We have an abundance of crazy women in my family. And that’s a good thing.
We have a great-aunt who birthed seven boys. When her youngest son was two, this over-burdened woman suffered what I am going to be kind and call hysterical paralysis. Auntie woke one foggy morning and couldn’t move her legs. The boys were farmed out to relatives. All of whom lived within a two block area on first street in Eureka. The husband moved into another room of the house. Each day the boys spent an hour sitting around their mother’s bed. I can almost see the soft light falling through the bedroom window. Her sons took turns reading the bible to the poor soul. In 1930 the house caught fire. Auntie grabbed the Good Book and ran out of the house on her own steam. Thank you, Jesus.
There’s Great-Grandma who caught an intruder in her house talking to her youngest daughter–my grandma. Great-grandma was preparing ravioli dough at the time. She was still beating the man with the rolling pin when her daughter returned from fetching Great-grandpa from his afternoon glass of wine with the monsigner at the parish house. St. Bernard’s church is twelve blocks from our ancestral house on First Street.
At seventeen, one of my grandmothers wanted to learn to drive. Her husband said no. On a drive in the country, while Grandpa stepped into the woods to relieve himself, Grandma started the model A and drove away. Grandpa walked home. Twelve miles. He knocked Grandma around some over that transgression. Grandma waited until she healed up. A month later, Grandpa stepped through the front door expecting his dinner to be on the table. Grandma hit him over the head with a cast iron skillet, picked up her packed suitcase and left. Grandpa always told the story with the lament, “She didn’t even know if I was dead or alive.” And Grandma always assured him, “I didn’t care.”
I grew up on these stories of crazy women. I learned valuable lessons from their telling. I learned that a woman has to take care of herself in whatever way is available to her. Be it faking paralysis or bludgeoning someone with a rolling pin or skillet. I learned that the truth is often more clearly revealed in fiction and outright lies than it is in pithy lectures about virtue and morality. I learned that men tend to be a little afraid of crazy women, and a smart woman takes advantage of that tendency.