Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mountain Women

Public Health nurses Angela (l) and Marilyn drove many miles in the "Blue Goose" (a temperamental old Jeep) providing care for elderly patients in scattered hollers. Their predecessors rode horses to provide care in the region.

One of the best things about mountain life was getting to meet & know awesome women. They are the best kept secret of the mountains. I heard stories of women shooing mountain lions off their porch with nothing more than an aerosol spray can, warding off intruders with a machete used for clearing brush, riding horseback or driving Jeeps to provide medicine and care in isolated hollers. One thing is certain: they are the backbone of family and culture in the hills.
It was not uncommon to find women working hard to support their families. We had many at Red Bird who were extremely dedicated, hardworking, and juggled the demands of life with grace. They follow in a long line of women who more than survived the hardship of the hills; they thrived in harsh circumstances. Some, however, lived lives I could neither understand nor accept: willing to support a husband who would not work, nor care for the affairs of home and children while she worked, or perhaps even engaged in illegal activity. There seemed to be no end to some women’s devotion to their men. Many endured a lifetime of isolation, violence and domestic abuse, alcoholism, or at the very least a life of being second-place. Mountain women are survivors.
I was often puzzled by the contradictory messages about the place of women that I heard from church and culture. The messages from mountain churches were that men are to be the head of households and heads in the church. One little congregation had no Sunday School for children because the men wouldn’t let the women teach, yet none of them would either. Women heard a lifetime of “submission” sermons. Women preachers were certainly not accepted in the indigenous churches. And yet for all the preaching about their proper place, women ruled home and community life.
I knew of a married man whose mother called him each morning to wake him for work; of another mother who called her daughter incessantly at work; of another who, even more obsessively, insisted on going to work with her daughter every day. Several of our married staff even told me they’d move back with their Mommy (the favored maternal term) “in a heartbeat”—with or without husbands. In disbelief I asked how their mothers felt about that. “They’d love it,” I was told. This seems to me the weakness of a strength taken to extreme. I found many relationships with mothers to be loving, close, and respectful. I also found those that were parasitical, manipulative, & intrusive. But I am not a mountain woman & knew I never would or could be. For better or worse, women rule the mountains. And don’t let any of the mountain men tell you otherwise.

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