The month of March is Rural Women’s Month, officially proclaimed by the province of Saskatchewan. International Women’s Day was also celebrated earlier this month, and it’s important to understand the significance of these celebrations, especially if you have a pulse, if you were born to a woman, if you are a woman, or if you are raising a woman (or several women!). This month, I’ve been reflecting on the many strong women I’ve been fortunate to have as influences in my life, many of them from rural communities.
For generations, rural women have been known for being tough and resourceful, seemingly able to make something out of nothing. Today, women in rural areas are leaders in their communities, they volunteer and organize, they operate successful businesses, they create awareness about important causes, and do this all while keeping their own home fires burning. Rural women sometimes deal with challenges like being few in numbers and far from resources when compared with their urban counterparts. Yet compared to our grandmothers, we’ve come a long way, baby.
Running water. Indoor plumbing. Electricity. Refrigerators. Google machines and Smarty-pants phones that connect to the Interweb. Our foremothers probably couldn’t even imagine these daily conveniences that we can’t imagine our life without.
At least daily, I think of two women who have shaped my life and are indeed responsible for it – my two grandmothers, both rural Saskatchewan farm women. I didn’t know them well, yet I often relate their experiences, perhaps real and perhaps perceived, to my own life.
My maternal grandmother, a German-speaking Russian, immigrated to the prairies from Argentina with her family when she was four years old. After she was married, she had fifteen children, including my mom, the youngest. Midway through the birth order of her children, she had a set of twins, which I can’t help but compare to my own experience as a twin mama. Except that I had a washing machine, zero other mouths to feed, seven months of lead time to prepare for twin infants, and Pampers, so there really isn’t much to compare. My grandmother was widowed young and life dealt her many tough challenges which she handled because she had no other choice. Her poignant German sayings that have been passed down indicate to me that she was wise but also somehow maintained a sense of humour.
My paternal grandmother grew up in southwest Saskatchewan, in an area termed as the “heart of the Dust Bowl.” She was an accomplished cook, gardener and canner, no doubt establishing her skills as a young girl both at home and while working in the kitchen for another family in the area. In her wedding photo she looks beautiful and elegant, yet I see her hands are strong and know hard work. I’ve heard that she was a gracious host and would welcome anyone in for a meal that was prepared with care, even during times when the larder was running on empty. She took pride in her chickens and turkeys and grew a substantial garden to feed her husband and children for the entire year.
They were very different women, yet my grandmothers both endured challenges that tested their resourcefulness and tenacity. They were women of faith. They lived through droughts and crop failures and long, cold winters. They both buried children. They did without and persevered because they had no other choice. The stove needed tending, the potatoes needed to be peeled, the wash needed to be done, the noses needed to be wiped.
Through two generations, my Grandma Kohlman left a legacy of over one hundred descendants (and counting!), including farmers and pharmacists, accountants and administrators, nurses and musicians, chefs, teachers, and even a brain surgeon. Interestingly, my Grandma Hilda’s direct descendants are distilled down to me, and now my three children. Both of my grandmothers provided opportunities for their children and grandchildren, many who have channeled those opportunities into travelling, obtaining higher education or raising families of their own.
During times when I’m scrambling to put together a meal for unexpected company and serve it using one of Grandma Hilda’s spoons, or when I spontaneously apply one of Grandma Kohlman’s famous German sayings to a situation, I realize that these two rural women of the past continue to inspire this rural woman today. Let’s draw upon the strength of our heritage and celebrate our foremothers for keeping it all together so that we can too.