One Hundred Pounds of Female Fearlessness

My mother’s birthday was a few days ago.  She would be 74 if she were alive but she has been dead for almost 19 years.  My youngest daughter, who also bears the middle name that my mother and I share, never met her.  Neither of my daughters have many memories of my mother.  But they learned fearlessness from her . . . because she taught it to me.  I wrote this story recently to answer the prompt, “What did you learn from your mother?”.

The back door was open!

Although my great-aunt was certain she had closed and locked it when we left the house, the door stood wide open revealing the third cleanest kitchen in Kentucky, falling in line just behind my grandmother’s kitchen and the break room at the center for infectious diseases.  We stood on the stoop, huddled in apprehension, discussing the situation as if it were our war room.

Aunt Sissy was sure the door had not swung open on its own.  My grandmother suggested that perhaps her son had come home from work early and left it open.  My great-aunt shook her head.  His car was not in the driveway.  And besides that, we could tell from the stoop that his coveralls were not on the floor, the door to the refrigerator was closed, and the room did not smell of dirty socks. No, my cousin was not home.

My grandmother began a list of questions.  “Can you be mistaken about locking the door?  Were you expecting anyone?  Does anyone else have a key?  Do you keep an extra key under the mat or somewhere else that is easy to find?”

“No!  No!  No one expected!  No key under the mat!”  With each of her negative responses, Aunt Sissy became more agitated.  In desperation, she asked her own question.  “Do you think an animal could have opened the door?”

My grandfather, God love him, was ever the voice of gentle reason.  He quickly put his arm around his sister-in-law and said, “It’s not likely,” before the other adults could respond with more rational but less kind comments.  Even I, as a child, wondered what my great-aunt was thinking.  What kind of an animal could lift the mat and unlock the door with the key she insisted was not there?

As we stood on the stoop looking at the open door, each of us came to the same conclusion.  Someone had entered the house uninvited.  My great-aunt and grandmother cut loose with a barrage of other questions.  “Who could it be?  Do you think he is gone?  Do you think he took anything? What if he is not gone?  What if he is still in the house?  What if he is dangerous?”

As my grandfather tried to insert a bit of reason into the discussion, my mother, who was five foot nothing and might have weighed 100 pounds in a hard rain, decided we had talked long enough.  She walked around our circle of trepidation and through the open door.


“But there’s a story behind everything. How a picture got on a wall. How a scar got on your face. Sometimes the stories are simple, and sometimes they are hard and heartbreaking. But behind all your stories is always your mother’s story, because hers is where yours begins.”     Mitch Albom, For One More Day


As I think about it now, I don’t remember why the door was actually open that day.  I am not sure what my mother found in the house.  I just remember she was not afraid.  My mother was never afraid . . . not of open doors and dark rooms. . . not of thunder and strong winds . . . not of the world outside her house and the risks it held for her children.

My mother with my three oldest children

My mother with my three oldest children

In a world where many of the women I know live behind locked doors with anxious eyes always looking to protect their children, I am thankful for my mother.  I can stand in my home with no fear of being alone because I learned it from her.  I can sit on my porch as a storm blows in and watch my kids run barefoot in the rain and raise their arms to Heaven to let the wind blow their shirts up because she did the same.  I can leave my doors unlocked without worry and shake the hand of a stranger without misgivings because she taught me how to do it.

My mother gave me many things I have passed on to my daughters.  Among them are the names we share and the recipe for the driest cornbread dressing ever to sit on a Thanksgiving table.  When my daughters stand on the stoop of the unknown, I hope I also will have passed on my mother’s ability to walk through the world without fear.

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