Today I’ve been putting the final touches on some work that I’m delivering in the coming weeks. I have been delving deep into the subject of Women’s Empowerment. And this story came to mind… I wanted to share:
Margaret suffered from Polio when she was a child.
It was a time when there was a great fear around polio – they didn’t know where it came from and how it was spread – and there was no treatment.
She was kept in isolation for part of her childhood – didn’t get the chance to go to school much. She didn’t talk about her childhood much either and boy could she talk.
She would arrive at our house and talk her way through the day. Cleaning, tidying, ironing, helping my mother with the mammoth task of taking care of the children, the house, the ironing and the well being of one and all. She talked about everything and everyone. The people living on her street and the characters in the soaps she watched, intimately connected and indecipherable. We heard about the births, the illnesses, the marriages and who was cheating with whom.
As the youngest child and quite a talker myself, I used to follow Margaret around and chatter away with her. One day I picked up the nerve to ask her why she walked funny and she told me in a whisper about ‘The Polio’. She assured me that she was fine now but would always have to walk that way.
Paddy, Margaret’s husband worked the railways. I don’t know what his job was but one day, involved in the moving a carriage, he was badly injured. In a strange coincidence he was affected in his legs and ended up walking funny to. They kept him on in the railway in a different job. I imagine after his accident, decades before lawsuits were accessible to people of no means, he earned very little.
Margaret came to our house to work a few times a week for years and years. That’s how they managed. She taught me how to clean the toilets. She told me how important it is to get it right. Not to cut corners but to be very thorough. To this day, I’m a little fanatical about that.
I remember when I was little, when people would ask me that ridiculous question we tend to ask children, ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’, I was clear. I wanted to be a cleaning woman.
Years later, as a student, I fulfilled my wish and cleaned houses to keep me afloat. I like to think that Margaret would have been proud of me.
And now when I think about empowered women, I keep seeing Margaret’s face. With her deep Dublin accent, her forever chipped nail-polish and her funny walk, she was a great role-model for me. Not just because she had survived pain, discomfort and isolation as a child, not just because she was reliable and worked so hard. But because she had a positive outlook and optimism that so many of us, in our deep privilege struggle to attain. Her banter, her chat and her laughter lit up my childhood. For that I am forever inspired and grateful.
It’s your turn. Leave a comment and share about a powerful woman in your life.