Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Sarah Carmichael

Most of my female relatives hail from my mom's side of the family. They are of Swedish descent; fair skinned and rather shy. Nice people, great cooks, sweet tempered and good natured. Also a bit reserved. In my family the only sin greater than putting someone out or being a bother was calling  attention to yourself.   Bragging was verboten - as was accepting a compliment, as that might mean you agree with the person offering the compliment and that would be bragging.  We also  didn't complain or air our dirty laundry in public.  Yes, it was somewhat repressive - but none of us ever went on Jerry Springer so I'm thinking there are worse ways to live your life.  

My mom and her relatives were not necessarily meek, and they certainly weren't cowardly, they just didn't make waves unecessarily.  Nor would they ever make an entrance.  

My dad's family was Scottish.  (Again with the fair skin!) Except for one uncle they were even quieter than my moms family.   I'm not sure why - they didn't have the same inhibitions, they were just quiet.  Their trucks were loud, their Johnny Cash 8-track tapes were loud, their guns were loud, they just didn't talk much.  

I was not a quiet child.  

I tried.  I really and truly did.  But I had so much to say.  And I had a song in my heart that needed singing.  And life was so funny I just had to laugh out loud.  

My uncle Johnny (no relation to Johnny Cash, sadly) was married to a woman named Sarah.  She was neither Swedish nor Scottich.  She referred to herself as Indian - so it seems odd to me to call her a 'Native American'.   She had deep dark skin at a time when all the white girls were basting in baby oil in the sun.   Her hair was not only dark but long and unrestrained.  

And she was loud.  She had the same fears and insecurities we all have (plus a few extra from growing up poor and orphaned on a reservation) but she hid hers beneth a bravada that was awe inspiring.   

My mom and her female relatives kept their fingernails trimmed to an 'appropriate' length and either left them bare or polished them with pinks and taupes.  Sarah didn't just paint her nails; she laquered them in bright fire engine red.  And let them grow long- long enough that when people saw her using a typewriter they would stop and stare because it just didn't seem possible.  

Sarah always seemed fearless.  She wore brightly colored swimsuits.  She drove too fast.  She waterskied and jet skied.  She drove dune buggies and ATV's.  She hung out at the river drinking and dancing all night.  

As an adult I've met many fearless (acting) women but as a child there was only Sarah.  The best part for me was that Sarah was a plus sized woman.    I was already learning  that not wearing horizontal stripes was just the first of many prohibitions for large women.   Then Sarah would visit and I would think all manner of things were possible!

Sarah taught me not to apologize for how much space I take up on the planet - if you don't get what I mean,  ask your favorite overweight friend to explain!  

Sarah died of Liver Cancer shortly before her long awaited first grandchild was born. 

 A friend of mine lost his mother, who was roughly the same age, to liver cancer.  No known cause, no treatment.  Supposedly a very rare form of cancer but I know two people who have died from it and don't know anyone who has died from Breast Cancer.

I'm mighty grateful I'm not in charge of how research time and money and brain power  gets divided up.  

Here is a quick quiz:   What do 
Janet Wood, Bailey Quarters, and Sabrina Duncan 
all have in common?  

Joyce Dewitt, Jan Smithers, and Kate Jackson.  80's television.  The smart ones.  The ones with short hair and normal sized breasts.  Not sexy.  Not forceful or brave or funny or anything else very interesting.

Those of us who were teenagers in the 70's and 80's and knew we would never in a million years (or for a million dollars) be able to look like Loni Anderson or one of Charlie's Angels had those three role models to choose from.  

And then there's Maude.  

Not intended to be a role model for teenagers she nonetheless impressed me.  Tall and fearless and smart and assertive.  

Maude was not sexy - but she also wasn't anybody's side kick. 

I'll never be tall.  I'll never have mahagony skin or raven hair.  I'll never water ski.  But I have on occaision fooled people into thinking I'm fearless.  I have acted confidently.  I have even been truly confident in asserting my intelligence and my qualifications.  (once or twice) 

So if at times you find me a bit brash and bold you can thank (as I do) Sarah Carmichael and Bea Arthur.     

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