There has always been a special place in my heart for storytelling. It has provided me a safe place to listen, learn and laugh. My grandmother frequently read books to me as a child, this experience left a permanent mark on my heart. We shared a bond during the course of the book that no one could replace. The pure anticipation of the story, the message that was encoded in the text, to the time shared between us learning together.
As I reflect back to those times, they offered me many lessons and a strong belief that every story has a meaning and purpose, whether it is written or verbal. I have always felt a special closeness to the various storytellers in my life, an admiration that this person wants to share their history with me. It was a duty to protect this shared experience but also absorb the hidden lessons that may apply to my life. It allowed for healing to enter, by understanding someone has plodded down this path before me. A support system and confidant emerged, someone who shared my same storyline, but with a different cast of characters and backdrop in their tale. Lastly, the overarching themes that presented themselves across generational lines, and how history has a way of repeating itself. It was my duty to learn from my foremothers and forefathers mistakes, not repeat them. This will only happen if the story is shared.
We are all privileged to have many influential people come in and out of our lives; there is not enough space on this website/blog to give each of them the honor they deserve. Therefore, I will provide brief summaries of the ones that touched me and made a difference with their acts of altruism and bravery. The hope is that you will be motivated by their experiences and find the comfort in your own life and apply the lesson through their examples. The intent is to bring people together, through shared stories, a phenomenal tribe of women, past present and future.
Let’s embark on this journey of celebration, curiosity and candidness among women…..
It has been said, “A story is how one constructs their experiences” allow me to devote my first post to my grandmother, Rosalie Marie Hogan. She entered this world on January 2, 1929 and recently left this world on May 15, 2014. It pains me to believe; I will never hear her voice again, fight with my husband and aunt over her Lebkuchen cookies at the holidays, taste her chicken dumpling soup, smile at her red lipstick and argue with her over what a woman’s place is in this world… and the list can go on. Taking comfort in the fact, I know she will continue to inspire me in many ways and I will pay it forward to others and her legacy will live on through those acts makes me smile.
She grew up in the village of Reese, Michigan and lived there all her life. A farming community of close knit people who value their families, work and homes. Reveling in the fact that life was unchanged and forging on with her daily activities defined who she was for over 85 years. I enjoyed asking her questions about life, her childhood and how difficult it is to mimic her crumb topping on my apple crisp. She would beam with pure joy when stories were asked of her early days. “Working on the farm, playing baseball with the boys, the aroma of fresh cut grass, ice skating in the wintertime, enjoying the simplicities of life and not taking them for granted but always appreciating the “little things” that matter most,” she would say.
Her path in life was decided early and quickly: graduating from high school while being pregnant and getting married to the man who challenged her on the basketball court. This same man had his own demons but she remained the cornerstone of the family until his death in 1984. They lived a rather ordinary but safe life, and appreciated the social network that they built within their community of friends and family. With three children, she fine-tuned her skill as a homemaker. She could have taught classes at the Culinary Institute. The aroma and taste of her fresh baked bread and homemade strawberry jam would make you want not just one piece – but several. Her house was immaculate. My mother mentioned many times “we could eat off her floors as children” because her house was spotless. She had a gift for creating a warm environment for her grandchildren and each one has heartfelt memories of all the hours spent coloring, playing cards and watching her preserve the fruits and vegetables of the season.
If we let it, life also has a way of precluding us from our dreams. Her aspirations were to be an astronaut or a professional softball player. She took pleasure watching and playing the American classic. My younger sister remembers falling asleep during the summer evenings with the radio tuned into the baseball game. No one ever saw her favoritism toward a team or grandchild….and goodness knows we all thought we were her beloved!
The side that no one took time to notice of my grandmother was the quiet confidence she exuded. Life threw her a terrible curveball that forced her to the dugout. She lost her mother, husband and son all within three years. The following is a timeline that gives one a picture of her rite of passage into seclusion. Her mother, Rose died in August 1983, her husband, Leo passed in January 1984 and her thirty year old son, Tom left us in August 1985. The courage and resilience she had deep within was silent. I always marveled at how she must understand what pain embodies and how emotional energy can consume you, but yet you forge on, for life doesn’t stop to mourn with you. Yet, she did not experience her pain with a therapist, a group of girlfriends, family or coworkers. She experienced it alone and no one knows if she found it unbearable. She never disclosed it and when I asked, she would say “I did what I had to do” which was move on. That she did for the next 30 years she made a conscious decision to live her life the way she wanted. Oftentimes, family members would coax her to be more social or travel, but that wasn’t what spoke to her. She was content with her daily routine and enjoyed the peacefulness that she surrounded herself with.
My respect for her grows as I reflect back on her life. She did it her way. Understanding who she was and the self-reliance came from within her, not from anyone else. She trusted her inner compass, which held, “I am the keeper of my own destiny.” She would persuade no one, only herself. She would challenge no one, only herself. Lastly, she was a builder. Tenderly, she produced poise into individuals by modeling her own self-assurance through her own actions. Let us all take away the life lesson that “quiet confidence” can leave a mark if one is insightful enough to see it.
I hope, in some small way, that this post and future ones will touch your heart, your mind and your spirit quietly.
Originally Published at Living Legacies Ventura County http://www.livinglegaciesventuracounty.org/llvgblog-1-rosalie_hogan.html
© 2015 Shannon Hogan Cohen