Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Builders of a Woman

The woman I am today I owe to many people. I don't just mean the person I am, which I owe to many others, but I mean specifically, the woman I am. I have evolved, and am ever-evolving, trying to refine some things about my character, kick others out, and add elements that will enhance the sum of the woman of my dreams, the woman I hope to one day become.

My mother, of course, deserves mighty thanks. She was my very first role model. From her I have my yearnings to write. From her I have contentment creating home. From her I have those oft-ridiculed desires of the "Perfect Mormon Mommy"~ you know, the cute Family Home Evening lessons, the homemade dresses, the homecooked meals, a year's supply of food, much of it home-canned, the elaborate birthday cakes, all the must-do holiday traditions. The list could go on. I am so grateful that my mother was content to be a mother and a homemaker. Because of her, I have wanted nothing more, and have not been disillusioned or disappointed with the reality. In fact, I love it.

But there are other women to whom I owe debts of gratitude. I have watched them quietly since I was a girl, and I have carefully observed them in action in their lives, and I feel that I carry little bits of them in the quilt of my heart. Some of these will seem silly or trite, and others more profound, but they all resonate with me.

My Grandmother Van Sciver is always in the kitchen. I've blogged about her candy and confection store previously, and it wasn't until I was an adult and she came to Utah to visit me before my second wedding that this really made an impact on me. She serves others by cooking for them, feeding them. She asks us what we want to eat, she makes her list, she shops ever so frugally, and then she gets to work. She gets up in the morning and cooks a big meal. She starts dinner shortly after, and throughout the day, she alternates between her crossword puzzles, card games, reading, and cooking. And she has no problem with 60 or 70 people coming for dinner, either. The more the merrier. Whenever I am feeling grumbly about having to cook meal, I think of her. She doesn't just want people to eat, and she never takes the easy way (Aunt Lori, has the woman ever cooked a box of macaroni and cheese?) She wants them to be nourished.

My Grandmother Baker is crafty like my mom, and I loved the homemade gifts she would send. She took pride in the things she created with her hands. When I was 7, she sent my sister Amanda and me matching pink patchwork quilts edged in eyelet, with three coordinating throw pillows for our twin beds. I loved them. I felt pretty and feminine in my bed. But the very first thing I remember about her was that she always had painted toenails back then. Her feet always looked pretty. I asked her once, when I was a little girl and in Arizona to visit her, why her toes were painted but not her fingernails, and she said that fingernails were too much trouble because the polish always came off while doing dishes. Seemed logical. I determined that I wanted to have polished toenails like my Grandmom.

My friend Lisa's mom, Donna, always prepared a sit-down lunch for her family. I was often there at lunchtime and was included at the table. Usually we had salami sandwiches on white bread (mine with mustard), some potato chips, and milk. Lisa's dad worked at home, and her maternal grandparents lived with them too, so it was a full gathering at the table, and I always thought that was nice. When we're all home, or mostly home, I try to gather us together in the middle of the day too.

My Young Women's leader then, and friend now, Beverly, taught me not to expect perfection in marriage, oddly enough, and that worthwhile marriages were not without flaw. Also, she taught me to keep developing myself, as she spent years and years going to school at night while her children were young, finally earning her Masters in Social Work. I am so proud of her, and I still admire so many things about her. Whenever I teach a YW lesson, I always think of how she made her lessons so personal for us, and I try to make an impact like she made on me.

My friend Aymee's mom, and Seminary teacher, taught me to love quotes and beautiful words. She kept a file box of index cards on which she wrote poems, quotes, and scriptures that held special meaning for her. She encouraged us to memorize beautiful poems and quotes. And I did. I have. In her Sunday School class I memorized the "Vice is a monster of so frightful mien. . ." quote and still to this day I think of the truth of it, and of her every time I hear or recite it. I also remember her telling us to memorize Winston Churchill's "Never, never, never give up." That was a lasting gift she gave to me.

Sister Seraydarian hosted a bunch of us for a night during Youth Conference when I was a junior or senior in high school. We got there late at night after our activities, and were only going to sleep, eat breakfast the next morning, and then return to the planned events for the day. When we woke up to alarms, it being much earlier than we would have desired, and came downstairs, the table was spread with a lace cloth, the best china and silver, crystal goblets, and a lovely breakfast spread. It made such an impression on me that this woman, busy with her own brood of children, would prepare such a delicately lovely setting for us to begin our day. She thought we were a special enough occasion to bring out the best. I've never forgotten it. Her daughter, Rebecca, recently found me on Facebook, and I shared that memory of her mother with her. She said that was just like her mom, and when she passed the memory on to her mom, her mother cried. So often she felt that her life wasn't big enough, as just a mom, and that she didn't really have any special gifts that would ever really make an impact. How wrong she was. That one memory inspires me to set a beautiful table whenever I can, to let my family know that they are the special occasion.

There are so many others. Women who have inspired in me the desire to look beautiful for my husband, to take care of my body, to seek out learning, to desire personal growth, to want a temple-home, to take better care of the earth, to be a more conscious human-being, to have connected relationships with my children, and on and on. Many of these women are still dear friends of mine now that I am an adult. I think it's important and valuable to gather what we can from worthwhile sources all around us. I hope that I can be a source for someone else too, in a way of giving back. I hope that what I am not able to give my daughter, she is able to recognize and glean in another trusted woman placed in her life.

I am grateful to be a woman, in progress. A crowning creation, and happy creator.


Luisa Perkins said...

This is a lovely tribute! You are a credit to all of those fine women.

amy turn sharp said...

that was lovely!!!!

Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

Beautiful tribute, Jenna! What better way to offer thanks for the influence of those amazing women in your life? And to inspire others of us to want to be influences for good!

Abby said...

Oh, I love you, Jenna. I love how thankful you are and how you recognize when someone has made an impact on your life and you file it away to let not only them..but everyone else around you..know about the impact and make us all sit back and consider everyone who's ever touched our hearts. You're a true darling.

Ps..I totally agree with Grams Baker on the nail polish. I can appreciate a nice lacquer on fingers but for me, it never lasts long enough. Chipping and ugly shortly after being applied because of duties and hobbies. I love straight up honest female tips like that, ya know? It makes me feel like we're a part of this big secret awesome club!

Lori said...

I don't even think Grandmom knows how to OPEN a box of anything premade. lol Everything is homemade and filled with love. As many of you know, she lives with me and is very territorial about her kitchen. She cooks all day and I clean up, and I'm not stupid, knock yourself out granny! hehe I do watch so that someday I will actually know how to cook though. At 48, it's about time I learn. ;) Love you!
Aunt Lori

Rachel Sue said...

I love, love, love this! It really made me think about all the women in my life who have contributed to who I am. When I really think about it, there are so many who have influenced me in so many different ways.

Momo Fali said...

You are blessed to have such wonderful women in your life (and it's a bonus that you get good food out of it too)!

YogaNana said...

Ahhh!!!!!!! Thank you, Jenna.

I still have that whole nesting thing going and am looking forward to retiring so I can focus on making a cozier home for David and me, little old people that we are. It makes me all warm and fuzzy to see my girls carrying on in that spirit for my grandchildren.