Just this week I heard about a Maw-Maw that didn’t want to be interviewed for our “Ma Chère Maw-Maw” project which documents the matriarchs of South Louisiana because she thought people would judge her and think she was stupid. It makes you wonder who made her feel this way? If only people would be more careful with their words and actions. How often has someone who didn’t have the chance for a higher education been made to feel less? If we all took a little more time to get to know someone we would have the chance to find out that we all have things to teach each other. Maybe you know every cheese and its region but do you know what do with a gallon of milk that is about to bad?
You see a lot of elderly women in our area didn’t even get to high school. Are they stupid? No. It is true they are not book educated but they are some of the smartest women I know. They raised children on the bare minimum. No help from the social programs we have now. Just their wits and ingenuity to survive the leanest times. Most of them with large numbers of children and mainly on their own since the men had to work long hours and multiple jobs to provide for his family or in a couple cases left altogether.
They sewed for their own and also for others to earn much needed money. They dried shrimp on window screens to have a protein for when the season was over. They maintained giant gardens. I truly believed Maw-Maws could grow anything. Nothing went to waste. Soap was made from fat, the lemon tree provided a summer treat after playing outside all day. Every fig, plum and bean got used. They ran stores and restaurants. Milked cows and tending to the animals. Served three meals a day before we had quick instant options. Imagine the amount of planning it went into getting all this done. Some of them as single Moms. Can you imagine?
Everybody talks about their “Side Hustle.” These ladies were the queens of hustling.
I had a MawMaw today say, “Why do they want to talk to me?” I answered, “because I am in awe of you and the things your generation did.” Through these interviews I have heard stories of women who raised 8 kids while working on her feet all day. Another walking almost 50 miles with small children so they could get close to family in a time of need. Running into the yard gun in hand to ward off a would be thief.
They have lived three lives for our one. Yet through all of this they still had the time to love. To give the much needed support and hugs that their children needed. They have this amazing inner strength that floors me. All of this, all these years of struggling and working all day every day and they still have a sweet smile and gentle hug to give. They still have this little twinkle in their eye as they gently pat your hand and give a good ribbing.
No, they haven’t read the great works of Shakespeare or know Newton’s Laws of Physics. What they do know is how to say a Rosary for anybody in need. Cure your ills with just things found in the yard. Balance a meager budget, feed everyone and do it well. Make sure their daughters had dresses for the dance even if they had to stay up all night sewing.
They are damn geniuses in my opinion. I truly hope that I do them proud. That my ancestors look down at me and think, “Look at her go, that’s my baby, you show them what you got.” I am sure that is along with, “Mais, you need to go to church more and how come she’s not canning those tomatoes.”
I’ve felt a lot of doubt in my life. I’ve felt like I didn’t belong and I wasn’t good enough. I know I am too loud and lack the polished shine of others. I truly feel like a squid in a fruit salad a lot of the time. But one thing I have always known is that I have resilience and I can work. I like to believe that I inherited this drive and insane work ethic from my Maw-Maw and her Maw-Maw and all the ladies that made my life possible.
So to that English teacher that told me I couldn’t write because of run on sentences (I am still horribly guilty of this) and disagreeable opinions. To the “Friends” who showered doubt, negative opinions and snide remarks. To the man who told me, “What would you do without me?” To the mean girls that talked poison through their tight smiling lips- Here it is. You are right. I have lots of rough edges both in my writing and my personality. I still do it though. I work all day and into the night. I am backed by every woman in my family who made it work. I have their strength, tenacity and insane work ethic. Even when I want to give up they won’t let me. I have people to impress and it’s not you, it’s them. Maw-Maws are holding me up with their strength and we all know if there is one thing you can’t take down it is a Cajun Grandma.