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Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Great Women Are Not A New Idea
As I told you about, it’s been a sad and stressful time in my world. In two week’s time, David and I have celebrated the lives of and said ”goodbye” to two very important women to us. But I’m mourning, healing and moving on. It would be such a dishonor not to.
In 1925, Wonda Lemonovich and Kathryn Patch were born just days apart in different geographical, economic and social American worlds, but with the same walls facing them in the way those worlds looked at the “limitations” they were born with because of their gender.
The World War 2 era did not force either of these women into a role of assertiveness or leadership and it didn’t make them have to ”act” intelligent. It made it possible for them each to allow their natural abilities to shine and never hide them again.
For Kay, it was a position with a federal agency that gave her status, rank and travel. Then she went to law school while still working for the government, finishing with the highest marks in her class.
Grandma eloped at 19 years old and her only child was born while her husband was stationed with the Navy in the Pacific. She was effectively surviving as a single parent in the mid 40s! When her husband came home and after their daughter started school, she started working outside of the home in retail for the Kresgee Company. When they took the initiative to move women into management positions, Grandma was one of the first they asked.
Neither one grew up to meet the expectations of the typical baby girl born in 1925.
In 1966, I met Wonda Lemonovich. I was the first of her two grandchildren. I was loved and spoiled as grandchildren usually are, but the greatest gift Grandma gave me was something I wouldn’t even realize she was or could give until I was an adult. Grandma gave me the best definition of “normal” a girl could ever ask to grow up with.
Women are just as strong as men. Women have the same courage as men. Women are intelligent, skilled and driven, just like men. A woman is as capable on her own as a man is on his own, but to be truly in love and build a successful marriage where you put in just as much as he does is something to really strive to find and not something to settle for anything less than perfect for you. A woman cooks for her spouse when he’s working later and is always welcomed with a hot meal on the table when she is. Women set examples that many men and other women will follow. A woman earns professional respect from her superiors and subordinates be cause she works for it. A woman can do, can have, anything she wants. All she has to do is go for it.
That was the definition of “normal” I grew up with. I fight for things I believe just “should be” because I really can’t imagine them not being that way. I don’t give up, I don’t settle. That’s just not normal. I have been successful as a student, an employee and a manger. I feel pretty respected by the people in my world and I’ve never heard “for a girl,” as a qualification from anyone who mattered unless it was in jest. Grandma adored the man I told her was finally someone I could love like she loved Papa. I’m a pretty normal person. Thanks to Grandma, I’m normal because I KNOW, I can do anything.
With her consuming professional commitments, Kay married a generation later than Grandma did and had her first child just weeks before Grandma’s first grandchild was born. It was many years after 1966 that I met Kay for the first time, but that first child of hers was key in our meeting! Kay and I met at Christmastime in 2005. That first child was bringing me home to introduce his family to his girlfriend.
Kay’s mental and health decline had started before we met, but I remember that she was friendly and giving of herself and her time. She sat with me and we talked. She was eager to know me, to approve of the new woman in her son’s life. Some of the things she said were reminiscent of things my Great-grandmother said when she was in the beginning of her mental decline, but there was a strength and a warmness in her eyes I couldn’t help but feel, I couldn’t help but recognize. It was that same strength I grew up knowing in Grandma. Kay had been a powerful woman and still was.
In the few years that followed, I saw her mental and physical condition worsen, but I also saw a smile of recognition and love when she was at lunch or visited by both of her sons together. In all of her accomplishments, they were still the ones in which she seemed to have the greatest pride.
At her memorial service, David and his brother, Ben, both shared thoughts and stories of their Mother. Part of David’s included sharing emails he’d received from people who weren’t able to be there. One of the emails was from Vanessa, David’s ex-wife. Vanessa had the privilege of knowing Kay when her health was good and her mind still keen.
Vanessa described her former mother-in-law as a “superior person.” She said there were two kinds of superior people. The first kind was one who made you feel smaller in their presence. The second made you feel as if you were more. She said Kay was the latter of the two, that she made people feel richer for having known her. I truly believe that.
I remember after meeting Kay, telling Grandma about her. She always asked me how David’s Mom was when we talked on Monday nights. Kay was already in assisted living, but Grandma mentioned many times that she’d love to have the opportunity to meet her. At the end of last year, Ben and David were making plans to move Kay to a nursing facility nearer to David and also less costly than where she was with the same level of care. Grandma had been living at Caretel Inns in Linden, Michigan, and I had mentioned the wonderful care she was getting there at just below average costs for a nursing facility in Michigan. A room was open and Kay moved there just last month. Sadly, Grandma and Kay could have sat at the same table and not realized it by then.
When we brought Kay in, I spent some time with Grandma and told her that she was a neighbor now. She acknowledged that, but I don’t think she really understood that I meant Kay was living just down the hall from her. A week later, Grandma had a stroke over night and was in very bad shape. I knew it was nearing the end.
After spending some time with Grandma, who opened here eyes once, but didn’t really seem to see me, I kissed her goodbye and told her I loved her. Then David and I walked down to the TV area where Kay was. I put my hand on her shoulder and said, “Hi Kay!” She didn’t recognize me, but she seemed to know I was someone she was pleased to see because she gave that warm smile I loved to see from her so much.
That ended up being the last time I saw them both. Grandma passed just a couple days later and Kay’s heart rate had drastically fallen soon after we returned from the funeral and she too left us.
Emotionally we’re a little emptier for the losses, but the world is definitely better and richer for the barriers these two great women refused to even notice.
David wrote both the obituaries.