutting trees for 12 hours a day in October in the U.P. Back then I was more interested in attention than I was about learning how to operate a chainsaw.
U.P., if you are wondering, is the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (It’s pronounced “Da U.P., eh?”) and I was born there. It’s where the forest covers 80% of the Northern State. We are the daughters of miners and loggers. Copper mining and trees used to be our specialty. I grew up kicking blocks and bits of copper around the house. The copper mine pumps were shut off so the mines have filled in with water from “da Gitch” and now there are only trees, although I hear in some places, even that’s debatable these days.
“Halfbreed is the term for an ore sample that contains the pure copper and pure silver in the same piece of rock; it is only found in the native copper deposits of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.” (Source: www.mindat.org/min-11390.html)
When I was a toddler my gramma helped raise me briefly. As I became an awkward pre-teen, she taught me how to make the best apple pie ever. I know what you’re thinking. “Shut up! Your gramma could never bake apple pie like mine could.” I know. I feel you. It was that good. My mother would joke that the baking gene skipped a generation. But my mom can make anything taste delicious (Ugh, those peas, though, ma!). Even when dinner was “Macaroni & Milk,” somehow no one got the butter and pepper ju-u-ust right like mom did. She taught me how to throw together something out of chaos, to achieve the best result possible with whatever resources available to me at the time (Thanks, Ma!).
I later realized the gifts my grandmother had given me when I was the only one of my friends who knew how to sew ($5 for hems and $10 for mending. I sewed myself a ticket out of town on more than one occasion.). Crocheting afghans in between boyfriend breakups was a therapy in and of itself. Saturday night munchies in college were met with the most luscious baked goods such as “Strawberry Cream Cakes” and “Monster Cookies” at 2 a.m.
There are 330 million people in America, 7 billion on Mother Earth, each with families who have histories, recipes and traditions they hand off to each generation. It’s that love and the life wrapped around it that makes my gramma’s apple pie the uncontested “best of all-time” while still allowing yours to be the best too.
So even though everyone thinks their gramma makes the best apple pie…and even though everyone likes to think that they are “Daddy’s Special Little Snowflake,” the reality is that you are even more exceptional than you realize. You are one in a gazillion; an immeasurably unique individual with the power to pull a chainsaw through a forest or use smaller tools to hem a pair of pants, to raise your hands to the heavens and let out a primal scream to remind the Universe of your place in it or to simply hold the hand of a little girl who, (like you) long ago, needs to be told and shown that she is awesome simply because she is here… just like the women in my family, year after year after year, snowflake after special snowflake.
And this is why I work so hard to support other female entrepreneurs, through mentorship, collaboration and partnership.
“When we collaborate and lift each other, we all grow together” Krista of Keepin’ Up with Krista (Source: www.keepinupwithkrista.com.)
The numbers tell the truth. For example, American Express OPEN tells us “that between 1997 and 2013, when the number of businesses in the United States increased by 41%, the number of women-owned firms increased by 59%—a rate 1½ times the national average” (Source: she-conomy.com/report/marketing-to-women-quick-facts).
I started thinking about the women who have supported me while I currently navigate this transitional time. I tear up with gratitude, just THINKING how lucky we are to have such incredible women in our presence, healing the world in their own tenacious, perseverant ways. No, this blog post is not about this chapter of my life ending. This is about a new chapter of my life beginning. This is about women who persevere. This is about a better quality of life for future generations. Forward, Positive, Creative. Empowering women is important to me and my family. If it’s important to yours, then I want you to know that I am traveling to Morocco to Raise Awareness for Women in Tech. Please donate to our cause.
To this day, I don’t eat apple pie. I’m sure yours is great but my gramma’s was the best.
Will you help me right now? We are halfway to my airfare/hotel goal. The deadline to donate is this Saturday, October 17th, 2015. Every bit helps us get that much closer to Morocco to Raise Awareness for Women in Tech. Please click here and donate to our campaign. gofundme.com/IAmAGoodMix
Meet Christina Aldan for the first time and you will feel as if you have known her all your life. she is proof that you can Create Your Luck with perseverance and a desire to learn.