WRITING STRONG WOMEN

Thoughts and commentary on being a strong woman—what it takes, and how we get there

the Strongest Woman

I1> Have Ever Known

In Honor of Marynelle “Bobbie” Crawford, the Strongest Woman I’ve Ever IKnown

By Jessica Sinn

You know the expression, “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone”? Those words really ring true now that my 95-year-old grandma, Marynelle “Bobbie” Crawford, has passed on to the great beyond.

As I was writing her eulogy, I cursed myself for not taking the time to really get to know the most accomplished woman in my entire family.  Sure, I know she served in the U.S. Marine Corps, excelled in school, and grew up during the Great Depression. But sadly, I only know the Cliffs Notes version of her life.

If you think about it, how well do we really know our grandparents other than the fact that they spoiled us rotten with ice cream, toys and hugs when we were kiddos? As a bratty little kid, I only saw grandma as a white-haired sweet old lady who liked to drone on and on about Billy Graham specials and the benefits of milk and prune juice. And when she did talk about her past I would roll my eyes and say, “Oh boy, here we go again.” I was too busy wishing I could be flirting with boys at the mall than sitting in this old lady’s house listening to her talk about the hardships of her youth.

Now that she’s gone, I would give anything – even my precious Ford Taurus – to spend one more day with this woman and learn more about her epic journey – from growing up on a dairy farm to working her way up the Marine Corps totem pole during World War II.

It wasn’t until I began writing her eulogy when the sharp pang of loss hit me like a sucker punch to the gut. A huge flash of regret waved over me when I realized that I was just now learning about this wonderfully brave, complex, strong woman.

You see, unlike the Facebook generation, grandma didn’t like to talk about herself.  Although she often reminisced about the Great Depression, She didn’t gloat about her accomplishments – and trust me, there were many! Here’s what I learned as I gathered details about grandma’s life:

Born on May 4, 1917, Marynelle Thompson, grew up on her grandfather’s dairy farm in a small Southern patch of Bryant, Arkansas. She spent most of her childhood in Little Rock, where she graduated from Central High School with honors.

After high school she received secretarial training and worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers until she and her best girlfriend joined the U.S. Marine Corps Women’s Reserve after the start of World War II. She was assigned an office staff position at Marine Corps Headquarters in Quantico, Va.

Among her many important duties, she provided clerical support for the Manhattan Project. Proud to serve her country, she quickly worked her way up through the ranks and was promoted to corporal, not an easy task for a woman Marine back in the World War II era.

In her later years, she was fond of saying she had the equivalent of a college degree in military records. During her enlistment, she fell in love with Sgt. Donald Hughes Crawford, the boss of her best girlfriend. Shortly thereafter, they married in a quiet ceremony in 1944. Resplendent in their Marine Corps uniforms, their wedding was intimate and understated. But even if she had all the money in the world, she wouldn’t have had it any other way.

After grandpa swept her off her feet, the rest was history. They made a home in sunny Carlsbad, California where they lived a quiet happy life by the beach. Although grandpa struck it big in the stock market, they lived very frugally and never took even the simplest creature comfort – milk especially – for granted. As a kid, I always groused over their penny-pinching ways. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t indulge in fancy cars and designer clothes. Boy did I have a lot to learn.

Although it pained her to spend money on “frivolous” things like clothes and household appliances, she put my sister and I through college – no questions asked. She made provisions for our future and gave us a place to call home after our mother split. In addition to the much-needed financial assistance, she gave us the confidence we needed to chase our dreams. Considering our shaky upbringing, I shudder to think where we would be today without grandma’s love and support.

She had a way of making anyone feel special. She never let a conversation go by without telling me how proud she was of me. She may have sounded like a broken record, but my heart warmed over whenever I heard those words. Growing up, my mother always laughed at my future plans and told me “you can’t,” but grandma always made me believe the opposite. With her encouragement and eternal optimism, I knew I had it in me to finish college and write for a living.

So as I sit here stewing about the things I could’ve, should’ve done while she was alive, I realize the best way to get through my grief is to honor her legacy. No matter what hardships come my way, I need to invoke my inner Marynelle Crawford and pick myself up by my bootstraps whenever the going gets tough. Even in her darkest days, she would somehow find a happy place. Let’s face it, nursing home life is grim. But she found a way to enjoy it by occupying her free time with long walks around the rest home. Rather than zoning out in front of the TV, she’d strap on her walking shoes and go to town on that walker. The staff was so impressed by her walking routine, they monitored her steps with a pedometer and found that she clocked one to three thousand steps per day!

As you can see, those are some big shoes to fill, but I am determined to make her proud. Rather than focusing on material things, negative thinking, and trivial drama, I need to remember the lessons grandma taught me: Be strong no matter what life throws your way; Believe in yourself in defiance of naysayers; And above all else, be kind.

Thank you grandma for all the gifts you have given me.  It’s hard accepting the fact that you’re gone, but I know you’re in a better place. Semper Fi!

I

 

 

Posted in Rosie the Riveter, Steel Magnolia, Strong Woman, Uncategorized, Writing Strong Women | 2 Comments

Show Up, Pay Attention, Tell the Truth, Stay Unattached to the Outcome

The rules I live by, as found at the bottom of my website, are:

 SHOW UP

PAY ATTENTION

TELL THE TRUTH

STAY UNATTACHED TO THE OUTCOME

And with that, my guide stone of:  Intent, Integrity and Impeccability.

 These few, but powerful words guide me and  keep me focused on what is important to me. Thinking of that, and you know howShow up, pay attention, tell the truth, stay unattached to the outcome one’s mind can wander, this morning in conversation with one of my son’s, I recalled something that I intentionally do as an offering to others. Thought I’d share it with you.

One of the most powerful things I’ve learned about showing up, paying attention, telling the truth, and staying unattached to the outcome is my casual contact with other people I come across on a daily basis.

I have noticed, so as a result, now make it a part of who I am, and that is the impact that casual contact can have on another human being–a stranger, if you will.

How? By engaging them in friendly conversation–a conversation that often lifts their gloom and brings a smile.

For example: In a check out line at a grocery store, the clerk looks disinterested, does not connect with me, appears weary, sad, or whatever. Instead of being critical of her lack of interpersonal skills or professional training, (which, I confess, I have been guilty of) now I delight in touching base with them on a personal level and hope my connection lifts their mood. I might smile, ask them about their day, and then support their response with a word of encouragement or empathy.

It does my heart good when they smile back, knowing that someone, if even for a brief moment, notices them, connects with their humanity, and genuinely cares.

They smile, they come out of their funk–they feel appreciated, and touched by the human contact. So often, people feel so isolated–disconnected–like they are machines — or caught up in personal issues. Many times they carry heavy responsibilities and are just plain weary.

For a stranger to care enough to connect with them makes a big difference in their day. I love watching their transformation, and hope they carry that with them the rest of the day–and pass it on. I know I do, for they, in turn, brighten my day.

I now find myself eagerly looking for opportunities to give a Good Morning, a bright smile, a light-hearted response, empathy, small talk, idle chit chat with people I don’t know.

My payoff? I like me better.

I encourage you to

SHOW UP to life.

PAY ATTENTION to those around you.

TELL THE TRUTH always, and there is always something kind we can say to another.

STAY UNATTACHED TO THE OUTCOME by giving others the freedom to respond as they can. In  other words, don’t push the river.

 

Posted in A War of Her Own, Crones, Rosie the Riveter, The Princess, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Legacy of a Mom:

WWII Nurse

We have a special guest blogger today, with a story that stole my heart. Kitty Delorey Fleischman (publisher/editor of
WWII Nurse
IDAHO magazine, at 102 S. 17th St., Ste. 201, Boise, ID 83702) and I were emailing a couple of weeks ago about our excitement to attend the upcoming annual conference of the National Federation of Press Women, meeting this year in Council Bluff, Iowa. During the course of our conversations, we began to talk about the setting of my latest book, A War Of Her Own, which takes place on the home front during WWII. Kitty began to tell me the story of her mother, and I knew the tale needed to be shared with others. She (and her mother) are our guests today. Her mother is passed, but the memories she left behind inspires us all. The post long, so if you can’t finish it in one reading, bookmark it and come back. Listen as the story unfolds, as recounted at her mom’s funeral. –Sylvia Dickey Smith 

Below, was the eulogy for Kitty’s mother. “Mark” who is speaking is Kitty’s youngest brother, Mark Delorey. Kitty wrote the eulogy at the request of her mother, and Mark read it at the funeral.

Like all true Irishmen, Mom (Lt. Mary Jane Healy) wanted a eulogy at her funeral. Never one to shy away from giving us challenges, a few months ago Mom asked that Kitty write this and that I (Mark speaking) read it. Ordinarily this would be a very difficult task. She made it easier by living such a rich life from which to draw material. And, she promised to help me this morning.

First I’d like to read you some excerpts from a letter written in 1985 by the “Richest Man in the World”:

WWII Nurse“The picture is old. For forty years I’ve carried it in my billfold. I’ve showed it to everyone kind enough to listen to my stories. I wasn’t just a kid when I met her. I was 28-years old. She was a 24-year old army nurse. She was five foot one and weighed about a hundred pounds. She looked so darned cute in her oversized coveralls and army shoes, I called her ‘Butch.’

“No one in the world had ever said ‘Don’ and smiled the way she did. Her charm was her goodness. It’s true. I did_µ ask her to marry me on the second day I knew her, and after she said ‘yes’ on the third or fourth day, we talked about a little house in the country and a bunch of kids. The ship we were on was the U.S.S. Butner, a Liberty ship bound for India. On each long, hot day we stayed together as we went through the South Atlantic around South Africa into the Indian Ocean and on to Bombay.

“We parted in Bombay. I told her I loved her and that I’d find her again some day.

“All my dreams came true. The little white house in the country, all the kids. It’s true, kids, your mother did wear army shoes.”

That letter doesn’t just describe the beginning of a story though. It is the start of an epic which has spanned the globe and occupied a half-century. And while the story has had its sorrows, it is mainly filled with joy and laughter. It has grown from those two to include eight children as well as the partners who have come along to share their children’s lives and provide more than a dozen grandchildren who’ve kept them young and entertained.WWII Nurse

For all of us who have shared in portions of this story, you know that Mary Jane and Donald Delorey have a rare and very special love. It is a love that has thrived through war, hard times and lean years, surmounted endless stacks of bills for doctors, kids’ clothes and shoes, car repairs, payments on houses that hadn’t sold along the way and debts taken on willingly to help out someone who needed it more than they. It is the kind of love that stood firmly side-by side, hand-in hand through the death of a cherished little boy and the loss of a baby.

Whatever happened, we Deloreys grew up knowing we were wealthy because we always had more than enough to go around. If anyone came to our house in need of a ride, a shoulder to cry on, a safe haven for their children, a ham sandwich and cup of coffee, or a few bucks to tide them over, they had only to ask. It was never a problem or a burden. One of Mom’s favorite expressions involved adding water to soup, and it is likely that she could have come up with some variation of the loaves and fishes miracle if the need had ever arisen.

Mom’s feelings of sympathy were generally expressed in practical ways. It was part of her common sense approach to life. Her kindness and generosity touched everyone who knew her. No one who knows Mom can doubt that—were she not today’s guest of honor—she would have a ham in the oven and a bowl of potato salad chilling in the refrigerator to bring over to the family. As it is, we know she is nearby and her love is surrounding each of us like a shield.

To us, she’s just Mom.” She often sang as she cooked our meals and washed our clothes. Many of her days were spent in household tasks and rearing children, and our house usually teemed with people because our friends were always welcome._¨

But even Mom wasn’t always a mom. Born in Detroit, Mom was the second of five children. She came a year after her brother Pete, and they were soon joined by Bill, Kitty and Chuck. They grew up as a closely-knit family in a home where the emphasis was on love of family, church and nation.

They struggled through the years of the Great Depression. When Grandpa lost his well-established plumbing business, the family migrated to join Grandpa’s brother Bill who offered to help them start over in California. But it didn’t take long for the Detroit Healys to find their way home to Michigan.

Graduating from high school, Mom pursued a career as a registered nurse. The curriculum was tough and the stringent demands made for studies, work and personal conduct at Detroit’s Providence Hospital in the late 1930s were calculated to test the mettle of prospective nurses. Mary Jane Healy stood proudly among the graduates of the Class of 1941.

The attack on Pearl Harbor started Mom thinking about the critical need for nurses, and when her brother Pete signed on with the army, she was close behind in her decision to join the army nurses’ corps. They would need someone to care for the injured, and it wasn’t Mom’s way to stand back and wait for someone else to do the job.

Mom rarely shared her army experiences. But heaven help the child who didn’t clean up a plate. When Mom talked about the starving children in India, it wasn’t hearsay or something she’d seen on newsreels—it came from a gentle woman who had watched in pain as children scooped scraps from G.I. garbage cans and fled to protect those sad riches.

One of the incidents she enjoyed and sometimes shared was about the time she hitched a ride on an unarmed military cargo plane to see Dad who had been flown back toward civilization to the hospital. It wasn’t until she hopped off the plane at the landing strip that the airman with the checklist understood the pilot’s cryptic message that, in addition to his load of fresh tomatoes, he was bringing in 100 pounds of sugar.

Mom spent 18 months overseas during World War II, taking care of soldiers who were part of a throw-away force sent halfway around the world to delay an enemy everyone knew couldn’t be beaten. History shows the Army strategists underestimated the power of our parents. It was not a mistake we’d have made.

WWII NurseThen she was sent to Okinowa, to be among the first medical units set to wade ashore following the invasion of Japan. We’ve always wondered if that might have factored into Japan’s surrender.

When it came time to be discharged, she was offered a promotion to first lieutenant if she’d wait a few days for it to be processed. But home beckoned, and neither rank, honors nor bonus money would sway her.

After a short visit at home, she went to Massachusetts to see Dad, who waited in traction at Lovell General Hospital. For all she had done, and with all the stories Dad had told them about her, Mom walked into his hospital ward to a thunderous ovation from his fellow bedridden heroes.

Even as youngsters, we realized that Mom made “Rosie the Riveter” look like a whimp. A non-swimmer who was terrified of the water, she had carried her pack up a scramble net thrown 40 feet over the sides of a ship heaving in the throes of a typhoon rather than being unceremoniously hauled up in a basket like those who were too afraid to make the climb.

Dad often described her putting on that 50-pound pack and marching off the ship and into the war-torn jungles of India and Burma. So, at an age where most kids settled arguments with “…oh yeah? Well, my dad can beat your dad,” we’d been known to make threats about how our MOM could beat their dads.

Small, tough, Irish and darned proud of it, Mom’s courage was undaunted by snakes, jungle vermin or anything else. She stood by dad’s bedside after his heart attack in 1960 knowing there were six young children from one- to 12-years old waiting for them at home, and she has nursed us all through broken bones, concussions, beestings and a host of childhood illnesses and disasters, as well as the pitfalls of adulthood.

WWII NurseSo, it was no surprise to us that—despite cancer’s fearsome reputation—in typical style, Mom quietly has made her stand, and for more than a decade, has laughed off the pain and prayed away the effects of a disease that makes people willing to grasp at any frail straw for relief.WWII Nurse

She did it with her boundless love, her unfailing courage and her undying faith. It is her life and that love, courage and faith we are here today to celebrate.

As we share our grief and shed our tears, we look around at a group created and bound together by the love she and Dad have shared, and we remember that this, of all times, is when we most need to hold tightly to each other to preserve her beautiful legacy and treasure her memory.

We are Mom’s legacy.

NOTE: Kitty’s dad is listed in the Army Ranger Hall of Fame. What a story of WWII Nurse!

WWII Nurse

Posted in A War of Her Own, Crones, Rosie the Riveter, Steel Magnolia, Strong Woman, Uncategorized, Writing Strong Women | 2 Comments

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