Ann Richards. Barbara Jordan. Stacey Abrams. Molly Ivins. Betha Day Morris. Ann, Barbara, Stacey, Molly and Betha shared a common gift, storytelling, honed from their various Texas influences. I call them the OGs of storytellers I would be happy to sit and listen to for hours on this rainy South Carolina day. Thanks to the magic of YouTube, I can still hear former Texas Governor Ann Richards, former US Representative Barbara Jordan, journalist and author Molly Ivins, political guru Stacey Abrams – the women we can celebrate during women’s history month for amazing achievements in their respective arenas.
Betha Day Morris wasn’t captured on YouTube videos, or sadly, any videos of her storytelling, but while the more famous others inspired me as an adult, my paternal grandmother was my greatest personal Star Storyteller. I paid homage to her in the preface of my first book Deep in the Heart: A Memoir of Love and Longing.
My roots are showing today – no, not those roots – my Texas roots which I never really outgrew. On my first visit to Texas from my new home in Seattle in 1968 where I had been for a grand total of three months out of my wise twenty-two years of life spent growing up in Texas, my daddy and I were quail hunting in a field in Fort Bend County when I began pontificating about the majesty, the grandeur of the Cascade Mountains of the Pacific Northwest. I had surveyed the lowcountry field of the southeastern coastal area as we followed Daddy’s hunting dogs Dab and Seth, making a remark something to the effect that the fields we were walking had to be some of the flattest lands God ever created. Nothing to see for miles except tall tan grass, why would anyone stay in Texas if they had the chance to move, even the quail might leave if they could. I went on and on. Dab and Seth ran with abandon but without purpose.
My daddy who was a documented fourth generation son of the Republic of Texas stopped, turned to look back at his daughter he adored and said, “Sheila Rae, you can take the girl out of Texas, but you’ll never take Texas out of the girl.” He was, of course, right.
I haven’t attempted to rival my grandmother’s stories, but I do have cousins who tell me I remind them of her. I consider that the highest compliment of my work. Stories and humor were the cornerstones of Betha’s life, and they became the bridges in mine.
Quannah Chasinghorse. Roberta “Bobbi” Cordano. Goldie Hawn. Maura Healey. Nicole Mann. Monica Munoz Martinez. Michelle Obama. Sandra Day O’Connor. Sheryl Lee Ralph. Grace Young. USA Women’s Soccer Team. Women of the 118th. Congress. Who are these women, and what do they share?
These women have been named as national honorees in USA TODAY’s Women of the Year project that honors local and national heroines “who make a positive impact in their communities every day…across America USA TODAY readers submitted their nominations for national and state Women of the Year honorees.” (USA TODAY March 16, 2023 – updated March 20, 2023)
In addition to the national honorees for the Women of the Year project, each state has an honoree who “lifts up people in their communities…showing up and speaking out for those who may not have a voice…” (USA TODAY March 17, 2023 – updated March 20, 2023)
Not surprisingly Dawn Staley has been named the South Carolina honoree by USA TODAY.
All of this is possible, Staley says, because of her mom and the lessons she instilled. Estelle Staley was a South Carolina native who moved home when her daughter, the youngest of five children, took over the Gamecocks program in 2008.
Staley’s rise from the projects of Philadelphia, where she honed her game, comes with great responsibility though. The 52-year-old calls herself “a dream merchant,” determined to show everyone, especially children who look like her, that starting from the bottom doesn’t mean you’ll finish there.
For her achievements, Staley is the USA TODAY Women of the Year honoree from South Carolina.
—–Lindsay Schnell, USA TODAY (March 17, 2023 – updated March 20, 2023)
Yesterday afternoon in our little microcosm of Gamecock women’s basketball fans in the stands – shout out to Section 118 – a buzz went up and around about Coach Staley’s attire for this second game of the post season, the final game at home for the Gamecock women at Colonial Life Arena in the 2022-23 season. The biggest question away from the action, the excitement we feel every time we watch our girls play, whether or not we will make the Sweet 16 in Greenville next weekend – yes, those are important questions. But the first one we asked was what is Coach Staley wearing today?
And the answer was a white and blue Cheyney University jersey – Cheyney is the nation’s first and only HBCU to make it to the Final Four of the NCAA tournament in women’s basketball. Coached by basketball Hall of Fame Coach Vivian Stringer in 1982, the team lost to Louisiana Tech in the championship game.
Coach Staley responded to questions regarding her choice of attire for the win that sent her team to the Sweet Sixteen next weekend in Greenville: “For them to be led by Coach Stringer, who opened doors that now I walk through, it was truly an honor to wear this jersey and to represent them.”
“Yolanda Laney, who wore this (jersey) … She actually started leagues for us,” Staley said. “When I was younger, we played in something called the DBL, and she was very much a part of creating that league to give younger players an opportunity to just come together and play in the summertime, so I have fond memories of that.” —-Emily Adams, Greenville News (March 19, 2023)
Dawn said it. I believe it. That’s all, folks.
Congratulations to Coach Staley on this honor – we are proud of you, and what you stand for.
Equal Pay Day—representing all women—is March 14. Women working full-time, year-round are paid 84 cents and all earners (including part-time and seasonal) are paid 77 cents for every dollar paid to men.
LGBTQIA+ Equal Pay Awareness Day is June 15. Without enough data to make calculations, this day raises awareness about the wage gap experienced by LGBTQIA+ folks.
Black Women’s Equal Pay Day is July 27. Black women working full-time, year-round are paid 67 cents and all earners (including part-time and seasonal) are paid 64 cents for every dollar paid to non-Hispanic white men.
Moms’ Equal Pay Day is August 15. Moms working full-time, year-round are paid 74 cents and all earners (including part-time and seasonal) are paid 62 cents for every dollar paid to dads.
Latina’s Equal Pay Day is October 5. Latinas women working full-time, year-round
are paid 57 cents and all earners (including part-time and seasonal) are paid 54 cents for every dollar paid to non-Hispanic white men.
Native Women’s Equal Pay Day is November 30. Native women working full-time, year-round are paid 57 cents and all earners (including part-time and seasonal) are paid 51 cents for every dollar paid to non-Hispanic white men.
Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Women’s Equal Pay Day is TBD. Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander women working full-time, year-round are paid 92 cents and all earners (including part-time and seasonal) are paid 80 cents for every dollar paid to non-Hispanic white men.
Thanks so much to the American Association of University Women for the above images and information they provided on this significant component of Women’s History Month in 2023.
And thanks to Brazilian illustrator Camila Pinheiro for designing the 2023 US Open Tennis Tournament poster celebrating 50 years of equal prize money for men and women, featuring one of the leaders associated with that seismic achievement in 1973: Billie Jean King. A mere twenty-eight years later the Australian Open awarded equal prize money for men and women beginning in 2001, another six years passed before Wimbledon followed suit in February, 2007; Roland-Garros quickly followed Wimbledon in March, 2007 – thirty-four years after the US Open adopted the equal prize money policy for women and men in the sport all four Majors participated in the policy that became the first Grand Slam of pay equity for all players.
“UnEqual” pay was the powder keg that ignited my activism in the women’s movement of the 1970s. From a nontraditional career for women in the accounting profession that began in 1967 with the shocking discovery that my compensation of $650 monthly at the Houston office of Arthur Andersen & Co., one of the most prestigious international accounting firms at the time, was $250 less than a work buddy making $900 a month for the same job. Only difference according to the partner in charge of personnel at the firm when I confronted him: my friend was a guy who might have a family to support one day. The risk for me, according to Mr. Terrell, was the need for maternity leave.
I wasn’t bold enough at the time to tell him why that was an unlikely scenario; I was, however, angry enough to leave the firm. This was my first job in the real world following graduation from the University of Texas at Austin, my first personal introduction to discrimination by men in power who had no respect for women in the workplaces they controlled, my first feelings of being lesser than despite high academic achievements and even higher work ethics. At twenty-two years of age, I was born again – this time as an activist for equal pay.
There once was an old woman who lived in a shoe. She had so many health issues she didn’t know what to do.
From the white hair on her head to the arthritic joints in her swollen toes that bent in odd overlapping shapes like desperate prisoners trying to climb over each other seeking escape from their confinement of pain, arthritic joints that were mysteriously connected to a right foot whose contour she barely recognized anymore.
From the small red knobs poking out the top of aching disfigured fingers in both hands she once thought to be beautiful like her father’s hands had been, to the true personification of the legendary Achilles heel connecting that same strange right foot to one of two legs held together with artificial knees easily identified by long scars.
From the ugly shades of brown, crusty, smelly skin patches under her sagging breasts that retreated in different directions following their loss of the Battle of the Bras, to the deep wrinkles now covering both sides of her face just like the trenches on her grandmother’s face had done.
From taking an inordinate amount of time in a public restroom because of kidneys not interested in competing with younger bladders to being overlooked by adolescent pharmacists who preferred serving younger customers first regardless of their place in line.
From the perpetually tearing eyes now struggling to discern shapes, colors, depths, and distances to the earring resistant ears engaged in a similar scuffle over distinguishing conversations in noisy restaurants, loud indoor arenas, small family gatherings, even cell phones.
From icy hands and feet at night that could easily be used for injury first aid treatment or be equally effective for use in a Yeti cooler in the summertime to prevent melting chocolate caramel candies…to the gradual loss of the teeth necessary for eating any chewy sweets or, more importantly, popcorn.
Behold the old woman who still lives in a shoe, but now the shoe is a Croc of shoe.
Six-year-old Finn came inside the house from the pool and ran dripping wet past me on his way to the kitchen to get a bag of chips. I was sitting in my antiquated deep blue velvety cloth recliner in the den watching TV when he zipped by.
“Every time I come to your home, you’re always sitting in the same chair watching TV,” Finn commented as he raced past me.
“Hey,” I said to his back. “Why do you think I do that?”
He barely turned and said with a tone of dismissal in his voice, “I guess it’s because you’re lazy.” Point taken.
Six years later I continue to hover in my recliner in front of the same TV but with a different new brown leather comfy chair that includes a remote for adjusting my sitting positions. Ah, technology at its finest thanks to the generosity of our best friends Francie and Nekki.
Sometimes I feel I’ve earned my laziness as reparations for the forty-five frantic years I labored with numbers in the work force, at other times I worry I inherited the right to laziness through the hard work of my ancestors whose sacrifices for family shouldn’t be disrespected by my inability to be productive; but today, I cast laziness to the winds, muted the TV, sat in an upright position and committed anew to this project of recapturing images of the people and places that shaped my solitary journey from playing outside on the dusty red dirt roads of a tiny town in rural southeast Texas as a child to living seven decades later inside a middle-class suburban home in South Carolina facing a blank computer screen screaming give me words.
I will be seven and seventy years old this year with a life expectancy of fourteen more according to reputable statistics – a sobering thought to see numbers like these in print. Nothing is available to predict quality of life for those fourteen years, however, but laziness is not recommended by any of the experts on aging I have read.
One of the great bonuses of getting older is the freedom to own your truth, to reclaim the unfiltered mind of the child you were before the onslaught of the certainties from the adults in your rooms created doubts about who you were and what you believed. Today I get a free pass on words with my white hair, arthritic hands and feet, wrinkled sagging skin, watery eyes. Oh, ignore her, they laugh. She is old.
And so, I continue to tell it like I see it as I have done for the past fifteen years. For sure I’m closer to the end of my life than to the beginning, but maybe the words I own will resonate, rejuvenate, even cause us to celebrate our shared humanity which is relevant regardless of age.
Women’s History Month for Pretty and me begins with March Madness every year. While we fall woefully short of being perfect card-carrying lesbians in areas like do it yourself home improvements and/or knowing all the lyrics to Brandi Carlisle’s music – no disrespect to Brandi Carlisle whose songs we do love – we get better marks for being lesbian in two unrelated categories: devotion to our dogs (and now cats), obsession with sports (particularly women’s college basketball and professional tennis).
This first March weekend we kept I-26 hot driving a hundred miles north to Greenville, South Carolina from our home in West Columbia and riding the same hundred miles back on Friday, Saturday and Sunday to watch the University of South Carolina Gamecock Women’s basketball team play in the 2023 Southeastern Conference Tournament. We rode with two of our gay boys’ basketball buddies who cheer with us in our very loud Section 118 of the Colonial Life Arena during the regular season for every home game.
(clockwise) Garner, Brian, Pretty and me
standing in line on beautiful day in Greenville at Bon Secours Wellness Arena
Garner and me with Carolina logo featuring our
Gamecock mascot The General
Garner took this pic of me and ESPN analyst Holly Rowe on College Game Day
(Holly Rowe is the person in pink – Gamecock fans behind me)
Pretty and I love our Gamecockwomen’sbasketball team
the smiling faces of Champions – 2023 SEC tournament
(2022-23 regular season Champions, too with perfect record of 16-0 in the conference)
Photo by DWAYNE MCLEMORE, The State Newspaper
Head Coach Dawn Staley also happy as she cuts the net
photo by DWAYNE MCLEMORE, The State Newspaper
Head Coach Dawn Staley was named SEC Coach of the Year for the sixth time in 2023 as she completes her 15th. season with the University of South Carolina; the 2023 Tournament Championship win marked the seventh SEC title in the past nine seasons. Coach Staley’s Gamecock teams have won National Championships in 2017 and 2022, but the best team may be her current one which has an overall record of 32-0 staying in the #1 spot of the AP Poll every week from the beginning of the year. The 16-0 regular season record for the Gamecock women made them conference champions for the sixth time under Coach Staley. This team is one for the record books, but what is a remarkable team without great players?
The names of seniors Aliyah Boston, Zia Cooke, Brea Beal, Laeticia Amihere, Victaria Saxton, Kiera Fletcher, and Olivia Thompson will leave behind a stellar history for women’s Gamecock basketball not only for their team championships on the basketball court but also individual records that set high standards for the players who come after them. These young women have been inspirational in their dedication to their craft, community, and loyal fans who look forward to following their futures.
Thank you, Coach Staley, for guiding your teams to greatness – it’s been such a fun ride for your fan base which includes Pretty and me. More than that, however, thank you for preparing your players for making our world a better place.
I no longer have to imagine a world without John Lewis as I did when I originally published this piece in July, 2020 – because I have now lived in that world in real time for almost three years. I miss him.
I cannot imagine a world without John Lewis. I knew him first as a Civil Rights activist in the 1960s when I was in college, but I’ve known him longest as a congressman from our neighboring state of Georgia who for the past 33 years fought for social justice issues in the US House of Representatives. When John Lewis spoke, I listened. On July 17, 2020 his voice spoke for a final time as he drew his last breath, but his words will live on for me and countless others across the planet he loved.
Two of my favorite quotes from Congressman Lewis:
“We may not have chosen the time, but the time has chosen us.”
“If you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to do something about it.”
Then, this quote from a 2003 Op Ed by Congressman Lewis in the Boston Globe was particularly meaningful for me: “I’ve heard the reasons for opposing civil marriages for same-sex couples. Cut through the distractions and they stink of the same fear, hatred and intolerance I have known in racism and bigotry.”
From being beaten by police on Bloody Sunday at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama in 1965 to observing the creation of a Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, D. C. near the White House in June of this year, John Lewis was a presence and driving force for good for more than 50 years. I truly cannot imagine a world without him.
“You must be able and prepared to give until you cannot give any more. We must use our time and our space on this little planet that we call Earth to make a lasting contribution, to leave it a little better than we found it, and now that need is greater than ever before.” (quote provided by Jonathan Capehart in The Washington Post on June 10, 2020)
One of my father’s favorite biblical sayings was “a good name is rather to be chosen than great riches.” (Proverbs 22:1) The name of Congressman John Robert Lewis who died yesterday at the age of 80 will be written in our American history as a good name, perhaps even an “exceptional” one according to remarks by former President Barack Obama as he remembered Lewis today.
I cannot imagine a world without the compassionate leadership of John Lewis, an American patriot. Your journey is over, John – your job was well done. Rest in peace.
John’s job was, indeed, well done. What about ours? Will we leave this little planet we call Earth a little bit better than we found it? That is the challenge we face daily. Onward.
Groundbreaking research is currently being conducted in the medical field on treatment programs including new medicines for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. In 2011 when I wrote this piece and published it for the first time, Pretty and I had become caregivers for my mother for the previous three years with the goals of keeping her safe and comfortable. We were told her dementia would get progressively worse with no hope for improvement. We saw that prognosis slowly come true. Last week Pretty’s ongoing work on bringing order to the very old boxes in her warehouse revealed a small black box containing my mother’s notebook prepared by the funeral home that took care of her final remains and resting place in 2012. Inside the notebook was her copy of my first book Deep in the Heart: A Memoir of Love and Longing that I gave her in 2007.
August 08, 2011
Last week I visited my mother who is in a Memory Care Unit in a facility in Houston, Texas. She is eighty-three years old and has lived there for two years. She is a short, thin woman with severe scoliosis. Her curved spine makes walking difficult, but she shuffles along with the customary purpose and determination that characterized her entire life. Her silver hair looks much the same as it has for the last thirty years, missing only the rigidity it once had as a result of weekly trips to the beauty parlor and massive amounts of hairspray.
Her skin is extraordinarily free of wrinkles and typically covered with makeup. She wears the identical mismatched colors she wore on my last visit. Black blouse and blue pants. This is atypical for the prim, little woman for whom image was so important throughout her life and is indicative of the effect of her dementia.
My mother is a stubborn woman who wanted to control everyone and everything in her life because she grew up in a home ruled by poverty and loss and had no control over anything. Her father died when she was eleven years old. He left a family of four children and assorted business debts to a wife with no education past the third grade. Life wasn’t easy for the little girl and her three older brothers who were raised by a single mom in a rural east Texas town during the Great Depression.
My mom survived, married her childhood sweetheart, and had a daughter. The great passions of her life, which she shared with my father, were religion and education and me, possibly in that order. She played the piano in Southern Baptist churches for over sixty years. She taught elementary grades in three different Texas public schools for twenty-five years. The heart of the tragedies in her adult life made a complete circle and returned to losses similar to the ones she experienced in her childhood: her mother who fought and lost a battle with depression, two husbands who waged unsuccessful wars against cancer, an invalid brother who progressively demanded more care until his death, and a daughter whose sexual orientation defied the laws of her church. Alas, no grandchildren.
My sense is that my mother prefers the order of her life now to the chaos that confronted her when dementia began to overpower her. She knew she was losing control of everything, and she did not go gently into that good night. Today, she seems more content. At least, that’s my observation during my infrequent visits.
“My daughter lives a thousand miles from me,” she always announces to anyone who will listen. “She can’t stay long. She’s got to get back to work.”
We struggle to find things to talk about when I visit, and that isn’t merely a consequence of her condition. We’ve had a difficult relationship. Our happiest moments now are often the times we spend taking naps. She has a bed with a faded navy blue and white striped bedspread, a dark blue corduroy recliner at the foot of her bed, and one small wooden chair next to her desk. I sleep in the recliner, and she closes her eyes while she stretches out on the bed.
The room is quiet with occasional noises from other residents and staff in the hallway outside her door. They don’t disturb us. She has no interest in the television I thought was so important for her to take when I moved her into this place. I notice it is unplugged. Again.
“Lightning may strike,” she says when I ask her why she refuses to watch the TV in her room. “Besides, I like to watch the shows with the others on the big TV. Sometimes we watch Wheel of Fortune, and sometimes we watch a movie.”
I give up and close my eyes.
“I love this book,” my mother says, startling me awake with her words. I open my eyes to see her sitting across from me. She’s in the small wooden chair with the straight back. I can’t believe she’s holding the copy of my book, Deep in the Heart, which I gave her two years ago. I never saw the book since then in any of my visits, and I assumed she either threw it away or lost it. I was also stunned to see how worn it was. The only other book she had that I’d seen in that condition was The Holy Bible.
“I know all the people in this book,” she continues. “And many of the stories, too.”
“Yes, you do,” I agree. “The book is about our family.”
And, then, for the second time in as many weeks, I hear another reader say my words. My mother reads to me as she rarely did when I was a child. She was always too busy with the tasks of studying when she went to college, preparing for classes when she taught school, cooking, cleaning, ironing, practicing her music for Sunday and choir practice—she couldn’t sit still unless my dad insisted that she stop to catch her breath.
But, today, she reads to me. She laughs at the right moments and makes sure to read “with expression,” as the teacher in her remembers. Occasionally, she turns a page and already knows what the next words are. I’m amazed and moved. I have to fight the tears that could spoil the moment for us. I think of the costs of dishonesty on my part, and denial on hers for sixty-five years. The sense of loss is overwhelming.
The words connect us as she reads. For the first time in a very long while, we’re at ease with each other. Just the two of us in the little room with words that renew a connection severed by a distance not measured in miles. She chooses stories that are not about her or her daughter’s differences. That’s her prerogative, because she’s the reader.
She reads from a place deep within her that has refused to surrender these memories. When she tires, she closes the book and sits back in the chair.
“We’ll read some more later,” she says.
I lean closer to her.
“Yes, we will. It makes me so happy to know you like the book. It took me two years to write these stories, but I’m glad you enjoy them so much.”
“Two years,” she repeats. “You have a wonderful vocabulary.”