Today is my grandmother’s birthday. Drucilla Ileen Curnutt Hamblin was born June 15 1902. She had a first-rate mind and was a certified teacher in a one-room school house to support first her family of origin and then her family of destination. She taught school to support the family while my grandfather attended dental school. After having children she devoted herself to homemaking, raising my mother and uncles to value education, hard work and family. Her sons all became dentists and my mother, well, for those lucky enough to know her, understand how incredible a woman she was.
Ileen made three meals a day for years in the Arizona heat well before air conditioning was widely available. She made clothes to outfit her children and grandchildren and did works of public service in her spare time. Her selflessness was expected, that was just how things were. None of us will ever know how she felt about an education cut short, a professional life out of reach and a lifetime of putting others first. She encouraged my mother to pursue an education and find her own self-fulfillment. Ileen sent Carol away so her daughter could pursue a path of actualization and died before they had a language to find common ground.
My mother encouraged me to follow my dreams, often to the other side of the world, and despite missing me terribly, she felt strongly that she was following in her own mother’s footsteps. I’m grateful for that encouragement, even as I mourn the times we could have had together and the delay that meant my mother will never play with or care for my children in my lifetime.
On this day of my grandmother’s birth I am also grateful for all the other strong, selfless, amazing women whom I have the privilege to know. We are all taking different paths through life; some are rearing the next generation with love and passion, some are starting on new professional lives with courage and resolve, most are the glue that hold us together in all our myriad ways. I’m grateful too for their partners and allies in navigating this complex, difficult world. There are so many ways to show love, to let others know we care. There are many things today to fear; the rise of authoritarianism, the hatred that leads to violence, and the uncertainty of what lays before us.
My mother taught me that the only thing that will help us through is to try to love enough to understand and celebrate our differences. So for anyone reading this, I hope you see the love you have in your life. I hope you know that your mother loves you, even if she doesn’t always know how to say it. I hope you have the courage to open your heart to love, and to persist, even when it seems hopeless.
We all stand on the shoulders of giants. I never knew my grandmother, but I know that so many of the ways I am lucky in this world I owe to her tenacity, conviction and persistence. Happy birthday Ileen, today is an important day.