In my preschool years, I spent many days in the company of my Gramma. Memories of her farmhouse (particularly the kitchen) are fresh in my mind, and sometimes I walk into those memories just for a sense of familiar connection. When I walk into this memory, there is an oversized wood and straw braided rocking chair on the left, a big table filling the center of the room, a pig-shaped cutting board on the counter next to the stove, and the AM/FM radio is playing. When I would hear Charlie Rich sing “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” I would go run and tell my Uncle Loren it was on the radio, because I knew it was his favorite song. Or, I would hear my own favorite, the Carpenter’s “Top of the World,” and sing along the best I could, making up lyrics as I went just to croon to Karen Carpenter’s voice.
If it was really a fun day, my cousin Ron would be over as well. We were (and are) practically the same age. Our aunt, Joyce, called him “Little Ronnie” and I would taunt him about that. We’d sit on Gramma’s lap in the rocker, arguing over who was oldest. I’d cry when he taunted me that he was older, and I was apparently too young to realize that June came before October. Now, at a much later point in our lives, I feel like crying whenever I hit the big decade birthdays first. Sigh. But, cousin love always trumps age. Gramma would either put up with us and laugh at our antics, or tell us to “Hush Up” and we did. Such are the memories that spin through my mind when I think about Gramma’s kitchen. They are accompanied by a sweet nostalgia that I can practically touch, taste, see, and hear.
Of all the things I did with Gramma, though, Ladies Aid was my favorite. She, and my great aunts, and several other women of the farm town were the founding members of the Ladies Aid Society that met in the basement of the Wales Hollow Community Lutheran Church. I loved going to Ladies Aid. First of all, I got to be the center of attention: what kid doesn’t love that? Then, I got to “help” (although I probably hindered) with crafts in preparation for the annual bazaar. But most of all, I got to hear all the talking and laughing and bantering among the women. My Gramma was with her peers and there was some wonderful treasure about seeing her in that light. Perhaps this early exposure is why, through my whole life and career, I always come back to women’s issues of health, wellness, and emotional support as the cornerstone of who I am and how I move through the world.
I always loved the mystery of what happens when women come together, to stitch or to bitch or better yet, to do both. There is a social power in that collective energy that I know seeped into me at a young age and took hold. Every support group I have run, every group of women I have helped organize, and every time I have the privilege of being invited into a group of women is for me a little return to the moments of Ladies Aid.
Today, as I write, I have had the privilege to be in the company of many women colleagues and friends. In fact, my academic department has a long-standing history of a “Ladies Aid Society” of our own (we even call it that!) started by faculty long since retired. The Ladies Aid Society was initiated during the time when women faculty were a scarce minority in higher education, even in a female dominated profession like Social Work. Several generations of faculty members have passed this tradition along to those of us joining the ranks. This year my dear friend and colleague Kia and I started a series of “Final Friday Ladies Aid Lunches” for our women colleagues. Times have changed, but there are still challenges. On this particular day, nine women shared potluck food and told stories of life and work. We laughed and shared our thoughts and sentiments and worries and hopes along with our mix of shared egg salad, cheese, fruit, quinoa, veggies, almonds, and chocolate that we passed around. I felt a lightness of spirit in the company and companionship of my women colleagues that is unparalleled. It truly is “Ladies Aid” revisited for me, a connection to time honored traditions.
This point of light in my day reminds me that across many of our faith traditions, we come together unified to break bread and share. The sharing of community has a power unto itself, a mystical reminder that the Whole truly is greater than the sum of its parts. There can be an everyday spirituality in inserting community and ritual into our daily lives. It brings us both nostalgia and new growth.
The past and the future, experienced together in the present moment, are what sustains us.