31-Day Blog Challenge: International Women's Day

Day #8 of my Blog Challenge! Firstly, I must say how impressed I am that I made it through an entire week and actually wrote every. single. day. Today, in honor of International Women's Day, I want to take this opportunity to highlight the matriarchs in my life and the impact they have had on me.

Great-Grandmother: Pauline Shockley - Born in 1915, this woman wrote the book on girl power. She passed away last year, just a few months shy of her 101st birthday. As I was growing up, she told me so many wonderful stories. I only wish I could have known her when she was young. She eloped with my great-grandfather when she was 18 years old and they had a strong, 75-year marriage before he passed away at 93 years old. She worked as a store clerk while raising their two daughters and she once told me that she operated the first soft-serve ice cream machine in the Yakima Valley. She became the Gideon Society state auxiliary president, which allowed her to travel all across the country. She loved to travel. I still have an album full of postcards from places she'd either been or received from others. She was such a treasure - always telling us grandchildren how proud she was of our accomplishments. She made sure everyone knew how important and valued they were. A lot of the strength she had she got from her mother, who raised nine children. In those days, many women worked side-by-side with their husbands to keep the household running. I think that teamwork could be part of why their marriages lasted so long.

Grandmother: Marlene Skeen - I love my grandmother for so many reasons. She is a firecracker. Although I don't know as much about her life growing up as I'd like to (she's not as much of a talker as her mother,) I know some of the trials she's been through and what a lovely woman she is. She married a military man and went through a divorce a few short years later.

Then she had her only son, my dad, and raised him without a father for many years. Any single moms out there know what that is like. I can also imagine being a single mother in the 1960s and 70s had a different set of challenges than it does today. I cherished the nights I got to spend sleeping over at her house as a kid. She fostered my creativity and would always give me the JCPenney catalog, so I could make my art collages. We would play bingo and watch HGTV together. I remember we didn't actually talk much, as opposed to my great-gramma who could tell stories non-stop. Since she rarely spoke about her past or herself at all, I was always afraid to ask. That's another strength I know a lot of women possess - the ability to bury things deep inside you and continue to nurture others. Reflecting on her has made me decide to learn more next time I talk to her.

Mother: Sharon Bell - Moving on down the line, we come to a true pillar of strength. Firstly, she gave birth to me! Emergency Cesarean-style. Then again with my brother. She sacrificed her body for us and I know she'd do it again. She worked graveyard shifts to keep food on the table and when that wasn't enough, had as many as three jobs to make sure we had what we needed. She didn't have the best marriage, but she never spoke ill of my dad while I was growing up. They had their issues, but she knew I needed him in my life, as well. She exhibited an unparalleled faith in God and made sure we always knew we were loved. She finally found a job she loves teaching special education in an elementary school. She's making a huge difference in children's lives, but even in her dream job is currently fighting the battle to be paid the equivalent of a male janitor. She's a fighter. And she raised a fighter. In fact, we've had our fair share of bouts, but I appreciate the heck out of her and all the silent sacrifices she made that I may never even know about.

Clearly, the women in my family never fit the mold of what it meant to be a "woman" in their time. And that's why I celebrate them. They proved that we can't be pigeon-holed into a certain lifestyle. We have strengths and weaknesses and can use both to achieve our goals. They taught me what it means to be human. To treat others with respect and believe in myself. I was always told I'm beautiful. But beauty wasn't to be found in makeup or in clothing; it was in a smile, a kind gesture, and a willingness to reach out and help others. Because of them, I am the college-educated, preschool-teaching, acting, scrapbooking, athletic, dreamer that I am.

Today, and every day, let's celebrate the women in our lives.