A woman is like a tea bag: You never know her strength until you drop her in hot water. —Nancy Reagan
I come from a long line of strong women. I grew up hearing the story of my third great grandmother Ingeborg Mortensen Jensen, a handcart pioneer who joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Denmark, was ostracized by her family, and came to the United States by herself at a very young age. She pushed a handcart to the Salt Lake Valley and became the plural wife of Hans Peter Jensen. Ingeborg is my hero, but that’s a story for another time.
My paternal grandmother was also a strong woman. She outlived her gregarious prankster husband by 18 years—a long time to be alone. She was a pillar of her community, doing much good. She held her head high and didn’t shrink from any trial.
It is my mother, however, who comes to mind anytime someone mentions the strength of a woman. There are a number of family stories about my mom’s backbone. When I was in the fifth grade, I had a teacher who would keep the whole class after school if one child yawned (or anything else for that matter). The points added up quickly until every single day we stayed after school 30-45 minutes. My parents were firm believers in supporting teachers, so they said nothing—until the day of the horrible windstorm. Radio stations were announcing the importance of picking children up from school instead of letting them walk home because of extremely high winds and downed power lines. Mom waited in the car at the school a full 45 minutes after school was out until I came to the car. All she said was “Stay here.” She got out of the car and stomped to the classroom and then on to the principal’s office. I watched as 30 parents followed her lead and stomped right behind her. There was only a month or so left in the school year, and at the end of the year the teacher was fired. I have no doubt that my mother had something to do with that.
Mom was Deputy County Clerk in Carson City, Nevada during World War II. She loved that job. As many other women, she sacrificed a lot while Dad was in the South Pacific. At the end of the war, women were expected to vacate the jobs they loved for returning servicemen. Mom quietly did her duty to her country and left the work force without a single complaint. She was my Dad’s unpaid secretary for years. When Dad became ill and she had to go back to work, she had no resume—only intestinal fortitude and a will to work. She took a job as the secretary at the local Episcopal Church and soon gained the respect of all those she met. Mom decided that the computer was a new technology that would change the world, so she convinced the fathers to send her to computer school in Texas so she could modernize the church office. Mom learned the computer long before I did.
I wish I had been at Dad’s insurance office the day that Joe Conforte’s body guard told Mom she couldn’t park in her regular spot at Dad’s office because Mr. Conforte was in the building. From all accounts, my short little mother stood nose to nose with the body guard and told him exactly what would happen to him if he didn’t move out of her way. The body guard backed down, and Mom got the parking spot.
Most of all, I remember the strength Mom had during Dad’s long illness. He was ill for years, and his illness was a mystery to the doctors. Medications either didn’t work or caused horrendous side effects. Dad was allergic to a lot of medications. Mom took it all in stride, gave him impeccable care, and never complained.
Dad’s passing was the hardest thing Mom ever had to go through. There are very few times I actually remember seeing my mother cry. Their marriage was one for all to aspire to, and everyone knew that widowhood would not be easy for her. Even then, Mom had the strength of nails. It was a long five years before Mom would join Dad, but she did those years with dignity.
As women, we are usually known for our soft side, our compassionate nature, and our nurturing. There’s more to women than meets the eye. Underneath the tender heart is the strength of armies. Never underestimate the strength and power of a woman. It often takes a woman to put life back together when everything falls apart.
The next time you have dealings with a woman who seems as hard as nails, take a second look at what’s behind that façade. She probably has had to deal with some pretty tough things in her life. Chances are she’s been thrown into a fiery furnace and survived. Don’t write her off as hard and cold; get to know the warmth within. It is the warmth of love inside that makes a woman tough. She loves to the extreme and is tough to protect those she loves. She has the strength of nations because of what’s in her heart. Her trials have made her strong, and she stays strong for those she loves.
Tudie Rose is a mother of four and grandmother of ten in Sacramento, California. You can find her on Twitter as @TudieRose. She blogs as Tudie Rose at http://potrackrose.wordpress.com. She has written articles for Familius. You will find a Tudie Rose essay in Lessons from My Parents, Michele Robbins, Familius 2013, at http://www.familius.com/lessons-from-my-parents.