I will never forget meeting my sister-in-law for the first time. She is one of my husbands three sisters out of five kids total in his family. Jim, my husband, and I were driving from Rhode Island down to rural Virginia to see her for Thanksgiving. It started to get dark, the roads got very desolate and I started to see pickup trucks parked on the side of the road with gun racks on the back. My thoughts went all over the place with that one! Hunting? Hunting what? Anyway…. we finally find her house down a road with only a few houses, and pull in to the driveway. We are welcomed by a couple skinny dogs, a few cats, some goats and some big smiles from Patti (my sister in law) and her three beautiful kids. They were soon to be a part of my family as Jim and I were almost married. I instantly felt loved, accepted and welcomed in to their home. The house was not in great shape but had a warm energy of kids, friends and pets. The house was mostly heated by a wood stove that my nephew had to fill with wood in the middle of the night just to keep it going. The kitchen was big country kitchen and that’s where we sat and got to know each other. Patty filled me in on her “life’s story” as best she could as she and Jim laughed about old times. I had not heard too much about Jim’s family before this time so it was really great to get caught up. Patty had her first child very young and her second not far behind. Her husband left her with the children in this current house, to basically raise on her own. She had a third child later with another man who also lived in the house after a while. What I loved about Patty is that she told me all of this with only a hint of shame but also with a sense of pride and love for her children. They were amazing and loving kids and I instantly fell in love with all three of them. Friends of Patti’s came by for a visit all dressed in jeans and flannel and the occasional gun holster. One carried the turkey they had just shot for the Thanksgiving dinner. This was such a country life style. I was in awe of all of it.
What I admired most about the whole thing is that everyone was really kind, easy going and seemed to be happy. Patti is a very smart woman who made choices in her life that have made her life just a bit more of a struggle but she never complains, dwells on it or asks for help. She had a simple way of living that she filled with friends, laid back dinners or parties and just making ends meet any way she could. She took life one day at a time and did a damn good job raising her kids. Her favorite line was, “hey, it’s not what happens to you but what you do about it.” I think she also understood that nothing was really “happening” to her, but that it was just life happening and she was in it and made choices about how to be in it.
So here is to all the strong women in my life and around the world who have decided to make life as good as possible no matter the circumstances, financial barriers or men who came and went in their lives. To those who live a different life style than I and are willing to share it with me with an open heart and to those who love their children and raise them the best way they know how. Patti’s children are all grown now working good jobs after good educations. I am proud to have such a strong woman in my family who blames no one for her choices. She is now in a phase of her life where she can work a full time job with better pay and breathe a sigh of relief that her kids are doing well on their own. May I always remember her words and know that I have a choice when something is “happening” to me.