Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Schoolgirl's Pedigree

Drama Mama always resented that her mother never had more education. Grandma lamented that she never had more education. She was born in 1909 into the household of a man who farmed for shares. Her parents were "Dunkers" at one time. Religious folk who worked hard and didn't see education as practical. You had to pay for books back then and help with the upkeep of the teacher.

Grandma finished eighth grade, but then came home to help with a younger sister who was disabled and to assist a mother who had used a cane as long as she could remember. Grandma told me she had more schooling than any other child in her very large family, but that she really wanted to become a school teacher, but her father would not pay for more education.

Please understand that in this day, most country schools only went to eighth grade anyway. If a community was lucky the teacher might have enough training beyond the first level teaching certificate to teach part of the high school curriculum. I haven't went back to research what the opportunities were in Grandma's community, but I know that where I live now, some of the early school teachers had to ride long distances horseback, take a train and board with other people, or drive quite a way (which wasn't always too easy in the snow with an early vintage automobile) to get that "advanced" education.

When Grandma was eighteen she met two Soldiers. One swept her off her feet and she agreed to marry him. His friend tried to warn her that his buddy was already married, but she dismissed him as being jealous. Her husband moved her to another city and their first year of marriage was happy. One day he never came home. She heard he had transferred to Texas. When I was interviewing her as an old lady she still didn't want to talk much about the specifics.

I do not know how she got home, but she did. She began taking in laundry and would do laundry for the single men of the community. When she was 25 she was able to get her divorce from the soldier. Some time after that she became pregnant. Very shortly after that she married my grandfather who was forty years older than her. I do not know if he was the father of her first child, but I think he was.

When I asked her about this she said, "How else was I ever going to have a home of my own." I'll let you, dear reader, draw your own conclusions as to what may have transpired between these two. This would still be the era when married women could not teach school, so it's unlikely that even if she had had a teaching certificate, that it would have helped her much as far as finding employment. I do not know how divorced women faired in finding teaching positions in those days.

Grandma, truth be told was not entirely happy in this 7 year marriage, but at least she had her family that she so desired. Her husband was crippled from a work injury, pretty hard to get along with, and did not like the second child who was a daughter,Drama Mama. Things got really hard after he died and they became truly terrible for Drama Mama.

Grandma did the best she could but people and the community were not easy on her. There was a series of unfortunate events which result in the exploitation of her and her children by another family member for financial gain. This person also used this opportunity to sexually exploit Drama Mama. The four of them did eventually escape and with the two oldest teenager's earnings from their jobs were able to make their own way. Drama Mama resented it very much when her older brother joined the military and wasn't at home to help anymore.

Grandma was insistent that Drama Mama go to college and forced her rebellious teenage daughter to apply for scholarships. Drama Mama was already dating married men and going to roadhouses by this time as well as working, going to high school, and as I recall, playing high school basketball. I suppose much to Drama Mama's surprise, she received a full ride scholarship to a catholic nursing school. I think Drama Mama's older brother graduated high school but the younger one did not.

I do not know how long Drama Mama went to nursing school before being asked to leave. I've blogged about all the reasons that might have triggered that request. After, several stints waitressing and bartending, Drama Mama did take a secretarial course. She "augmented" her secretarial work with different kinds of moonlighting ranging from barmaid work to numerous sexual trysts where men would buy her clothing and take her on interesting trips. She was always very clear she wasn't a prostitute, you know, doing "it" for money. In kind was fine, though.

I think my readers will agree that it is truly miraculous that Drama Mama finally met a Mormon serviceman in a bar, who she thought was kind of cute and went home to sleep with that night. For whatever crazy reason, he took her and us kids to church the next day. We spent a lot of time with him over the next two weeks. He shipped off to Germany and he was gone. She told one of the card carrying mormon guys at work, who had been very carefully avoiding her, that she'd gone to the mormon church for the last few weeks. This fine gentleman arranged for Drama Mama and I to take the lessons and the rest is history as they say.

After joining the church and becoming a very skilled geneaologist, Drama Mama began to lament her peoples lack of respect for education. It's quite odd that she never acknowledged her own failures in this department or understood just how much Grandma did to try to set her on the right path or how Grandma's education was at least average if not greater for her time. Drama Mama had discovered that one of Grandma's male second cousins had done quite well for himself and risen to a high governmental position. She was very jealous of his education and blamed her grandparents for their lack of commitment to education.

As it turned out, I became the first member of my family on Drama Mama's side to graduate from college. I remember trying to convince Drama Mama to take an IT degree tailored expressly for reentry women from a state institution when she divorced from wicked stepfather, but she refused. Eventually she did get a bachelor's degree from a college which later closed its doors. This didn't help her much without a trade certification which she started to acquire and then gave up on.

Of my four female siblings, the three of us who were most committed to living an LDS lifestyle are the ones who also solidly maintained progress on our educations. One of us has a trade and has never stopped working in the trade. One of us is on the Mormon mommy track. And I have had the opportunity or curse depending on your outlook to combine all three and a graduate degree.

The two who have the most difficulty living the gospel are the two who, like Drama Mama, squandered the most educational opportunities. One was accepted to five major universities with partial scholarships and instead chose a prolonged period of riotous living. The other could not apply herself and gave up her athletic scholarship and married soon afterwards and stayed home for a while. Both of these women ultimately found a suitable trade and both are now working on associates degrees in their thirties.

Girl Song, my daughter, was also rebellious, but in a hyper religious way. He path to education was quite convoluted but she kept at it. Her straying from the church also correspondended with straying from education, a series of unhealthy work situations and even a brief stint of homelessness. She has gotten back on track with education and will soon have a graduate degree.

My point in all this is that if you look at this family's experience, it has not been religion that caused our women to deviate from the educational track it has been something else. If anything, our association with the LDS church has actually helped those of us who have the most education attain that education in a relatively short time frame. So, when I read that the Church keeps women from having career and educational attainment, I wonder where does this come from? Certainly, that hasn't been the experience in this family. In fact, strong commitment to the ideals and involvement with the Church seems to be a strong indicator for educational success.

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