This weekend I finished and delivered the memoir of a delightful 92 year old woman.
Once again I heard stories that even the best fiction writer would have a hard time inventing. Here is just a sampling of what I learned:
Even though the term “women’s lib” would not be invented for more than twenty-five years, Ms. X was practicing it in 1941. That’s the year, “burning with patriotism” she falsified here baptismal certificate date in order to join what would become the Woman’s Army Corps (WACs). She served on an Army Air Corps base, worked at the Pentagon and played a personal and active role in capturing a German spy. Then she consciously decided against marriage and child rearing, seeing what those two things did to limit the potential of women of the the 1940s and ‘5os. Instead she went to work and eventually became the manager of the largest government business office of it’s kind in a major US city at a time when for a woman to even be working at such a place was unusual in the extreme. And for recreation, this woman was equally unfettered. Enjoying the theater, she took lengthy weekend bus trips to New York City to see plays – as many as three in a weekend – in a time when women simply did not travel alone. Finally getting married, she eventually took charge of her husband’s faltering career and with him bought a business that they grew into a highly successful education enterprise.
With financial security came the opportunity for personal fulfillment. Ms X traveled the wold over, from Auckland to Istanbul.
But most vivid were Ms X’s stories of a particular place and a particular people. Having been curious since childhood about China (a book in the 1930s, Behind the Great Wall is what did it) and learning of a new bi-governmental organization, the US-China Peoples Friendship Association, Ms X managed a first trip to China in 1978. That was only a couple of years after President Nixon himself made history with his first journey there. Tourism was non-existent. On her first of five trips to the Chairman Mao-ruled Communist country, an American was such an oddity there that just the sight of her frightened little children even as she was feted by businessmen and local officials (correctly) sensing future opportunity. In those times the background sound of life in Beijing was a chorus of tinkling bicycle-bells as thousands of drab Mao-suit clad riders swarmed around the rare automobile.
And of all of this Ms. X learned that the most important thing in all countries, especially those of the third world, is people. And the relationships she developed with several of those blossomed to lifelong friendships – friendships of multiple generations that shall continue into the future.
Person-to-person diplomacy. That is the legacy of someone who was a liberated woman well before there was even the phrase itself.
I am so thankful for this website as a resource for other volunteers who are interested in doing what you do. I did not know how to train them! This is a great on-line forum, Rich. Thank you for creating this!
I have posted the visuals I use in my course, “Capturing and Writing Others’ Stories,” under the WRITING menu tab above. Additionally, I would be happy to answer any questions they might have. If enough folks are interested in it, I could run the course itself. That would require a ten hour commitment from them, however, Erin.