Counting Blessings

I am going to be traveling to my home base, the Bay Area, in mid-September. On September 13, my mother would have turned 100 years old. I’m going down there to toast her memory.

A farm child native to Northwest Missouri, my mother and her younger sister Marge packed up and moved to San Francisco in 1939. I have no idea why. They had never been out of Missouri, to my knowledge. My mother was 21 and her sister 18.

Then came the war. For my mom: The War.  When she talked of that time, it was anecdotally. She told of the time she bought her first-ever pair of jeans (at that time, I doubt jeans were made to fit women; all were on the men’s side of the aisle). She had gotten a job working at the Oakland Shipyards, and needed suitable attire. However, no one told her about how to buy shrink-to-fits. She said the first time she washed them, they were so tight-fitting, she drew a lot of wolf whistles next time she came to work. So of course — she wore them all the time. My mom was inordinately proud of the fact that eventually, she was welding ship bottoms. Only the best welders were given that task, for obvious reasons. The original Rosie the Riveter, my mom. One of many.

My mom was a fiscal conservative who blamed the country’s economic woes on Roosevelt’s policies. She never voted Democrat in her life. Living in the heart of San Francisco might have been a bit trying for her. Socially, however, she had a live and let live attitude. In 1992, she tuned in to watch the Republican National Convention on television. Pat Buchanan was the keynote speaker, waxing eloquently about the homosexual agenda and family values. I had come out to my mother as a lesbian in 1974. Her first reaction was, “Where did I go wrong?” A not uncommon response in that era. Then she thought about it for a couple of weeks, and said to me, “I see you’re happier, so you have my blessing.” In 1989, my older sister Susan wrote me a letter, thanking me for coming out to her all those years before. She had fallen in love with a woman (still together today) and my coming out to her made her own process of self-acceptance easier.

So… Pat Buchanan in 1992. My mother was horrified as it finally sank in how far to the right her party had drifted on social issues. And she realized, “He’s talking about my family.” Talk about family values — the Republican party lost my mother in 1992 and she never went back. She approached my sister and I individually and told us she was voting for Bill Clinton, and why. I don’t know about my sister, but my jaw just about hit the floor.

I will also toast my oldest sister Jan when I visit the Bay Area. She died of cancer on Sept. 15, 2004, nine months after my mother died. Jan was a larger-than-life woman, kind and generous of spirit. She was the epitome of an oldest sister, In Charge everywhere she went. Smart, funny, beautiful – that was Jan. She took over the role of Matriarch from my mother sometime in the mid-1980s. Didn’t matter what your politics were, what your religion, sexual orientation, gender identity — Jan met people where they were at, always interested. The only time I heard her lecture any of her guests at family get-togethers was when a guest would try to lecture others about their lives or beliefs. Not under her roof!

So, here’s to Jan Bashinski and Elizabeth Vanderburgh, my family matriarchs. I’ll be toasting you in September, feeling blessed to be related to you both. I’m no matriarch — but I am organizing this family gathering, in your honor.

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