She was born on a dirt farm in the middle of nowhere, Nebraska. Rental property that barely paid the rent and put food on the table. Her father worked the fields every day and her Mom tended their home. It was bare-bones living but it was a good life.
The family moved to another farm when she was eight years old. By then she was getting up early in the morning to help her father milk the cows, sling hay and keep the bulk tank spotless. She was the eldest daughter doing what was needed to be done to sustain the family.
Even then there were strong influences that shaped her life. People and events that steeled her determination to make something of herself beyond the 250 acres of wheat, soybeans and corn.
She had a loving grandmother who was more worldly than most farm wives. For two years the young girl walked from school to Grandma’s house for lunch and instead of washing dishes, they played with dolls, colored, made sugar pies and pictures. A myriad of other mind-expanding experiences.
Long before women figured out they didn’t have to wear girdles every time they stepped outside, there was an aunt who pioneered early feminist Zen. She traveled the world and ran a bar in the winter. Her aunt could command a bar stool discussion with the best of her patrons. In the summers, her aunt had a gift shop up north where the young girl worked. It was there she learned how to charm the customers and make the sale, honing her business skills.
During her junior year in high school, a nun took a liking to her and told her she had to go to college. She would be the first in her family to do so. And even though there was no money for such a venture, it really wasn’t negotiable. The nun taught her how to break the rules and glass ceilings in that small town.
She was student class president her freshman, sophomore and junior year. Even though she was elected class president her senior year, the nuns decided a boy should have that position. So the young girl learned to roll with the clerical punches and still come out on top. She went to Girls State, was awarded the Betty Crocker Homemaker of the Year Award and elected Sodality President. The nuns couldn’t take that away from her.
Back in high school, a neighboring farm boy came to ask her out on a date. She politely declined and suffered the wrath of her father who thought she should have gone out simply because she had been asked. “What will our neighbors think?” her Father asked her. “It doesn’t matter,” she answered. Still doesn’t.
One day the girl’s mother was cornered in town by the attorney’s wife. The townies wanted to know why her daughter, a simple farm girl, thought she could go to such an elite all girl college in the cities. “Who does she think she is?” the woman asked her mother. “My daughter!” her mother answered. And that was that.
The young girl took from all her life experiences the proposition that she could and therefore she would. If she wanted it, she would work for it. There was no free lunch but she was skilled in the kitchen. Those were giant assumptions in the early sixties, which in turn she passed on to her own children and grandchildren. No excuses, she would say, just focused determination to do what was needed to be done.
And she realized very early that she was smarter than most of the boys she dated. She still feels that way about men in general although she hasn’t dated in quite some time.
In college, she had to work almost full time while attending school as a day student. She lived with her aunt and learned to manage a tight schedule, be judicious about her sleep and still find time for student activities. She ended up student MEA president her senior year and traveled to Washington to represent the state. It was four years of sacrifice, hard work and little sleep and she excelled at everything she did.
Day students were not the girls who lived on campus. Boarders often didn’t have to work; they enjoyed time for studies, boys down the road and pondering their future career or lifestyle. Some enjoyed a preponderance of wealth.
Like the girl with seven suede jackets.
This girl had a different suede jacket for each day of the week. Different colors, different styles and all unique. It spoke to the wardrobe packed in her dorm room. For many girls on campus it was a gilded world of their liking. A few were pampered, privileged and very entitled. Others were not as privileged but still lived in a world far apart from morning milking chores and afternoon fieldwork the young girl was used to.
The young girl’s humble background and tough work ethic provided a sterling example for her children and grandchildren for what hard work, focus and determination can accomplish for a person.
Success followed her academic and business career every step of the way.
She’s been president, chair, board member or committee member of every organization she’s ever belonged to. With her it’s almost a given. She was the first woman president of her Rotary club and first female Rotary district chair. Her list of posts, appointments, awards and recognition could fill a very large book. She commands and gets the respect of every man in the group.
Businessmen universally respect her because she’s got the chops, the business acumen to deal with adverse situations, tough calls to make and focused goals to achieve. And unlike some of her professional colleagues, she has a common sense approach to conflict resolution. She’s like a mama bear in an Ann Taylor suit.
Negotiations are her forte. Her ready smile and easy demeanor belie a sharp focus on the issues at hand, a calculating mind and deep insight into the human condition. Hardly seems fair to those sitting across from her in any business or political negotiations. I like to say she will eat you for lunch and you just came for desert.
If I ever get this writing thing going for me, I’m going to ask her to negotiate on my behalf. Her daughter is an attorney. No surprise there. Between the two of them, they would make a formidable team on my side.
In another life, she might have led a breakout at the cloisters, been Ophelia’s sister, a confidant to Clare Boothe Luce and most certainly a blue stocking suffragette. Perhaps even an Amazon Queen.
She still thinks she is smarter than most men.
But I’m not going to give her that one.
I married her instead.