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My mother’s hard life made her determined to raise me with feminist values

I don’t care what I thought I couldn’t do — my mother’s response was always the same: “Old can’t is dead!” Even if I was trying to do something traditionally done by a boy, her response was always the same. I was a tiny kid, but that never stopped her from pushing me to do the same things as the older, bigger kids — even the boys.

It never mattered how frustrated I became in my efforts, I was still expected to see that thing through. I wouldn’t understand her demanding nature until I was older. Even though I didn’t realize it, I was raised by a feminist to be a feminist.

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My mother’s mother died when she was only 38. At the time of her death, she had given birth to 16 children, with one being stillborn. My mother, who was 18 and one of nine girls, was with my grandmother on a train to Hot Springs, Arkansas, when she passed.

My grandmother suffered from diabetes, heart disease and what Mama called dropsy (we know it as edema these days), and they were of the belief that if she could dip her body in the hot springs, she would be cured. Her grandmother died on the way there, which meant that Mama had to ride all the way back to Louisiana alone with her mother’s body. If she was not already playing the role of grown-up as a teenage mother, she would experience a shift like none other after my grandmother’s funeral.

Even though she was only 18, she took on the responsibility of raising three of her youngest siblings after her mom’s death. They were 3, 5 and 10 years old. In essence, this meant she had four children. It wouldn’t be long before she was married and my other four siblings were born.

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Following years of physical abuse, Mama decided to do what many women of that time were afraid to do: She left and filed for divorce. She found herself single with a total of eight children. Had it not been for bad luck, she would have had no luck at all. After her divorce was final, her little four-room house burned to the ground. My mother was “that” woman, though, and refused to let anything — and I mean anything — hold her back. With the help of her father, she built the house in which I would grow up. She had no formal education, so there was no blueprint. They just built it room by room. The only thing ever present was her determination to provide shelter for her children, and so she decided to forge ahead and make it happen.

She remained single for the next 10 years before she married my dad. Not one day during the time she was single did my brothers and sisters go hungry, because she worked the land she lived on and grew every kind of vegetable imaginable. She raised pigs and chickens and was given beef from others in the community, so there was no shortage of meats and eggs. The milk and butter that was always on hand came from her work on the outside.

Mama raised us to work hard for all that we want, just as she and her nine sisters had been reared. She raised us to be independent and strong. Not once did I hear the word feminist as a child, but if there was ever a living example of one, it was my mother. We were raised to believe there was nothing we couldn’t do just because we were female. We were raised to believe that a woman had every right to every thing just like any man. I’m a grandmother now, and I take great pride in showing my granddaughter the beauty of being a feminist.

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