March is Women’s History Month (in the US)
These are some of the women who have made a difference in my life.
There is one woman I remember looking up to my whole life. I mean, I remember the sensation of just looking at her and thinking “wow”. From the first memories I have, she is there, and she is breathtaking, in every way. This woman is my Auntie Vicki. She is, literally, one of my heroes. I don’t think I will ever live up to the level of awesome that she is, but I try, all the time.
She lived with us for a few years when I was little. She and Mum were very close – had lived together in University, and shared the wickedest sense of humour I’ve ever seen. They, like Amy and I, could share a single look, and there would be more said in that look than anyone could ever put down in words.
Auntie Vicki is devilishly clever. She’s a voracious reader. She is a teacher who devoted her entire career to teaching mentally challenged students. Her students had Autism, Down’s Syndrome, or any number of other genetic or congenital conditions that resulted in their having brain injuries or mental delays or disabilities. She learned sign language because many of her students were non-verbal or pre-verbal. She taught through music, writing her own songs for entertainment and education. She made puppets and wrote books and told stories and she did this for over 30 years.
More than that – she can talk about pretty much any subject with authority, and if she doesn’t know something, she’ll go out and learn about it. And she won’t just get a few brochures. When she wanted to learn how to ski, she took all of the lessons, and became a beautiful, accomplished skier. When my uncle prodded her to learn how to waterski, she did it over and over and over until she got it right. She wanted to learn more about horses, so she took riding lessons, which led to week-long trail rides in the mountains, which led to buying her own horse and learning how to care for him, which led to buying a ranch and a stallion and some mares (and a pig called Ambrose who I always thought ought to have been called “Bacon”), which led to an idyllic, but busy, life in addition to her career.
She is well-travelled and when she goes somewhere where English isn’t the only language, *she learns more languages*. She drives, so that she learns the countryside. She meets people, so that she learns the culture. She tells stories (with actions), so they can laugh with her.
She is a tiny wee thing – just over five feet tall and I think she can probably still shop in the “teen girls’” clothing sections, but she’s strong, and her eyes light up the room whenever she’s near. People are drawn to her, not just because she makes them laugh, but because she is a good soul. She also has a sharp tongue, and a good dose of our family’s Irish temper. Where my Mum got Grampa’s patience and determination, Auntie Vicki got my Nama’s stubbornness and righteous conviction.
Auntie Vicki taught me to be independent – to value my mind and my humour over all other things. That with those two things, I could conquer any adversity. She taught me that everything is possible. She taught me that you must devote your life to learning, because the only *true* power is knowledge. She taught me, very subtly, and without ever saying it, that no woman needs a man to be successful, and that if a woman should choose to share her life, her success, and her soul with a man, that is no compromise, no ‘settlement’, and no ‘fulfilled expectation’; it is, rather, her *choice*. She continues to teach me many things, and is one of those people I always feel woefully uneducated and naive around (which isn’t a Bad Thing). I love her a great deal, and I want to keep learning from her for many, many years to come.
(She also taught me some of my best and filthiest swear words, which is something for which I will be eternally grateful. Nobody can turn a filthy phrase better than Auntie Vicki.)