Tuesday, February 27, 2018

90 years of a seat at the table

It was the birth year of women. As every year is.

But 1928 had an interesting list of luminaries. Estelle Harris. Shirley Temple. Jean Kennedy Smith and her college classmate Ethel Kennedy. Maya Angelou. Queen Fabiola.

But, most importantly, on this very day 90 years ago, Marilyn Munro was born at home in Powers, Oregon.

It was a year not so different in many ways from this year. The American economy was booming. Unemployment was down. Technology was in the air. Literally. The first transatlantic television had been broadcast nineteen days earlier, and the first regularly scheduled television programming began. In New York state. Of course. Transatlantic flight was proven possible east to west.

The Munros had recently arrived from Minnesota (both sides being descended from Canadians -- Quebec by way of Vermont and Massachusetts, and Prince Edward Island by way of Scotland). She was the last born of four children in one of the few Republican families in their little logging community.

Her youth was historically eventful. The Depression, that arrived late in The West and remained an unwelcome guest until the Japanese propelled America into the Second World War. Her high school emptied of young men -- and teachers. But the war did not leave her untouched. She trained as a plane spotter.

And then it was off to college -- Southern Oregon College of Education in Ashland. Prior to graduation, she was smitten by a handsome swain, Robert Harry Cotton, a son of Oregon pioneers, and married him in 1946. Three children followed: Craig Allen (dying in the year of his birth), Steven Ray, and James Darrel.

Her family is her pride. Being a mother was her ideal. But she also wanted more. Model. Business operator. Real estate agent.

But there were more hours in the day to be filled. She was active in her church as a Sunday school teacher and Bible discussion participant.

And there was Republican politics. Campaigner. Precinct committeewoman. Women's Clubs. Confidant to candidates and elected officials.

Because of her interest in genealogy, she joined the Daughters of the American Revolution -- you know, all of those colonial ancestors in Massachusetts and Vermont (some of whom must have had sentimental attachment to The German King because they ended up in Canada).

Some people with little subtlety in their lives will look at that list (Republican, Daughters of the American Revolution), and will create a cartoon figure that is not the woman currently sitting in my patio sending email to her friends. Let me give you an example.

My father was effectively raised by his aunt Madge and uncle Noble. Noble was one of the legends in our family. One of those men who is far larger than his own biography. Democrat. Patriarch. A man of strong opinions.

When my father first took Mom home to get Noble's approval, Mom
 came face to face with a rural tradition she had never encountered. She chatted with the women in the kitchen while they cooked. When the meal was ready, the women put the bowls on the table, and retreated to the kitchen, leaving the dining table for the men.

My mother had never heard of any such thing. She was raised in a family where everyone was expected to participate in conversation. Women were part of the family. Not something to be excluded.

She had no intention of being excluded.  She grabbed a chair, dragged it into the dining room where she was met with with shocked stares from almost all of the men -- including my father. But, not Uncle Noble. He knew a kindred spirit when he saw one.

He looked up, smiled, and said: "Marilyn, you come over here and sit by me." They then launched into a spirited discussion about politics and religion -- topics on which they had little agreement. She was one of his favorites from that day on.

She has never been a person to waste her time with political activism that she saw merely as pretense. It is one reason she has been a stranger to a certain type of feminism. She is far more interested in living her principles instead of talking about them.

That is why it is nice to have her in the house to celebrate this very special birthday. We are not going to do anything spectacular today other than having lunch by the sea at Papa Gallo's while we play a couple of rounds of Mexican train. Where she will probably easily win.

A bigger celebration will be held next week when her granddaughter Kaitlyn arrives. Prime rib sounds like the perfect way to honor those 90 years. And a full week of doing just that is somehow appropriate.

So, happy birthday, Mom. Thank you for continuing to drag chairs to the table.

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