Tag Archives: women

Stuffed Peppers: A $2 Meal

I’m a supporter of a dedicated non-profit organization called Women Thrive Worldwide that advocates for women’s economic opportunities and rights internationally. I met WTW’s founder, Ritu Sharmu, years ago in Denver at a global women’s rights conference and was impressed by her commitment to increasing our government’s support for policies and budget priorities that help women around the world lift themselves out of poverty. In 2008, 2009, and 2010, Ritu lived on $1 a day in Burkina Faso, Guatemala, and Nicaragua to better understand the way many people in the world survive today. WTW also raises awareness of how global crises like famine, war, recession, and natural disasters place a disproportionate burden on women through sexual violence, food insecurity, increased family responsibilities, and social barriers.

Right now, Women Thrive Worldwide is asking for meal ideas, stories, and recipes as part of their Help Women Feed the World campaign. To recognize the fact that 2.5 billion people in the world live on less than $2 a day, WTW is asking people to cook just one meal for that amount. By growing our own food at Stonebridge, we eat pretty economically, but $2 a meal is still a challenge. Tonight I’ve made stuffed peppers for two people that, I hope, would not cost more than $2 if you either grew the peppers yourself or got them at a farmer’s market or grocery store. I submitted our stuffed pepper recipe and was selected for the Women Feed the World Campaign. Click here to see my recipe and learn more about this fabulous campaign, including $2/meal recipes from around the world.

Here are more pictures and the story I wrote for Women Thrive Worldwide: 

My partner and I have an organic community-supported agricultural farm (CSA) in Colorado. From August through October, we harvest lots of different kinds of peppers and love to make stuffed peppers in a variety of ways. Before the first hard frost comes to the garden, we pick all the peppers and share them with our members. If you don’t grow your own or are a member of a CSA, peppers are also an economical choice at farmer’s markets or grocery stores.

The great gift of peppers is that they’re so easy to freeze: you don’t have to do anything but core out the stem and seed pod, chop or slice them, or leave them whole to freeze for stuffing later. When you’re ready to make stuffed peppers, pull them out of the freezer, stuff, and bake—no need to thaw first.

Our stuffings always include a mixture of grain (bulgar, quinoa, rice), nuts or seeds (walnuts, sunflower, sesame), grated or finely diced veggies (carrot, more peppers, broccoli, kale, spinach, summer squash), and some grated or crumbled cheese (feta, Monterey jack, or parmesan), although cheese is optional if it’s over your $2 budget or for a vegan diet. For extra protein, add cooked lentils or small beans. Buying grains and legumes in bulk saves money; I always make a double batch so I have enough for a couple of meals.

Mix the ingredients in about equal amounts, season the mixture with fresh or dried herbs like parsley, basil, or oregano and a little salt and pepper, and stuff into a cored and seeded pepper like a green or colored bell, poblano, anaheim, or even skinny Jimmy Nardello sweet red peppers. Stuff firmly but don’t pack too hard so that the stuffing can bake inside the pepper. You can top each pepper with a dollop of marinara or enchilada sauce if it’s in your budget but they’re still delicious with no sauce at all. (If the skin gets a little scorched, you can peel it off.)

Bake in a low-sided, oiled roasting or cake pan at 395 for 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the thickness of the pepper. Once the pepper’s soft and a little wrinkled, it’s ready to eat.

Tonight I stuffed poblano peppers with a mixture of cooked bulgar, grated carrot, chopped fresh flat parsley, sesame seeds, red lentils, and grated Romano cheese. (To cook bulgar, add 1 cup grain to 2 ½ cup boiling water, reduce the heat, cover the pot, and simmer for 25-30 minutes. For red lentils, bring 2 cups water to a boil, add 1 cup rinsed lentils, cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes. You should have enough of both ingredients to stuff 8 good-sized bell peppers.)

In the US, our cuisine is often based on separate protein, grains, and vegetables on a plate and we think it’s bare if it’s not “filled out” this way, but in much of the world, these components are mixed together to form a single main dish. Stuffed peppers is exactly that—a bundle of wholesome ingredients that together create something greater than the parts!

To help Women Thrive Worldwide in their work for global women’s empowerment, join their Dollar a Day Circle

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Sepia Prairie

When I was in high school, I found an old sepia postcard in my grandfather’s envelope of special photographs that he kept separate from family albums and treasured for his own reasons. In this photograph from the 1910s, his older sisters Myrah and Lerah pose with a woman identified only as “the friend from town” whom my grandfather believed worked at a North Dakota telephone company. The three young women are wading near the grassy bank in the wide creek, which is pronounced “crick” in that part of the country.

Myrah and Lerah, farm girls who probably didn’t have many afternoons free to go wading, look a little surprised to find themselves standing barefoot next to each other in the water, holding up the skirts of their long dresses with both hands and giggling for the camera. Lerah, the youngest, beams playfully in her pretty white dress and hair bow, while Myrah, the older sister who already worked hard on the farm, grins sheepishly in her wide-collared calico dress.

But turning away from the sisters, the young woman from town is splashing through the water in a fancy white blouse, sleeves rolled to mid-arm, her long, full skirt held above the water. Her eyes are closed, her smile wide, and her head thrown back in laughter. She was a town girl who probably didn’t spend many days wading in a cool summer creek. Town girls’ lives were undoubtedly easier than those of farm girls but a chance for an afternoon outdoors with friends was probably a treat all the same.

I was so taken with this photograph as a teenager that I made my grandmother write “Give this to Kayann Short” on the back. After my grandparents’ deaths, my mother brought it back from North Dakota for me and it’s been an iconic image for me all these years.

In this photograph, women’s friendships form the meeting place of country and city. Against the backdrop of sky, creek, and prairie, the young women delight in each other’s company and in the chance to move without restriction, breathe fresh air, touch the earth with bare feet, and be surrounded by the vast prairie stretching beyond them. The photograph even captures the fine detail of long grass as it bends in the breeze, a sepia whisper behind the women’s laughter.

I yearned for this place myself growing up, yet with which of the women I felt a kinship was unclear, despite my bloodlines. I was the town girl delighting in the country, her fancy clothes no longer a hindrance as she wades in the creek but an embellishment to the prairie behind her. She had come from the city to visit my great-aunts on their farm outside of town and found herself on the edge of cultivated space. When she returned to sidewalks and streets, she would remember the coolness of the creek bottom. There’s just more outside to life on a farm than “in town,” as my grandparents would say. But looking at that picture, I always hoped my life could include both.

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Note to Self: This Is What Beautiful Looks Like

I’ve been busy the last few weeks working with students in the women’s wellness service learning practicum of my women’s literature course on a digital story that challenges the degrading and even dangerous images of beauty found every day in the media. As young women coming of age in a world where competing ideas and values are difficult to evaluate, my students are particularly sensitive to consumerist messages that tell them they’re not good enough. While the students know what beauty really looks like, they have to work hard to shut out constant feelings of not measuring up to superficial portrayals of women.

In response to these negative messages, we decided to use media techniques and communication channels for our own purposes: to create and share a digital story that promotes feeling good about who we are as women for our accomplishments, goals, and relationships rather than just for our physical appearance. We answered the question “How can I feel good about myself when everyone else tells me to feel bad?” by describing experiences that challenge the “you’re not good enough” message with self-affirmations and peer and family support.

For each scene, the students created a “note to self” that illustrated their own positive messages. I then compiled images of these “notes” with personal photos from the students’ lives, joined by thematic photos shot at Rock Your Body Day, a fabulous event organized by our campus’s Community Health that celebrates real bodies accomplishing real goals. As part of RYBD, the students were photographed holding signs stating what they love about their bodies and these black and white images appear in the final sequence of our piece.

I loved working with my students on this project and I applaud the honesty with which they shared their stories. While the students still recognize fashion and body image as part of their young lives, they offer strategies for re-defining beauty on their own more constructive terms. We hope that Note to Self: This Is What Beautiful Looks Like will inspire all of us to create messages reminding each other that beauty is not what we don’t have, but rather what already exists in our own hearts and minds.

I invite my readers to share this video with women of all ages, but especially with younger women who feel their lives are reduced to the way they look, the products they buy, and the labels of the clothes they wear. I hope they’re inspired by my students to create new images and ideas of beauty and “put it out there for the world to see!”

And if you have any ideas for ways to share our story, please let me know! It’s also available at vimeo.com/kayannshort/notetoself



 

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A Reminder of Our Rights

As we approached the rally at the capital in Denver last Saturday, the first activist we saw was a young woman standing along Colfax with the sign “My Body, My Choice.” I couldn’t take her picture with all the traffic passing, so I hoped I’d find her later as we crossed the street to the steps of the capital where the rally had just begun.

This rally was partly in support of the Wisconsin protests against their governor’s attempts to eradicate the collective bargaining rights of state workers, but it was also in support of state workers here, especially teachers, who suddenly find themselves vilified as making too much money for too little work. Anyone with children in the public school system knows how ridiculous that claim is, but in this polarized political climate, ridiculous claims are floated everyday as justification for the erosion of the middle class and the removal of a safety net for the poor, all to the benefit of corporations and moneyed interests.

Although some of the organizers were in their 20s, most of the people at the rally were middle-aged or older, people who have been fighting these same battles since the Reagan administration and before that, the Vietnam war. We’ve chanted “Whose Rights? Our Rights?” and “Ain’t No Power like the Power of the People” a thousand times but still the struggle over social justice continues. Now the right wing is using the economic crisis—brought on, as one poster reminded us, by the financial sector, not by teachers—as an excuse for the kind of social and economic engineering they’ve wanted all along. It’s easier to take away worker’s rights when jobs and money are scarce.

Organized just three days before, the rally was mellow, with most of the 3000 of us realizing that more rallies are undoubtedly to come. One Tea Party-type tried to argue the benefits of union-busting from the capital steps and was escorted to the sidewalk below by the police. It didn’t stop his tirade, though, as others gathered around, more for amusement than for conflict. The police hovered nearby but nothing got out of control and soon folks tired of the guy’s rant and wandered away in the sunshine.

Another rally and march were starting just after the one for workers’ rights, this time for women’s reproductive rights. As one speaker explained, the same people who want to curtail our rights to collective bargaining also want to curtail women’s rights over our own bodies. The assault on Planned Parenthood funding already shows that not only the right to choose a legal abortion but a women’s access to family planning, birth control, and reproductive healthcare are threatened as well. This rally featured a younger crowd and I was glad to see young women speaking out for their rights.

After running into old friends and wondering how much it would take to stop this class war on the poor and middle-class, we went to the used bookstore near the capital, as we generally do when we’re in that neighborhood. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular but let myself, as I often do, come upon a book serendipitously. That day I found The Birth House by Ami McKay and started reading it on the bus ride home. Unlike a lot of fiction that I run across, I didn’t get bored in the middle and skip to the end but read it straight through because its story spoke not only to the importance of the rally for reproductive rights but to all collective struggles against domination and injustice.

McKay is a US writer living in Nova Scotia who discovered that the house she had rented had at one time been a birth house, or maternity home, for pregnant women to have their babies safely delivered by a midwife. McKay made a documentary about the midwife and the birth house but then wanted to fill in the blanks that history had left ajar.

I’m always interested in stories about midwives, birthing, and women’s health communities so I was drawn to this story for its historical as well as fictional aspects. My grandmother’s cousin Daisy was a midwife who ran a maternity hospital in northwestern North Dakota where both my mother and her oldest sister were born. (Their middle sister was born at home during a blizzard when getting to town was impossible.) My own daughter’s birth was supposed to be a homebirth, but given her month-late arrival, the midwives accompanied me to the hospital instead.

The Birth House is set at the beginning of the 1900s in a small coastal town where the joint efforts of the insurance and medical industries are attempting to convince women that midwifery is backwards and dangerous. The main character, Dora Rare, is a seventeen-year-old girl who is apprenticing with the elderly midwife who delivered her and serves as the primary healer in the community, never charging for her assistance but living on the gifts of food, wood, and help offered in appreciation for her skills and care.

Miss B’s training helps Dora understand that women must listen to their own hearts: “Woman’s got every right to look after herself. . . . Only the woman knows if she’s got enough love to make a life.” When the new male doctor in town tries to turn women against the midwife to the detriment of their health and their children, young Dora must make choices about her own future.

Other conflicts arise with family and the law, taking Dora to Halifax and Boston where she learns about the struggles of women to vote and to control their own lives. Home again, she draws together the community’s women to protect their rights to natural birth through valuing women’s knowledge and friendships.

The Birth House is a beautiful rendering of women’s commitments to each other in the service of caring for their families while knitting together the larger community. But it’s also an important reminder of what life could be like without control over our own bodies. In the novel, the women draw wisdom from the past to create the future they want for themselves. In today’s struggle over reproductive rights, I hope that women my age will help young women like those at last Saturday’s rally do the same.

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Girls Wear Pants

“Stingray! Stingray!” the girls screamed as sand and gravel pricked across our bare legs in the wind. The playground of our new school had not been planted yet with grass (nor would it ever fully be), so every windy day brought recess misery. We’d huddle together, legs pulled under cotton dresses, until the gusts died down and we could return to our play. We were girls, after all, so we couldn’t wear pants to school.

Gathering itself across the Colorado prairie, the unrelenting wind blew gravel off the playground and straight into our PE area, an asphalt dome circled by fiberglass curtains that were usually left open. Years later the asphalt was covered with fake grass, but until then, running and jumping on blacktop was treacherous. I still have a small, round scar just under my right knee from a large pea of gravel that embedded itself when I fell, bare-legged, one day. My mother had to remove it with tweezers, exposing the white fatty tissue under my rough skin in a perfect little hole.

An earthen schoolyard did offer a couple attractions. Leave it to children to make the best of what they have. We girls spent hours drawing lines in the sand to mark the borders of imaginary houses, then brushing away a palm’s width for a wall, leaving unswept openings for doors.  These dream houses would be blown away before the next recess, or, at best, left in faint sweepings we could excavate the next day. Busy little homemakers, we would start again, enlarging the living room or adding an extra bedroom for guests.

We could play hopscotch too, drawing boxes with our fingers right on the sandy ground. We’d hop on one foot to the box with our stone, making sure we held our skirts down as we bent to retrieve it. Even on the playground, we had to be ladies.

My first day of kindergarten, properly attired

When the weather turned cold, we were allowed to wear pants or snowpants over our knitted tights on our way to school, but we had to take them off in the coatroom. Even there, modesty reigned: we couldn’t bend over too far or we would show too much, so we quickly shuffled out of our pants and stuffed them in our cubbies for the day.

Constant vigilance was essential to our female integrity. Hard to imagine today, when undergarments are meant to be seen, but back then, all underwear was supposed to be hidden. Bra straps were especially policed since they implied puberty, and hence, sex. Should the boys catch a glimpse of some unsuspecting girl’s panties (even the word was illicit), they’d break into the familiar taunt: “I see London, I see France, I see someone’s underpants!” Then the embarrassed girl would cry, while the other girls huddled around to comfort her, yelling “Shut up” across the schoolyard at the teasing boys.

Maybe parents complained, because the school eventually allowed us to wear shorts under our dresses. This made swinging on the monkey bars much easier because we didn’t have to worry about a nearby boy’s straying eyes or somehow hold onto our skirts as we somersaulted around the high bar. We had special shorts for under our dresses, very short and stretchy in those early polyester days. Still, shorts weren’t pants.

 

The fall of 1970, we sixth-graders were bussed to a larger elementary for our last year before junior high because our own school, built less than ten years earlier, was now too small for six grades. The new school too had a no-pants-for-girls policy, but it also had school spirit and pep rally days where students could wear their Mustang mascot sweatshirts. But who wanted to wear them with a skirt? Not to mention we were tired of cold legs while waiting for the bus. The showdown began.

By 1970, women’s liberation had begun to infiltrate even our little western town. Lots of female “firsts” had occurred by then, and the local newspaper was required to integrate job ads—no more “jobs for women” and (higher paid) “jobs for men.” Although I don’t remember watching the news reports, the 1968 protest of the Miss America pageant in which a live sheep was crowned Miss America and bras were reputedly burned in a trashcan would have made a splash, even where I was growing up.

Somehow these “women’s lib” ideas filtered down to our sixth grade class and inflamed our sense of youthful righteousness at the bare-kneed indignity we’d been suffering all these years. I wouldn’t call it full-fledged feminism—that wouldn’t come for me until 1973 when Bobbie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in three straight sets—but at least we recognized that our second-class sartorial status was based on our femalehood. Even though the words “feminism” and “gender discrimination” wouldn’t become part of our vocabularies until junior high, high school, or even college, we knew the words “no fair,” and that became our rallying cry as we demanded pants at school for girls.

The administration, however, refused to change the policy until they’d used it as an example of civic engagement. They would reconsider the no-pants rule only if it could be put to a non-binding vote at a school assembly. The principal would run the show and students could testify by raising their hands, standing up, and offering reasons to revise the policy. The assembly would be orderly, they implied, not like those women’s libbers who demanded change in unladylike ways.

The girls thought this whole charade was another discriminatory tactic. Had we voted on boys wearing pants? We also had years of gender conditioning to overcome. We girls weren’t used to speaking up for ourselves. It was kind of embarrassing, really, to have to talk about the whole situation. What could we say? Our legs are cold? We don’t want boys looking up our dresses anymore?  We think pants are cute? Nor did we have much of a feminist analysis to make our case. Calling down the patriarchy just wasn’t in our consciousness then. Still, we knew this was our chance; we had to do the best we could.

The day of the assembly, we poured into the gym in neat lines and sat in the folding chairs laid out in precise rows. Only the upper grades would participate, perhaps because the administration feared we’d taint the lower grades with our radical demands. The principal stood at the monitor, waiting for us to take our seats quietly so the debate could begin.

“We’re here to discuss changing a school policy that may no longer reflect the fashions and activities of our times.” No feminist analysis here: he didn’t mention that the rule discriminated against women’s rights, that it had been created out of sexist ideas regarding female decorum, or that the administration itself should have changed it years ago. Looking back, I hope the school regrets not taking more of a stand for girls’ freedom and independence or realized that it had failed to send a message to young people about equality. Mirroring much of national sentiment, maybe they hoped that we’d fail to offer any effective reasons, that the vote would go against us, or that we’d just forget about the whole thing.

When the principal called for testimony, the boys’ hands predictably went up first. Boy after boy stood up to testify to the power of pants—pants were cool, they argued. With pants, you could run fast and jump high. Pants let you move around. They gave you the freedom to be all that you could be. Without pants, you’d be—well, you’d be a girl. In other words, they felt sorry for girls because girls couldn’t be boys.

This was hardly the line of reasoning for which the girls had hoped. I rolled my eyes at these arguments, but since I was in my “I’m not going to dignify this with a response” phase, I didn’t say anything. Instead, I sat with my arms crossed, waiting to see what the administrators would do next. But I should have stood up and said something. I was learning my first feminist lesson: “That’s stupid” can start all kinds of challenges to the status quo.

Finally, a tall, pale girl with nearly white hair who would later become a lawyer stood up and reasoned, “Girls should get to wear pants because it’s not fair to let boys wear them and not let girls if they want to.” Bingo! Exactly! The double standard denied us our civil liberties. All the girls cheered! We didn’t want to be boys, but neither did we want to be second-class citizens.

On a show of hands, the vote passed overwhelmingly and the administration relented, at least in part: girls could wear pants, but not jeans. By next year in junior high, that question would be moot anyway, so we celebrated our first feminist victory with pants of all colors.

Two years later, my eighth grade social studies teacher wore a T-shirt that proclaimed, “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” I wanted one of those shirts. The obnoxious boy who sat behind me in class bet me that Bobby Riggs would beat Billie Jean King. I wouldn’t bet him because my parents didn’t allow betting, but I was also still a little hesitant about the possibility of King winning. I didn’t follow tennis or I would have realized her certain victory, but I wanted her to win more than anything. She did win and I should have bet that boy. That was my second feminist lesson: stand up for what you believe in.

While older women were fighting for women’s rights on the streets and in the courts to win public sentiment and shape public policy, my first battles were fought on the playground and in the classroom. Today, my students, like me at the time, think those no-pants-for-girls rules were stupid, and they find those struggles quaint. When I tell them I’m an ancient authority on second-wave feminism, they laugh. But I’m glad they can take wearing pants for granted. Such a small victory, but one that opened worlds.

Young Feminists Celebrate their Pants-For-Girls Victory

To my readers: I’d love for you to share this posting with younger people especially so they can see that small struggles add up to large changes! Thanks!

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June

Today is the 28th anniversary of my friend June’s death. June was murdered in her home on June 11, 1982, just a year after we graduated from college. Three years ago, I decided to make a digital story about June, not only to mark the 25 years since I lost her, but to celebrate our friendship and the 1970s feminism that brought us together.

I can’t remember those days without imagining June.

You can see the digital story here:

June from Kayann Short on Vimeo.

Since the making of this story, June’s case has received new attention and is being reinvestigated by an official cold case unit and a wonderful detective who is determined to see June’s killing solved. The murderer knows that he is again under investigation; he may be laughing now but his time will come. I believe that someone or some evidence will come forward some day to lay this crime to rest.

Making June’s story was painful but necessary because I don’t want to forget her and the movement that shaped our friendship. I loved my life then. I could hardly wait each day to meet my friends at our student group’s office. We argued and laughed and sometimes published our ideas.  We organized and marched and wrote letters and showed up when needed to voice our demands. We held garage sales and feminist film festivals to raise money for our efforts. We simultaneously cared so much and so little because our irreverence for the systems of power just pushed us harder to insist on change.

We didn’t yet know how much could be lost.

But at June’s death, we came face to face with the very thing we most wanted to change—the violence in our everyday women’s lives. And 28 years later, I’m still engulfed with rage and pain and sorrow that none of us could save her.

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Our Great-Grandmothers’ Gardens

On Thursday mornings at Stonebridge we work with a small crew of bartering members in the gardens, doing the tasks for which “many hands make light work.” With the cool weather and wet soil, I hadn’t yet planted gladiolas, but yesterday with the help of two other women—one my age, one twenty years younger—we got them in the ground. Thursdays’ biggest pleasure is the wide-ranging conversation in the field, and yesterday was no exception. As we laughed about the inconsistencies of patriarchal religions that undoubtedly informed our feminist views, we dropped corms into holes spaced three and then two across the bed like cookies on a sheet, but the more we laughed, the more crooked our rows became. Every fifth row or so, we’d have to stop and start again with a straighter line. We planted just over 200 gladiolas, beginning with 60 new bulbs in deep red, violet-blue, and hot pink, and finishing with corms dug last fall and stored in peat moss in the basement. In August, we’ll have a vibrant stand of elegant gladiolas welcoming us to the garden.

Our next task was weeding the long bed of transplanted head lettuce, only a couple weeks away from harvesting. Using our horis—our favorite Japanese digging tools—we weeded with our knees in the clover walkways while sharing stories of our grandmothers, or at least the pieces we know.

With the help of the alumni association at Valparaiso University, I’ve just found my great-grandmother’s name listed in the 1890 Northern Indiana Normal School’s catalogue under the Teacher’s Department pages:

Hunsley, Flora                                           Macon, Illinois

Northern Indiana Normal School catalogue, 1890

Flora Delcina Hunsley had traveled from Decatur, IL, at the age of 22 to get her teaching degree at the same school her brother Jake had attended for music a couple years before. What a thrill to see her name 120 years later, evidence that my great-grandmother was a college graduate and a teacher like me.

That catalogue is one of the few documents we have for Flora’s life; the rest of the story can only be pieced together. At the Normal school, she became friends with Lola Belle Huckleberry, who had a stepbrother named Jasper Lemuel Smith. Although he was 10 years older, Jasper and Flora met, courted, and married after she had taught school for a few years in Illinois.

Flora and Jasper before their marriage

My great-grandparents moved to North Dakota to homestead after Flora’s brother Jake had staked a claim there and her parents, Malinda and Charles, originally from the English county of Lincolnshire, came too. Flora and Jasper raised five children, including my grandfather Kermit, on the Waterloo Farm, named after the family place in England. Their lives were typical of farming families, raising crops and livestock on the windy prairie.

Flora Hunsley on the right with her turkeys

But after their deaths, their children found their parents’ secret in an old trunk: another document–their marriage certificate, dated one year later than the wedding date they’d always claimed. Flora had gotten pregnant before they were married. Since they’d left Illinois, no one but their parents and siblings were the wiser.

Not an unusual story, but I wonder how Flora’s life might have been different without that surprise. She probably would have married her best friend’s stepbrother anyway and as a married woman, would have had to relinquish her teaching position, as they did in those unenlightened days when marriage meant pregnancy and pregnant women in the classroom wouldn’t be proper. She probably would have followed her brother to North Dakota too, just as she followed him to college in Indiana.

But I like to think that she never entirely forgot those days of relative freedom with friends, going to classes and living away from her family. When my aunt was born, my grandparents named her Lola after Flora’s best friend. A college picture tucked into my aunt’s baby book shows the two of them in black dresses with buttoned bodices, their aspirations still ahead of them.

Flora seated with Lola in the middle behind her

It’s a good story and I’m sorry I never met Flora, but I’m happy that I’ve followed in her teaching and farming footsteps. I can’t help but think of Alice Walker’s influential essay “In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens,” in which Walker writes of “Sainted” and “crazy” Black foremothers who, denied legal, economic, and political power, still told stories and planted gardens and pieced quilts of “powerful imagination and deep spiritual feeling”: “And so our mothers and grandmothers have, more often than not anonymously, handed on the creative spark, the seed of the flower they themselves never hoped to see: or like a sealed letter they could not plainly read.” If you haven’t read Walker’s essay lately, you should.

These are the stories we tell as we weed lettuce and plant gladiolas and plot the trajectories of our lives. As we search for our mother’s and grandmother’s and great-grandmother’s gardens, what better place to start than our own?

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