Saturday, February 23, 2008

Gutsy Babes

Strong Women
I grew up around strong women. A couple of the older ones namely my grandmother and my great-grandmother on my mother's side were true pioneer white women--and I mean by that that they struggled in and survived through what was a rather jungly, barbaric, transitional time in the raw center of Texas--my great-grandmother coming up from the swampy lands around Lampasas, Texas, married when she was 13 to a man 75 years old whose two sons turned on her, tied her up and beat her occasionally (whether they raped her or not I never heard; people didn't mention such a thing in those days and certainly my great-grandmother wouldn't have admitted she been raped), then one night they pistol whipped her and threatened her, accusing her of marrying their father for his land and money. When she was 14 years old and pregnant (she admitted the pregnancy but never who the father was), "Those cruel evil brothers were preparing to take my life. Their brother, Bill, was an outlaw; they said Bill had killed 20 people over in Ar-kan-zez and East Texas, and these boys were just as evil as any outlaw. I could hear 'em talkin' through the thin walls of Mr. Campbell's house; they were in the parlor at the front of the house and I was in the back darkness of my tiny room but I heared 'em talkin' all the way in that room, their dark-hooded gutt'ral voices talkin' 'bout cuttin' me into chunks of meat and tossin' me into the swamps where the gators, the snakes, the coons, and the fish would eat the flesh from my bones--so I said to myself, if'n those evil men are gonna kill me and throw my remains into the swamp if I stay here, so why then, I decided, don't I throw my own self into the swamps afore they had a chance to kill me--at least I'd be alive and at least I could with life try to fend off the gators, snakes, coons, and fish, which didn't scare me a'tall, no sir, no critter or varmint ever scared me 'cept an evil man," she said, in a weak whiny voice, an old leathered voice, rasping yet clear in its tales, tales spun to make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck, especially if you were a naively fearful little kid to whom this old wizened tree-trunk of a woman was a witchy woman, too shadowy and curse-laden looking for me and I thought up wild stories about her, though now that I've turned into the home stretch and am galloping for the finish line of my own life, her true stories have evolved into much more fantastic stories than any I ever dream up about this woman. And in the pitch blackness of a sullen frog-choraled night, this 14-year-old pregnant girl had put on her best white dress, her high-top shoes, and had wrapped a beautiful wool shawl around her body and then she'd slipped out her tiny room's window, "it was high up," she rasped, "and I sprained my ankle when I landed on the ground 'neath the winder there." Then she half-ran and half-hobbled into the swamp down at the back edge of the old man's property that backed up to the brackish Lampasas River and the live oak and thicket swamps that ran along that river. "I figgered out which'a way was south by lookin' at the stars. Daddy had taught me all the stars and on clear nights I could easily tell the southern sky from the northern sky, like find the Big Dipper and go down its handle and turn around and you're facing south." She had tramped about 20 miles down the Lampasas River--it took her "might near" a week to go that twenty miles--she'd hide during the day and travel at night. She ate roots and raw crawfish and berries and she drank the river water and she finally made it down into Young County where she had a distant relative, "One of the Poe boys who survived that hunt up the Colorado River--did I ever tell you all that one? 'bout Old Man Poe and his sons goin' deer huntin' up the Colorado and Old Man Poe gettin' sick and the sons left him in a cave while they followed the deer on up the river--and when they came back by the cave, Old Man Poe's facial extremities had been eaten off by skunks, oh yes, yes they did, ate off his nose, his lips, his ears, even his cheeks. He wore a mask after that, though he didn't live all that much longer. Skunks carry the madness real bad, they do. Foam at the mouth just like a mad dog, they do." This woman later married my great-grandfather, a Scottish tenor, violinist, poet, school teacher, and a lover of several bottles of the Highland's best every day or so, and she had 7 children by this man only one of whom lived to maturity, my grandmother. One of my great-grandmother's scariest stories was about the birth of her daughter, Little Leeta; I still remember her name. Little Leeta's birth was so surreal. Little Leeta was born on the front porch of my great-grandmother's house; she'd crawled out onto the porch trying to call her husband in from the fields. She got just out onto the porch when she said her water broke and she splatted back flat on her back, screamed to high heaven, and gave birth to Little Leeta, and Little Leeta was born totally blue and gasping for air, trying madly to breath, crying in spits, then gasping and gulping for air, looking doomed to this frightened mother. "I knew she was'a dyin', the little dear. Even blue she was a tender little soul and I told her point blank lookin' her in her dyin' eyes that I loved her." She said she then bit the umbilical cord--severed it--with her teeth, wiped off as much of the amniotic muck as possible, then getting to her feet, and she was in pain and bleeding, "like a stuck pig," she took Little Leeta's dying blue body over to a ditch in front of the house that had a small stream of clear water running down it, and she went down into that ditch and began to baptize Little Leeta, you know, like giving her the last rites and then this old lady would break down and cry so hard she'd have to leave the room. Then followed hushed conversations too low for me to hear. Later my brother wrote an article about this woman in a Western Americana history magazine and after telling the "Little Leeta story" he ended it by saying he imagined our great-grandmother had laid Little Leeta deep enough in that ditch water to drown her--that's the finished story as my brother finished it. I like his version and I, too, can find it probably true. It makes sense--those were tough women--and there were other birth stories, because she had 5 other children who were either born dead, like stillborn, or didn't live any extended period of time--one of her boys died of scarlet fever, I remember that--and you could see all of that life posted there in my great-grandmother's old eyes--my great-grandmother's eyes were set deep back in her skull and they were Gerard Manly Hopkins lanterns as they lit a trail of hard lookin' out at you--it seems to me strong women have strong deeply penetrating eyes--wild eyes that resist taming. My grandmother had them, too; and so did my mother.

I was raised by these women; so was my brother; we were taught life by pioneer white women who'd seen Comanches ride around their houses, usually begging for things, the elder women said, and then they'd ride off, or once my great-grandmother and my young grandmother shivered in the cold dark of their dugout left alone there as my great-grandfather was taking his cattle to market 15 miles away, and they shivered in fear and cold there as Nightriders circled the dugout on horseback hollering for them to open up if there was anybody in there--and one of the Nightriders rode right up to the door and forced his horse against it but it held and they held their breathes and then the Nightriders rode on--Nightriders were ex-Confederate soldiers from Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, who formed raiding units that raided farms and homes where they thought runaway slaves were hiding out--meaner than the KKK if you can believe that--they were wild true savage hateful killers riding around the wide Texas prairies and down into the river country of Central Texas looking for runaways or white people hiding runaways, especially white women hiding runaways--and the elder women in my mother's family loved to sit around a fireplace, tons of them, all of them old leathernecked, rednecked women who raised families without men or made their livings without men or when they did have men those men died young on them, my grandmother's husband, my grandfather, dying in the flu epidemic of 1918, leaving her a single mom to raise three frisky and too-bright kids, which she did to, I think, great success. And these old women would dip snuff and pass a coffee tin around and spit in it as they dipped and spat and they spoke the many tales and horrors and excitements and fears of being a single woman alone in a hostile land full of hostile men--I could write several volumes of "tough" women stories just from my family alone.

So I was raised by strong women. My feminine side is meaner than my masculine side. I'm a nice, jolly, rather benevolent man, but let my feminine side get a hold of me and I turn pragmatic, deliberate, checking things twice or three times just to make sure, or not trusting advice or directions and deliberately having to make do with what I got.

I was watching Uncle Bill Moyer's PBS show this past Friday night and, yes, and L Hat then emailed me a copy of it, I did see the Seattle Time's story about "earmarks" and just another way these crooked-as-snakes-at-night politicians we keep putting into office are robbing us totally blind--12,000 earmarks on the Defense Department appropriations bill worth over 12 billion dollars--and what are earmarks, you ask?

Here, check it out, courtesy languagehat:

Some of these crooked shenanigans knock your sox off, like selling polyester teeshirts to the Marines--shirts that are highly inflammable and catch fire when a soldier is in an explosion say. The polyester teeshirt on fire is like melting plastic and it will burn into a soldier's flesh and harden into plastic melting into the pores of their skin--one Marine died burning up in one of these shirts so the Marines and then the Defense Department banned polyester tee shirts in all the armed forces but the Washington State politician who got the tee shirt company its original earmarked millions went ahead and after polyester tee shirts were banned in the military got this tee shirt company another earmarked millions for more polyester tee shirts that the Marines bought and stored in a warehouse since it was against the law to issue them to troops.

Life is easy when you're a politician--they get away with shit actors and actresses can't get away with. One California Congressman if you remember had to resign because the young female page he was bangin' on the side was found murdered in Rock Creek Park in the District of Corruption, the same park Vince Foster was found in with a bullethole in his head that was said to be probably self-inflicted though there were some questions about that--remember when Vince Foster (big Arkie pal of the Clintons and a member of the Slick One's administration) was said to be bangin' Hillary? My Internet pal J. Orlin Grabbe will tell you all about the Vince Foster story on his weirdly informative site.

And into the picture comes another STRONG woman who showed up on Uncle Bill's Journal last night, too. Sarah Chayes. Ever heard of her? I hadn't. She's an ex-NPR reporter, the daughter of a former law professor and member of the Kennedy Administration. Rather than continue on as an NPR reporter while working in Afghanistan, she chose to quit her job and live in Kandahar, the original capital of Afghanistan in the south, near the world's largest poppy fields, and help Afghanistan women support themselves through a natural herbs cosmetic company.
The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.There she is, Sarah Chayes. Below is her Wikipedia entry:

Sarah Chayes (b. Washington, D.C., 5 March 1962) is a former reporter for National Public Radio.

Sarah Chayes is the daughter of law professor and Kennedy administration member Abram Chayes. She graduated from Phillips Academy, Andover, in 1980, and Harvard University in 1984, with a degree in history. She later served in the Peace Corps in Morocco, returning to Harvard to earn a master's degree in history and Middle Eastern studies, specializing in the medieval Islamic period.

Chayes began her reporting career free-lancing from Paris for The Christian Science Monitor and other outlets. From 1996 to 2002, she served as Paris reporter for National Public Radio, earning 1999 Foreign Press Club and Sigma Delta Chi awards (together with other members of the NPR team) for her reporting on the Kosovo War. She has also reported from other nations.

She has lived in Kandahar, Afghanistan since 2002. Having learned to speak the Pashto language, she has helped rebuild homes, set up a dairy cooperative. In May 2005, she established the Arghand Cooperative, a venture that encourages local Afghan farmers to produce flowers, fruits, and herbs instead of opium poppies, by buying their products and producing soaps and other scented products from them for export.

She is the author of The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban, published in August 2006.

Of course, I'm cynical about girls like this, privileged, high energy, Phillips and Harvard, Master's degrees, connections--spoiled brat who woke up one morning guilty about being so privileged while most of the people in the world were total nobodies with no privileges at all, except the privilege of either killing or being killed--what better way for "poor little" Sarah to do her penance--but I know women who aren't from privileged backgrounds who love danger like this woman, too--I have a very good friend who has traveled to world hotspots, like Sarajevo, Haiti, Nicaragua, all by herself, with her camera and the gall to butt her way into the middle of dangerous actions, like she shot photos of a Haitian politician getting dragged out of his car and shot to death in the streets of Sun City one summer in Haiti--and this woman never has any money--though when she gets some, she's off on another adventure--I sit back and admire her for that--and she is a strong hard-to-move woman like this Sarah Chayes, so full of energy, and with those burning eyes I was talking about earlier in this post.

for The Daily Growler

1 comment:

Marybeth said...

Jolly? Jolly, Mr. Ranty-pants? Hmmm.... Maybe you should change the name of this blog to "The Jolly Growler". Actually, you're hilarious, and I laugh even at your most vicious tirades. There's some sort of appreciation of the absurd that resonates with me.