I have been attracted to strong women and their stories for at least half of my life (if Wonder Woman, Princess Leia or Nancy Drew count, for much longer...). I remember being enamored with Virginia Woolf in my early college years (I had an excellent professor). And then there was Clarissa Pinkola Estés - I stumbled upon her book, Women Who Run With the Wolves soon after it was initially published. I eventually purchased the book on tape, too, and used to listen to it in my car. As an adult in my thirties, I read everything on Geogia O'Keeffe I could find. I did the same with Brenda Ueland and May Sarton. The impression these women have made on me hasn't faded and I am constantly seeking more.
And then there was someone else. Someone who doesn't get that much credit because, truly, her life came to an abrupt end and was entirely too short. She died when I was fifteen years old. And, I think, I have just discovered, after all this time, that she was the one that planted the seed of this strength I have been so deeply intrigued with for so long.
She was my Grandmother.
I don't remember having much time alone with my Grandmother. She lived over a two hour drive away, so when we visited, we visited as a family. I don't have that many specific memories either (trust me, I have a good, solid few) but what I do have (and have always had) was a feeling of a certain essence.
I think it's important to say here that I honestly didn't know my Grandmother that well. And for those who were her children (my Father, being one of five), her husband (my Grandfather, who is still living to this day), colleagues and friends, etc - their's could be a completely different story.
What I do know is that when I was in the presence of my Grandmother I observed characteristics that I find myself more attracted to than ever today. There were the externally noticeable characteristics about my Grandmother that everyone saw: the way she lit up a room (her eyes did have a sparkle) and the way she was able to turn anything into a celebration or party. Oh, there was also the way she squealed with delight over the littlest of things too (I naturally have this quality. Those that know me well, know me for this. It's hilarious: squealing and me are symbiotic. Forgive me, Grandmother, if I have just put two and two together...)
I noticed more subtle characteristics, however, that made a much stronger impression on me. My Grandmother seemed to have a quiet conviction about herself and her place in the world. She was obviously passionate about everything she did. Her passion was contagious. My Grandmother did not dim her light in the midst of others who might feel threatened. She just went about shining bright. I perceived her as being authentic when she walked between both her public and private life. There was most definitely, as well, an absence of fear. There was always an overflowing well of hope so that, when in her presence, I couldn't believe in anything but.
I realize that when I am painting, when I am visiting my home away from home on the South Shore, when I am dancing, when I am writing, when I am witnessing a child create, when I am fortunate enough to work alongside adults and witness their creative power, I also experience that overflowing well of hope, those squeals of delight, that passion and quiet conviction. No wonder I am drawn to do what I do.
Thank you, Grandmother. Your spirit lives on.
|Elizabeth Ann (Betty Ann) Donhowe Ramseth, (1920-1984)|