Eating Matters is our focus in June and we're asking: Cooking aversion? Hospitality? Diet woes? What's your food story? Tell us about it. Send a paragraph or two (up to 150 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org Deadline: May 10, 2013
Women on the Go is July's focus and we're asking: Where would you go if you had no fear? Tell us about it. Send a paragraph or two to email@example.com Deadline: June 10, 2013
Each month we ask our readers to respond to a question. For May we asked: What have you learned from another generation of women?
Four generations of Finnish Sisu: no whining Although my maternal grandmother died 30 years before I was born, I learned sisu from her vicariously through my mother and my aunt, who practiced her example of courage, fortitude, and determination. She had taught them through example by traveling by ship from Finland to New York, then finding her way to Hibbing, Minn., with my 2-year-old aunt in tow. It was the early 1900s and she spoke no English.
I learned sisu-doing what we have to do without whining-from my mother, who raised me single-handedly after suffering terribly at the hands of my violent, drunken father, who had beaten the joy of life out of her. She never attended college, and she worked minimum-wage jobs as a housekeeper in various motels and then in our county hospital. She taught me love, loyalty and compassion, especially to children. She was older, tired, and bitter, but did all she could for me.
My aunt simply did what she wanted: competed with guys and became the second female pathologist in America.
I survived the violent, alcoholic father, and fought the school system that tried to label me special education material and would have allowed me to fall through the cracks. I graduated from an Ivy League college. However, I am far prouder of having stood by our severely brain-damaged son and not giving up the battle of him getting better until he died. I am most pleased that my children know I love them more than life itself.
Unlike my mother, I ensured my independence. I warned my fiancé that I was completely intolerant of verbal or physical violence. I had figured out that I was whole in myself, like my aunt, and needed no one to complete me.
My family taught me well, and I know who I am.
My priority in parenting has been to teach our daughter, now 19, that she is loved, who she is, and no matter what others tell her about who she is or what she is capable of doing, she knows exactly who she is.
Toianna Wika, St. Paul
Ironing instructions I'm ironing for the first time in decades. My inner twenty-something scoffs at me, as she might have at my mother 40-some years ago: "It's so superficial. All about appearances."
Mom was teaching me to iron my father's white shirts, ironing board set up in front of the gas stove in the big sunny kitchen. "Start at the bottom," Mom instructed. "Then if the iron isn't right, you can adjust it before you get to the part that will show." Once I'd tuned up the iron, she handed me the glass pop bottle now filled with water and sporting a cork top with an aluminum sprinkler insert-kind of a mini watering can just for ironing.
Soon I was sprinkling and pressing like a pro. We called it pressing back then because you really did have to press to get the wrinkles out. I was proud of my ability to do this womanly act. Mom was relieved to share the burden.
Even though the last time I used an iron was to spread wax on my cross-country skis, I still remember how to do shirts. I set up the ironing board and, suddenly, with a whiff of hot iron and steam, I'm waltzing barefoot out to the back-yard clothesline of my youth and plucking a shirt from the line-all full of fresh air smell. Back to the kitchen where I learned to freeze green beans, make cut-out cookies and bite my tongue. Where Mom's utter orderliness gave way to mixed up drawers of dementia-ridden confusion. I'm ironing again. After all these years, it is somehow satisfying.
(Ms.) Johnnie Hyde, Ely, Minn.
Little acts of love I have learned the importance of service to others by countless little acts of love. My mother's acts of love were tireless in spite of the fact that she did not come from a privileged background; she did not have the advantage of a higher education, wealth or recognition for a job outside our family home. She never received an award or a promotion, earned titles behind her name or had a driver's license. What she did have was the love and respect of those who knew her.
As a young girl, I watched my mother bake pies, cookies, bars or loaves of bread for neighbors or relatives who needed to know someone was thinking of them. I often heard my mother on the phone, calling to ask someone how they were doing or offering to drop off a dinner for them. She would often say, "The best thing I can do for them today is pray."
If there was a funeral, she tirelessly made phone calls to assure that there would be enough hot dishes, salads, cakes and bars. These funeral luncheons were often for people she had never met.
My mother died on March 28, 2009, at the age of 92. I can still hear her voice saying, "Well, just do something for someone else and you won't have time to worry." This little act of love may be a smile to someone I pass during the day, holding the door for the person behind me, saying thank you to everyone who provides service to me during the day, sending a thank-you card or calling a friend who I know is hurting. I believe that if every day we each did one act of love, we could change the world.
Marjorie Rapp, Richfield
Be true to yourself My fathers' mother, my grandmother, was a woman ahead of her time. Born in 1901, she became one of the few women college graduates of her era. In those days the only degree choices available for women were teaching home economics or nursing. She chose home economics teaching, although she had no interest in cooking or homemaking skills.
She became a bookkeeper in her husband's and then my father's lumber business. In both working for her husband and for her son, it could be said that my grandmother was the one who actually was running the show. It was she who drew my father's attention to the books that suddenly weren't balancing, eventually uncovering embezzlement by an employee. It was she who would say "It's only worth what someone's willing to pay" when the men were considering investing in yet another piece of land.
If given the opportunity, I think she would have become an accountant. Even her leisure activity involved math; she was a fierce bridge player who allowed nothing to get between her and the weekly game.
She was strongly opinionated, and while she voiced those opinions freely, she also loved to hear what we were thinking about the topics of the day, especially if it challenged her views-but we needed to defend our side of the issues.
I think the message of her life was to be true to herself even though it went against the social norms of the times. She also got support from her husband and son to find a way to let her abilities shine. She was smart and she let it show.
Tammy Benke, Inver Grove Heights
Where the power lies My mother-in-law was born in 1930 and was a very tiny Chinese woman who was extremely unassuming, modest, discreet and self-effacing, while remaining self-assured and self-reliant. She taught me about the kind of power women have and where it lies. Behind her silence and her quiet presence was a gentle and intelligent woman with clear priorities and a clear agenda.
Her power came from the clarity of and dedication to her purpose: her family. From her happy service to the family and from her chosen self-sacrifice, she masterminded the family with a specific goal of survival and well-being. This was implemented through a commitment to the children's education, to proper nutrition and to the family's financial solvency.
In 1988, Carolyn Heilbrun wrote "Writing a Woman's Life." Today we no longer need to write about women; we can actively define ourselves, and my mother-in-law taught me how she did that in spite of obstacles and barriers present in a chauvinist society. The lesson I learned is not that we should all be wives and mothers, but that power lies in a woman's designing a clear purpose and making a commitment to it for the long haul.
Mary C. Voight, St. Paul
Be eternally curious Years ago when I was going through a divorce, across the creek from my house there lived an elderly woman named Ruth. She collected an interesting assortment of people from priests and theologians to shop owners and nurses to chefs and radio personalities at her cottage for dinners and conversation. The little cottage on the creek had rooms lined with bookshelves, classical music, a roaring stone fireplace and a bucket to churn homemade ice cream. What an inspiration she was to me ... and she continues that role even now. She said, "I'll never grow old because I'm eternally curious." Ruth's interest in new, out-of-the-mainstream ideas, books, a lace collection, gardening, travel, cooking, people and ideas continues to guide my life today, 30 years later.
Pat Spilseth, Wayzata
Stickiness be gone When I was 8, I took the train to Milwaukee to spend spring break with Grandma. One of the many things we did that week was bake bread. She showed me how to knead: push, turn, push, turn-"Keep working until the stickiness is gone, Annie," she told me.
Now, my life is a vat of bread dough I'm trying to knead-to keep working it out until the stickiness is gone. And whenever I smell the aroma of breaking bread, I smile, "knowing" it's coming all the way from Milwaukee.
Anne Curtin, Minneapolis
Our hidden legacies My mom was a wonderful woman who got a bit misguided in life. I suspect she suffered from depression and chose to medicate with alcohol, which didn't work out so well. She vanished from my life for 18 years.
I don't remember her in a negative way. I choose to remember all of the good memories and things she taught me and the times when she was doing well and happy.
She was a wonderful cook. I remember making monkey bread with her [and] she made fantastic chicken croquettes and the best sunny-side-up eggs ever. She loved animals. She had a very soft and loving heart.
My father's mother, my grandma, was a woman who took life by the horns and truly lived. She had a gift of making everyone feel special. She told you exactly how she saw things, never sugar-coated anything; she was just straight-to-the-bone honest, kind and loving.
Her life was adventurous: she enjoyed hunting and fishing. We fished, hiked, worked in the garden, and picked wild raspberries, asparagus and mushrooms. She was so tough, sturdy, strong and brave, but she had this amazing, gentle, loving side. People tell me I look and sound like her-the most wonderful compliment.
Both of these women have passed away and I miss them. I was able to have some closure at my mother's funeral. I was glad to have the chance to say "goodbye" and learn that she had missed me and loved me very much.
My grandma lives on in me and in the memories I have and in the things I love to do. I get to pass all of that onto my children, and that is a wonderful gift.
The choices a person makes every day, the path they choose to ride down, are those that affect your life tomorrow. Yet another thing I learned from these two women, without even realizing it.
Amy Dybsetter, South St. Paul
Dresses Everywhere The presents for my baby daughter arrive
in the mail for her spring birthday,
dresses with buttons and bows, flowers
and lace, some with matching panties.
In her wide-stanced wobble,
she navigates the rooms, walking then falling,
getting caught in the hems
as she crawls forward, tries to stand again,
her pudgy white legs so vulnerable,
her diapered bottom exposed.
My mother couldn't be seen in pants.
If a farmer drove down the road,
dust plume and puttering pick up
announcing his arrival,
she'd run to the barn and hide
or pull a dress fresh from laundering
off the line as she hurried to the outhouse
to change, to not be seen in pants,
my grandmother's rules about legs,
thank you notes, and hemlines
holding her tightly in her place.
My elementary school
had a rule that all girls must wear dresses.
I wore thick green corduroy pants
to school to warm my legs
as I waited in line with the safety patrols,
removing them in the damp smelling
wood-paneled cloakroom, hanging them
on a blackened hook greased by the hands
of a century of children before me,
my bruised and skinny legs sticking out
of the short dress, two cold white sticks in winter.
Now four, my daughter's favorite made up song
is Dresses Everywhere. She sings in a tuneless
voice, the lyrics changing each time.
Her dresses must be pink or purple
with bows and lace, frills, or big white collars.
At school, she rolls in grass,
makes mud cakes decorated with elm seeds,
digs deep holes in the sand
because the dirt is so cuddly, Mommy.
I long for the day she will prefer pants,
cover her silky long legs with dense blue fabric,
to keep her safe, protected, clean, unharmed.
Kathryn Kysar, St. Paul