Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Grandmother Kaleidoscope

Week One: Women and Their Relationship to the Church

"How It Feels to be Catholic Me" by Julie at The Corner with a View
"A Relation of Love" by Trista at Not a Minx, a Moron, or a Parasite
"Grandmother Kaleidoscope" by Elizabeth at Startling the Day 

This is the first post of a Lenten blog post series called "Bright Maidens." We three are from the oft-mentioned, widely-speculated upon demographic of young, twenty-something Catholic women. We're here to dispel the myths and misconceptions- please join us for the discussion!

Also, today is the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day! May we all rejoice in our feminine vocation, and properly appreciate the males in our life too.

This whole series was born of the idea that non-Catholics, and some Catholics, believe women in the Church are repressed or oppressed. People say women are under-represented or not represented at all.

These people are telling me I am a part of a faith that wants to tie an apron around my waist, prevent me from seeking independence from pregnancy, and stay put in the kitchen, silent and subservient.

A) If you try putting me in the kitchen, you're only punishing yourself.
B) No one is going to be able to silence me. I have no intention of becoming silent and
C) The Church's teachings do not "condemn" women to these seemingly inescapable futures. We're going to discuss it over the course of Lent (and beyond, I hope).

The strongest arguments I have to refute this stereotype are the examples of my grandmothers, two cradle Catholic ladies who never met.


My maternal grandmother was a cheerleader, a charmer, and a funny, independent woman who asked my grandfather one day, "Emil, don't you think it's about time we get married?"

I learned a lot about my strong maternal grandmother Thelma when my Emil Daddy joined my sisters and me for dinner one night, scrapbooks and anecdotes in tow. He spent hours relaying stories and opening up wider than he'd done our entire lives. It was obvious the 50 year old scar burned in him by her death was still tender and pink.

Thelma had ulcerative colitis, which confined her to bed when she wasn't in class in her teens. She was a cheerleader, against the will of her doctor, and she participated in other traditions ingrained in the small Catholic high school experience.

At this, my alma mater, my grandmother was a "sponsor" for my grandfather when he was a senior at the boys' Catholic military school school down the street. This "sponsorship" duty was very time-consuming for someone who was supposed to be in bed, but she was determined. As a sponsor, she served as the female presence for the company of young teenage boys that my grandfather led.

I have a yellowing newspaper clip from our local paper titled, "And a kiss too." The picture frame hugs two figures, my grandmother and my grandfather, as my grandmother broke military protocol and planted a kiss (with her foot popped) on my grandfather after he won a military drill competition.

To remain sane when her parents managed to keep her resting in bed, Thelma would make rosaries for people she loved. I have a little cardboard box filled with the silver wire, beads, and a few of her finished products. She created the delicate plastic rosaries I can hold in my hand today.

Her job as an X-ray technician gave her independence and she kept it after she married my grandfather. Her Mary Poppins spirit didn't fade. She pushed through a debilitating disease, charmed my engineering and very German grandfather into a love that survived the 50 years he lived without her, and lived her faith through her infectious personality.

Her choice to conceive children was ill-advised, according to her doctors. The strain would kill her, they said, after a lifetime of ulcerative colitis. I can imagine her eyes rolling and a flick of her hand as she said, "I'm having children, don't be silly."

She chose to raise her children in the Catholic faith. It was a decision she discussed with my grandfather when her children were toddlers before the last six-month journey to her eventually lost battle with colon cancer, at the age of 27.


There were more women than men at the foot of the Cross. Jesus revealed Himself to the woman at the well as the Messiah before He said it to others and Mary Magdalene was the first person to see and speak to our risen Lord on the third day, Easter Sunday (for more, see this article).

"Feminism" has nothing to do with it. Just like the apostles were ordinary men with great faith who spread and fostered an entire Church, these women were faithful and wholehearted followers of who they knew to be the Son of God.

My "Gramma," the strongest woman I've ever known, was not oppressed simply by being born a female.

My Gramma Tappie is my only grandmother I've met. My mom was a toddler when her mother died, so Gramma is also a mother to my mom. The old stereotype about evil mothers-in-law never made sense to me because the example I grew up watching was one of love, albeit a firecracker, spunky love.
I repeat: firecracker, spunky...

The one-liner queen of the East Coast, Tappie's wit flicks tension out of any room. I don't know where she found that wit because I hear her father was a troubled and abusive man and her mother remained faithful to him, even when his tempers got the better of him.

Tappie found and married my grandfather (the other grandparent I've never met) in her late twenties and began a life with many challenges. For years, Tappie had to make less than $8 last a week for her four person family.

At one point, Tappie had to step into the role as the protector in order to fulfill her motherly duty of keeping her children safe and well-loved when she packed up her two sons and their suitcases.

By the grace of God, that phase of their life did not last long and the two spouses united again. I'm convinced her strength in that moment, which could only be motivated by God due to the lack of support from friends and family, is what turned the situation around.

The importance of a Catholic education superseded Tappie's desire for comfort or little luxuries, so she saved every penny to pay the nuns running the grade school and high school (the same boys' Catholic military school down the street from my grandmother's, my mom's and my alma mater).

I've watched her sacrifice and do work for others my entire life. Now, when she cannot do much for herself and I can contrast her helplessness with her formerly active lifestyle, I see that she was even stronger than I thought.


Mothers would traditionally teach the kids... therefore popes had their starts under the tutelage of their mothers. Women are cornerstones in every single parish I've ever visited, teaching, organizing, and selflessly giving to maintain the breathing life of the parish. You're going to tell me women have no influence on the Church?

My grandmothers were abnormally vocal, stubborn, and decisive for their era. They alone debunk the submissive stereotype for Catholic women in their person. But their examples also raise the awareness for the vast impact women have on the Church.

They chose their role as mothers, though both actually had trouble with pregnancy because of medical reasons. They were determined to raise their children in the Catholic faith, even when trials in their path made the easier, secular option more appealing.

Their husbands were in awe of them. They were partners, but these women were the foundation for my parents' childhoods. They are the foundation for my adulthood.


Stacy Trasancos said...

A beautiful post that had me holding back tears and laughing at the same time. God bless you ladies for doing this.

Julie Robison said...

E, this is so, so great! Thank you for telling their stories! They make me happy, sad and oh so inspired.

not a minx, a moron, or a parasite said...

Your grandmothers! :D Love this beautiful, inspiring post.

Anonymous said...

It was a woman--my mother--who made me go to Catholic school, to Confirmation class, to Mass every Sunday. Now she's kicking herself in the ass for doing TOO good a job, she's not getting any grandkids from me!

Jackie said...

Your grandmothers remind me of mine!

I think that the Church itself does teach equality between the sexes, but unfortunately that is not always carried out. Did you know the diocese of Omaha, Nebraska doesn't allow women on the altar, still? Not as readers or as altar servers.

I think as a culture we still have a lot of figuring out to do. Our religion doesn't mandate that we stay at home, so we can't judge women who stay at home as being anti-feminist, or those that work as being anti-family. Unfortunately we se a lot of judging going both ways in the Church. I hope it is something that changes soon!

Liesl said...

Women are amazing. Great post :) Looking forward to the rest!

lauramiller said...

Elizabeth, a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing.

Elizabeth said...

@Stacy- Thank you so much!

@Julie and Trista- :D Way to go, ladies!

@Homeboy- Exactly! Well... sorry about that Mrs. Homeboy, but... good job?

@Jackie- Excellent point. Human error paves the way for a lot of judgment and poor decisions. I think we can hope that, in practice, we're moving in the right direction toward Jesus' Bride.

@Liesl- Women are amazing!

@Laura- Thanks, Laura!!

Anonymous said...

Oh how I long to say that my grandmother is exactly like this! My grandmother is stern, strict, authoritative and a big "if you can do it, I can do it better". She is the only grandmother I have and have ever known.
My grandfather on the other hand, her husband (kinda...I mean they were married, but then got divorced, and then lived together for 20 years after not remarrying one another. haha. yeah...confusing), is the one who was the backbone of my faith. I'm sure he's up in heaven now so proud of where I'm heading!

Anthony S. Layne said...

Great post, Elizabeth!

Spence Ohana said...

Awesome post! Loved reading about your grandmothers.

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