Ordinary Women, Extraordinary Impact
As I think about Women’s History Month and the women who affected my life, they weren’t political figures or loud women shouting into a crowd. They were just the opposite. My heroes are everyday women. So in honor of Women’s History Month, rather than marching, I’m thanking!
Dr. Sandra O’Neal, Jeannie Feaster, and my momma. These are my headliners.
The Power of a Scarf
Today’s marchers have their hats. Dr. Sandra O’Neal had her scarves! Both powerful accessories! Dr. O’Neal was the first sophisticated woman I had ever met. I had her for freshman English. She commanded a room. That was my first impression of her. On a lighter, but equally important note when you are 17 years old, she had ”had her colors done.” She was an autumn. She talked about the value of a wardrobe for professional women.
She easily spoke of divorce/remarriage/blended families. I had no idea one day I would need to use those same words. I try to handle them with the same ease and grace.
Growing up, I was the cute little cheerleader, the baby of three girls. I knew people thought I was sweet and kind – a typical good girl from a small town kind of thing. But Dr. O’Neal saw me in a different way.
She was the first person who expected me to achieve. I remember wanting to impress her with my brain, my ability. I worked harder in her class than I had ever worked in high school. She was the first person to love my writing.
For the first time, while sitting in freshman English, I loved having a voice. I loved sharing my stories with another person and having another person respond to my words. That was powerful then, and it’s powerful now.
Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we could all help each other find our voices and if we all really listened to each other’s point of view? No marching required.
I saw Dr. O’Neal a few months ago after more than 30 years. Some people would call it a coincidence, but I think that’s how the universe works. A piece of mail was delivered to my house that belonged to my neighbor. The return address said “Sandra O’Neal, Irmo, SC.”
Could THIS Sandra O’Neal be MY Sandra O’Neal? Yes!! She had been my English professor and advisor. Now she was my neighbor’s Sunday School teacher. Guess where I attended Sunday School that Sunday? It made me happy to say “thank you” to this phenomenal woman who impacted my life all those years ago.
Even after 30 years, she had on the same “autumn colors” I remember her wearing. Still fashionable, still confident. I’m pretty sure she was wearing a scarf. Even after 30 years and even in a different type of classroom, she continues to inspire those around her. She doesn’t march and she doesn’t bash those with whom she disagrees, but she absolutely influences! A powerful woman in her own way.
Can You Spell Crush?
Jeannie Feaster was my fifth grade teacher. I loved her. Mrs. Feaster equaled kindness. She was also the first woman who colluded with me over a boy. She knew I had a crush on a boy we’ll call Joe.
Every time we would have rainy day recess, we would play games in the classroom. And every single time, Mrs. Feaster partnered me with my crush, and I loved her for it. It was my first experience with conspiracy over a boy. She taught me well.
Mrs. Feaster loved us all and challenged us all in equal measure. I won the class spelling bee, and the next day there was a little African violet on my desk. I still have the little note from her, and I still love African violets.
I “accidentally” bumped into Mrs. Feaster a few years ago (thank you, Universe). She was teaching at a school in Columbia. I’ve heard she is retired now. I’m sure she is not a marcher, either, but no doubt has changed the world.
We can’t begin to count the ways all teachers affect the future. It’s probably no coincidence I now teach fifth grade and love it. When I play a spelling game called Sparkle with my students, I always think of Mrs. Feaster and also say a little thank you prayer her path crossed mine all those many years ago.
Always Choose Happiness
My momma is my greatest teacher. She taught me we get to CHOOSE. Every single minute of every single day, we get to choose our attitude. We can’t control much of anything that happens to us, but we can always control how we react to it. That simple step of choosing to be positive to be grateful affects everything.
This past Christmas was our first Christmas without Daddy. We were dreading it, but we should have known better. We all arrived on Christmas Day and Momma announced we were having a happy Christmas. There would be no drama. There would be no sadness. She said Daddy would want us to be happy, and she was right. She decided it would be a happy Christmas, so it WAS a happy Christmas.
That is just the latest example of her modeling the power of the positive attitude. I have a lifetime of them I could share. The circumstances would change, but the message was always the same. It really didn’t matter if I was 15 or 50.
“Focus on what you have, not what you don’t have”.
I must have heard this next saying a thousand times: ” There will always be people who have it better than you, and there will always be people who have it worse than you. It just depends which way you want to look.”
March is women’s history month, a time to think about the role of women. But what if we didn’t just think about the role of women. What if we took five minutes and thanked all the many, many women who made us the people we are.
I had a good start when Mrs. Feaster loved me and paired me with a cute, sweet boy every time it rained. Dr. O’Neal took me to the next level when she expected me to be smart and savvy and to wear great clothes. Throughout it all, my momma has been by my side to say, “Get up. Don’t let this get you down. Your circumstances right now are bad, but life is good.”
None of these women are political, none of them are loud, none of them ever held a picket sign, but they changed the world. They changed me.
My momma, Mrs. Feaster, and Sandra O’Neal, thank you.