(Essay) When My Mother was born by Kathleen McKern Verigin

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Author’s grandfather and grandmother holding her mother as a baby.

When my mother was born her mother couldn’t vote.

 

My grandmother and mother were both homemakers, raising children while taking in laundry, babysitting and sewing jobs.

 

As a young girl, pondering what I wanted to be when I grew up, my mother told me I could be a nurse, teacher or secretary.

 

As a teenager, hell bent on going to college and leaving Iowa, my mom convinced me to take a typing class so I would have a skill to “fall back on.”

 

When I was in college, afraid that I was pregnant, I desperately searched for money to fly from Iowa to New York for a back alley abortion. The miscarriage I suffered might have saved my life.

 

In my 20’s, very much a feminist, I smoked Virginia Slims cigarettes enticed by their tag line, “You’ve come a long way baby.”

 

Along with a subscription to Ms. Magazine, I got a free t-shirt with MS. strategically placed across my bosom. I caught a man staring at my chest and confronted him. His reply, “I’m looking at exactly what you want me to look at. Why else would you wear that t-shirt?”

 

In a job interview, fresh out of college, I was told that I was marriage and baby material, and therefore they didn’t want to invest in me. I married at 44 and never had children.

 

From Wikimedia Commons

From Wikimedia Commons

A few years later, preparing for another job interview, I was told the boss was a lady’s man and to dress provocatively. I did, and I got the job.

 

At 30 I was date raped and never told anyone until a woman friend told me of her experience with the same man. I couldn’t get angry for myself, but I could for her.

 

Years later, as a successful businesswoman with a secretary of my own, I was told by my male boss that the females on my staff didn’t need raises because they had husbands.

 

When I told my mother how much money I made, in answer to her question, her reply was “WOW, those are man’s wages.”

 

In my late 30s my mother told me, “If you weren’t so independent you could catch a good husband.” What she didn’t know is that I was having an affair with someone else’s husband. He was always going to get a divorce. Twenty-five years later, I’m told he is still married.

 

About that same time a Yale University study was published stating that un-married women at 35 were more likely to be shot by a terrorist than marrying. The Old Maid card was on the cover of People Magazine. I found this offensive and wrote a letter to the editor. It was published in the next issue.

 

When I first started offering spiritual ceremonies for women, I met an elderly goddess who told me that after her hysterectomy she took her uterus home and buried it in ceremony. Aghast, I said, “And your doctor let you?”  Her reply, “Yes, because it’s a part of my body and I own my body.”  Ten years later I did the same.

 

From Wikimedia Commons.

From Wikimedia Commons.

In her late 70s my mom attended one of my women’s rituals. Afterwards she remarked, “It wasn’t unlike when I attended Circle at church. You know, sewing and cooking with the other wives. But you ladies talk about more interesting things.”

 

Forty-one years ago on International Women’s Day, I left Iowa and arrived in Portland, Oregon. My mother grieved my absence terribly. My father never visited me here. His reasoning was “She left us, we didn’t leave her.”

 

Before Mom’s death in 1997, she remarked, “I get why you left Iowa and moved to Portland. You’ve created a great life for yourself. I’m happy for you, and envious.”

 

Remember, when my mother was born her mother couldn’t vote. We have come a long way, but with so far to go. And I am nobody’s baby, except my mother’s. I am grateful for her, for my grandmother, and all of the women who have come before me.

 

On November 8, 2016 my grandmother’s great-great-granddaughter, at age 18, voted for the first time. She filled in the dot on the ballot for America’s first woman president. Hovering behind her were the spirits of my mother and my grandmother whispering, “Thank you.”

 

As it turns out, the Electoral College declared Donald Trump to be the 45th U.S. president. My mother would have been horrified. I suspect her mother would have been as well. Regardless of what anyone says, our votes for Hillary Clinton counted. It is the popular vote, by the people, that chose her. I’m still with her and we are stronger together.

 

Meet Mago Contributor, Kathleen McKern Verigin.

 

 

 

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