Don’t get me wrong, my family has many amazing men as well. We have a Dr. (Ph.D — not useful in an emergency), a lawyer and a bunch of very hard working and creative men. Last weekend we gathered to celebrate an amazing woman, my Aunt Hill — She turned 90.
Last year, for her 89th birthday some of us got together for a “garden party”, which meant that we came into town, fixed up her backyard and left — after having lots of fun and talk in between. This was Andy’s first real introduction to my family and his observations were absolutely correct when he said that we worked hard, cooperated, took breaks, ate good food, and had fun together.
Last year our idea was to fix the yard up so we could have a 90th birthday party for Hill back there — oddly enough, and in fine Ross form, we had a garage party instead — only a few of us went into the backyard to admire our handiwork from the year before.
As a good third-wave feminist, it’s been very easy to be a strong woman in my family. Girls aren’t expected to marry well and have babies while their husbands go off to soul-killing banking jobs. We aren’t expected to be pretty and silent. We are expected to be smart, independent and kind — and we’ve had good role models for that… especially Hill.
Hill started off being named Jean, but more on that later…
As the middle child of 5, Hill saw her older brothers conform to or break their own norms. She saw my grandfather be the “smart but trouble-making” son.. and she seems to have admired both of those aspects of her next oldest brother. She’s also quite close to her only sister, whom I am named after — and she was quite close to her youngest brother who died way too young…. in his 50s or 60s… that’s young in my family.
Hill grew up in central Iowa on a farm. She was born in 1922, so she’s seen an amazing amount of change in terms of society and technology. During World War II she was a reporter in Chicago. After the war, when the “real” reporters (men..) came home she no longer had a position and eventually joined an Episcopalian convent — where she taught at the school until the convent dissolved. It was in the convent that she took the name Hillary.
After the convent she went to grad school at Wisconsin. She completed her courses and took her Ph.D. qualifying exams. The trouble was that they had a strict curve at that point and only so many students could pass. The real trouble was that, although she wrote excellent exams, there were too many men who needed to pass their exams in order to proceed to getting jobs — and she was told that she wouldn’t pass, even though she did good work.
As you might imagine, this was infuriating to Hill — she was so mad that she stormed out and ended up at the local community college. She found herself in the hiring Dean’s office explaining the situation and pretty much demanding a job. The Dean called someone else whom she had just hired and rescinded the offer and hired Hill instead. Hill taught English at the CC until she retired.
It’s not hard to see why she’s one of my family role models — smart, strong, independent and kind.
Hill never married, so she’s close to the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren of her siblings. Nearly all of us were there for her party. It was pretty amazing to see nearly all of my great grandparents’ (Hill’s parents) great grand children as well as their great great grandchildren at her party. We came from all four corners of the US (LA, Seattle, NYC and Florida) as well as from across the middle of the country. We coordinated food so that there would be little fussing in Hill’s kitchen. My youngest cousin Martha is particularly close to Hill, so she came early to make sure Hill didn’t have to be concerned with the details.
In Madison, Hill has an amazing group of friends — all of whom help her out in their own special ways. From the nice married couple next door, who persuaded the old owners of the house to sell by claiming Hill as their mom… to her longtime friend and travel companion Jim… to his ex-wife and her new same-sex partner across the street — each of her friends brings a different talent to Hill — and they’re glad to be able to help her.
While we were at Hills, we got the strong-arm to come over for Thanksgiving. That’s still open for negotiation, but being invited was quite nice… as was the weekend.
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