The women in my family lived in row houses, each adjacent to the next. They wanted to talk to one another throughout the day. When my great grandmother, Irene, was born, the houses celebrated together. She was the first person in her family to drive a car. But Irene was a female.
So her younger brother went to college and she watched as she talked to the women in the houses. Her brother would need to provide for a family, they told her. She would need to marry into her own. Irene was beautiful as all young women are, and she was rich in the pocket of her husband. Irene had done her job well. Her brother graduated college with low grades and did his job not quite as well. These women died in those houses. I don’t know who talks there now.
One of Irene’s three daughters was my grandmother, Ann. Ann was the youngest. She looked up to her brother who was mean to her. Ann gave her lunch sandwiches to a boy at school, but he always wanted more than half. Irene let Ann go to college because the things taken from ourselves we give to our children. My grandmother had three daughters. The oldest was my mother, Gwynne.
My mother and her sisters grew up without a father. My mother was put in charge. She was 12. Gwynne wrote her own poems in calligraphy ink. She was sad, but she was smart. The women in that house were poor and Gwynne grew up scared. Her mother would hit her with the thistle sides of hairbrushes and drink coffee in the kitchen all night. Her mother would chase her from the house for reading. Ann was scared, too. Ann was not expecting this life.
Gwynne went to college. She went to college again to become a lawyer. She wanted a job where people were always hired. She paid her way both times. Gwynne was hungry-poor then. Gwynne had two children, my brother and me. She stayed at work. She kept her hair short and wore pants so no one could tell she was a woman. Gwynne practiced not crying. She’s very good at it. She told me, “you always need to save something for yourself.”
I grew up well. I read and my mother let me because the things taken from ourselves we give to our children. I was never scared. My mother taught me to learn and think. I was anxious, and my mother was still sad. I’d let her sleep in my room and she’d teach me how to breathe when I had forgotten. Gwynne would build big fires under a hill in our yard. There was a swing that went over the hill, and during the fire, I felt like Joan of Arc. I went to college two years after my brother, and my parents paid for both of us. My mother taught me to become who I am, and a job will follow.
I voted for Hillary Clinton to become the president of these United States. I thought of my mother, and my mother’s mother, and my mother’s mother’s mother. The brief history of our lives goes on like the rows of houses my great-grandmother was born between. For Irene who drove, and Ann who learned, and Gwynne who worked, I voted. And though Hillary Clinton did not win, I refuse to end the history of women in my family.