March is Women's History Month and today is International Women's Day. I've spent the morning vacuuming and dusting and cleaning up the kitchen, because Laura is coming for tea.
I had thought of honoring women in my family this month, for women's history is essentially the history of our families. There are many I could draw on, from the those who supported the underground railroad, to the sisters who fought for women's rights along side Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.
Closer to home I could write about my paternal grandmother, who raised eight children on an Oklahoma homestead and wrote poetry, and kept a pet pig that she washed every laundry day in the big cast-iron cauldron that now sits in Jennifer's living room, full of throws.
I met Alice Hedglin Coffin only a few times and most of my memories are of tales others told. Like the time she found a large rattlesnake asleep on the floor of the parlor. Alice grabbed the shotgun that was always nearby and threw it over the snake. Then she planted a foot on each end of the gun and called for help. A son soon appeared and cut the snake's head off. Then he asked, "Why didn't you just shoot it?" because Alice was as good as any man with a gun.
"Because I didn't want holes in the floor!" she replied. Which always made sense to me.
In the end though, I decided not to write about family; that can wait for another time. Today I want to honor the women who too often go unsung and underpaid. I had the good fortune to know several over the last months of Ray's life. Sometimes they came when called, like Siri, who lived down the hill and filled in when others couldn't make it. Sometimes they came for an hour or two a week, like the nurses; or twice weekly, like the bath aides. And sometimes they were there every day. One of these, Laura, was with me the longest, eight hours a day toward the end.
Laura had worked with dementia patients for nine years, and with those in hospice for the last six. She was knowledgeable, competent, kind, and loving. She cooked scrambled eggs for Ray, with the hot peppers he loved. When he could no longer hold a spoon she fed him, and when he could no longer eat she gave him hourly doses of morphine to ease the pain of inevitable bed sores. We bonded over dirty diapers and strong cups of green tea. I heard about her extended family and the traditions of her Mexican roots, and she heard stories of our travels and my highly opinionated views on politics. I could not have gotten through the last months without her.
Most women become caregivers at some time in their life, but few make careers of it and those few—there may be millions in the US alone—deserve our respect, decent pay, and even honor. I keep thinking about the President, who wouldn't give Laura, a Chicana, the time of day. He might even want her deported, despite being born in the U.S.
But Laura and those like her who spend their lives caring for others are worth far more than a thousand Trumps. So today, on International Women's Day, I'm happy to honor them. And I'm also happy because Laura is coming for tea.