“Well behaved women rarely make history.”
When I was well into my forties, I was visiting with my mom one afternoon and somehow the conversation evolved into a discussion about my personality.
According to my less than judgmental mother who hands out suggestions cloaked in kindness, Lila, the lady who cleans her house, had previously shared her opinion of me by commenting, “Sharon is so sweet.”
Without missing a beat my mother exclaimed, “And I said, Sharon? Sweet? I don’t think of her as sweet. I think she’s rather fiery.”
Normally, when my mother gives me a backhanded compliment embedded in a lesson or unsolicited advice, I take it as a criticism and tend to get very sensitive and overreact as if I’m five years old thinking, “Why do you hate me? You love Greg (my brother) more than me.”
This time, however, I had a completely different response, at least in my mind, because I couldn’t let my mother know that I was pleased with this adjective “fiery.” I mean if I let her know she was right about that one word, would I also have to admit that she was right about my whole big hair and bangs debacle of the 80s? I couldn’t let a brief moment of weakness and silent rejoicing cause me to fall into her trap. I would be viewed as weak; the runt of the litter or the slowest one in the pack. That would mean having to work too hard to stay ahead of the game.
If I’ve learned anything in my life it’s that you can never, ever let your guard down in the intricate and complex mother/daughter relationship because it can change faster than the Texas weather. Messing with this delicate balance of power could set the entire universe into a tailspin, with long-lasting and precarious results.
According to dictionary.com, the definition of fiery is: “(of a person) having a passionate, quick-tempered nature. Synonyms: passionate, impassioned, ardent, fervent, fervid, spirited; quick-tempered, volatile, explosive, aggressive, determined, resolute. Vulgar slang: “ass-kicking.”
After reading this definition, I was convinced my mother had me pegged, except for the “ass-kicking” part, because such language is “vulgar and common and only shows that the person using this sort of verbiage has a poor vocabulary” (Mom, Manners 101).
There was a time when I would have chosen the description sweet over fiery but that train has long since left the station. I think that females in general are raised to believe that we should be the genteel, demure women of generations gone by.
As young girls, we are tirelessly reminded to act like young ladies and when we do something out of line we are quickly reminded of our faux pas, put back in our corner and scolded with the line, “Pretty is as pretty does.” After all, what are little girls made of? –sugar and spice and everything nice, of course.
Don’t worry. I’m not going to run out into the street and burn my bra while playing “I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar,” but I do think that being a strong woman is many times confused with being “the B word,” which I am forbidden to write because it would obviously be nothing more than a demonstration of my poor vocabulary and would dispatch my mom once again to an extra rotation in the First Baptist Church prayer room.
Saying my mother is wise is like saying rain is wet. It’s a fact, pure and simple. She hasn’t always been so subtle in her shrewd observations, but she recognized and honed this fire within me long before I even felt a spark. It was kept hidden, tucked away as a secret, not in a selfish way, but so I would discover this inner strength on my own.
Once, after reading Little Women in the third grade, when I was feeling thoroughly accomplished and overly impressed with myself, I spouted out, “If I could be any character in the book, I’d be Beth, ‘cause she’s sweet and everyone likes her.”
My mother immediately retorted, “Oh, honey. You’re Jo.” Her matter of fact response combined with a dose of pity signaled that it was not even up for debate. End of conversation. No discussion needed.
After years of trying and failing at being a people pleaser, I realized my mom’s wisdom had transcended time and she was right once again. (Dang it!) Jo, the tomboy who loved to read, and to write and to entertain. Yep, that was me. The little girl who would rather dress up as Batman than as a princess and thought Skipper, Barbie’s little sister, was much more fun to play with because she just seemed smarter and more down to earth than her snotty, prima donna sister. I was always the most comfortable and at ease when dressed in play clothes, a super-hero cape and a pair of PF Flyers. All I needed was a magic wand and I could have changed the world.
I come from a long line of strong women; movers and shakers in their own right. Their influence may not have been felt by the masses but their mark was left all over me like a second layer of skin.
My mother is the greatest and most profound female inspiration in my life; the teacher of life lessons and the sculptor of my heart. Her predominance in my life is like shaking salt over a plate of hot French fries; the seasoning isn’t all invasive or smothering but rather a random sprinkling here or there that touches each sliver in a unique way, adding flavor and life to something that would otherwise be ordinary.
One of the sassiest, most self-assured females in my family was Mamacita, my great-grandmother on my father’s side. She was a fashionably dressed stick of dynamite; small, yet compelling and my admiration of her began at a very young age.
Mamacita and I shared the same birthday and I always felt like we were kindred spirits, even though she was eighty years my senior. She was diminutive in stature, as she stood only four feet, ten inches tall, with an additional five inches added if you included the white, turban-like bun that sat on top of her head. Her plucky personality made her a source with which to be reckoned.
During the Civil War, one of Mamacita’s Confederate ancestors wrestled a sword out of the hands of a Yankee general. As a youngster, I twisted this bit of history around in my mind and always envisioned Mamacita being the one prying the sword out of the clutches of the dying Yankee.
In real life, Mamacita was a fearless, gun-toting granny and at eighty-something years of age, she stood on her front porch and shot a javelina which was rootin’ around and acting foolish in her yard. She was legendary.
As my fireball of a great-grandmother aged, it was the desire of her children to impose driving restrictions and limitations on her, but that was a battle they soon discovered could not be won. Mamacita refused to be grounded. Many a day her children passed the familiar looking, forbidden vehicle on the highway and the only thing visible on the driver’s side was a steering wheel and a white bun. There was Mamacita, driving her yacht sized Cadillac filled with a carload of friends, going to San Antonio to do a little shopping.
Mamacita had a zest for life and that, along with her spirit of rugged individualism, enabled her to live on her own terms until the day she died.
My paternal grandmother, Nana, was a bundle of energy, constantly on the move. The one trait I treasured most about Nana was that she had no filter when it came to speaking her mind. Whatever she was thinking made its way out of her mouth, and the remarks were frequently made in an amusing manner, whether intended or not.
Had the “politically incorrect police” been on patrol in those days, she would have been known as a repeat offender, with her blunt, but honest assessments on all kinds of people. The thing about Nana, though, is she was an equal opportunity antagonist. She didn’t limit her comments to strangers on television and her lack of restraint was never more obvious than when she pontificated her views about hairstyles, weight management or mismanagement, and the ever important role and responsibility of Christians to save all the sinners of the world from the fiery pits of eternal damnation.
The first time Nana laid eyes on my infant son she screamed out, “That’s the whitest baby I’ve ever seen in my life. Has he ever seen the sun?”
Later that same day, as she fiercely rocked the baby carrier where Christopher was sleeping back and forth in a reckless manner, intentionally trying to wake him, she uttered in disbelief, “This baby never cries. What’s wrong with him? Sakes alive, this isn’t normal.” Nana was apparently a stranger to the phrase, “Let sleeping dogs, and babies, lie.”
Nana walked very closely with the Lord. He was her sidekick, and next to Jesus, her favorite person was Billy Graham.
In her last years, Nana was unable to attend church due to her failing health. When she passed away a couple of months shy of her ninety-ninth birthday, there was a new preacher in town and he really didn’t know her at all. The family gave him her Bible and the young preacher scoured through it looking for passages she had underlined so he could try to piece together who this woman was.
During her funeral service, he mused about the fact that most people don’t even write in their Bibles, let alone on the blank pages provided in the front. These pages in Nana’s Bible were completely filled. The preacher began sharing some of the things she’d written, such as her favorite verses and quotes.
After reciting several lines, he paused for emphasis and then dramatically read, “Like sands through the hour glass, so are the days of our lives.” MacDonald Carey would have been so proud! As for the grown-up grandchildren, we couldn’t help but break into uncontrollable laughter upon hearing this! We spent many an afternoon banished outside so Nana could watch her stories.
One of the most audiatious women I’ve ever known was my Grandma Smith. Grandma never learned to drive, cooked the best fried chicken in the entire universe, and had the most comfortable lap for climbing up on and sitting in.
Grandma Smith also loved to write and in her later years she submitted a weekly article about the scuttlebutt in her small community of Vienna (pronounced VY-anna). Let me tell you, The National Enquirer pales in comparison to Grandma Smith.
In addition to her column of back-fence talk, Grandma Smith also wrote her own obituary and presented it to the local funeral home director with instructions for her obituary to be published unchanged and in its entirety on the occasion of her demise. Grandma Smith. An independent, strong-willed woman, who even in death was able to have the last word.
It seems we spend our entire lifetime, if we’re lucky, trying to become ourselves and many times it’s not until we are much older and wiser that we know who we truly are and are comfortable with that knowledge. We are a beautiful and flawed combination of every person and event that has touched our lives.
I’ve lived a simple, yet marvelous life. In many ways it’s unremarkable and in other ways it has been a completely magical existence that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I have been fortunate during my lifetime to have rubbed elbows with some phenomenal and inspirational people. My life has been shaped through kindness, heartache, rebellion, sadness, opportunity and love.
I’ve rendezvoused with great examples and role models throughout my years. From eighty something year old octogenarians to “pissed off” seven year olds, I’ve witnessed true courage and grit; attitudes that represent the heart and soul of what it takes to brandish the title, Chevelle.
“So how do you become a Chevelle and do I really want to be one?” you may ask.
The term Chevelle is derived from an incident I had with a precocious first grader and is symbolic of audacious, kind, considerate, hard-working, dedicated, conscientious, rebellious, high-spirited women who aim to make history in their own little corner of the world.
When I speak of becoming a Chevelle, it is in reference not only to the many strong women who have left their mark on me, but to all those I’ve encountered along the way: the men who shaped my heart (my husband, dad and brother); my two sons who taught me how to be a mother. I have also been influenced by the ups and downs of growing up and the many lessons learned along the way.
Chevelles aren’t born overnight. We age like fine wine and become more valuable as time passes when we finally accept the importance of being significant not only to others, but to ourselves. Just like the car, women who are Chevelles are classics, possessing the finest quality, detail and style. We are strong, secure, determined, noteworthy and hard to forget.
Becoming a Chevelle has been a journey that has taken me over half a century, and in defining myself, I have found that everything is relative, there is no such thing as normal, good can be found in even the direst situations and when you can truly be comfortable with yourself and laugh at the insanity of everyday life, you have reached your destiny. You may get lost from time to time, but that in itself makes the journey much sweeter.
Growing up, I remember countless family trips when we got lost and spun endlessly around in circles trying to find our way. This was long before people had the luxury of using a GPS. Instead, we had to unfold the trusty Rand-McNally road map, which covered the entire width of the car and obstructed the vision of everyone in the vehicle.
On some occasions, however, when the map was not helpful, we relied on the kindness of strangers.
Once, when trying to get to the Astrodome to see Charley Pride at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, my dad finally gave in and stopped at a gas station to ask for directions. We were in a pretty sketchy part of town, but that didn’t seem to worry Dad.
He saw an attendant in the parking lot, pulled up next to him, rolled down his window and asked, “What’s the best way to get to the Astrodome from here?” The man responded quickly, in an unkind and none too helpful voice, “The best way for you to get to the Astrodome is to DRIVE.”
My father thanked him profusely and we screeched out of the parking lot doing exactly as he instructed, only at a much faster speed than that Pontiac Catalina had ever known.
The “lost on the way to the Astrodome story” is a favorite of mine because it serves as a reminder that sometimes in life we just have to drive—move ahead, forge onward into the unknown and just muddle through. It’s at our lowest, most unsure times when we learn valuable and sustaining lessons about ourselves and our ability to persevere; that we are strong enough, good enough and capable enough to find our way.
As I begin rehashing my adventures and misadventures, I’d like to make a dedication to all the women out there who are already Chevelles, Chevelles-in-training or even “wannabees”—let your inner-Chevelle shine. I lift my glass to you and say, “Here’s to the cars we drive, the men we love and the trails we’ve blazed.
Chevelle isn’t a brand, darling. It’s a state of mind.”
Buckle up and enjoy the ride.
Chevelle Rule #1: Chevelles are like the perfect scent of perfume—subtle and not too overwhelming. Mysterious, yet classy. Just as the scent lingers when you leave the room, so does the essence of a Chevelle. Don’t over-do things. You are already enough.