Wednesday, March 31, 2010

April Foolishness

I grew up with a jokester for a role model. April 1 was like a national holiday to him.  When I think of my Father, I picture his face cracking into a giant grin as he says, "April Fool's!"

Ahhhhh, memories.  Thanks, Dad.

Ask any of my siblings and they will recount their own version of my Dad's infamous "There's a Pink Elephant in the Backyard" April Fool's Joke.  No elaborate props needed.  No projection imagery.  No sound effects, other than a deep voice rolling with laughter and the squeal of a child protesting the fib.

To this day I have no idea what he really meant by the Pink Elephant ploy.  Other than offering us a glimpse at the fantastical.  What could be more absurd than a Pink Elephant in our backyard?  Nothing.  Really.  And, I promise you, I tried time and time again to top it.

My Dad never set foot on Irish soil, but he certainly inherited more than his fair share of Irish wisecracking ability!  I truly believe that the silliness of this day was a welcome respite from his daily grind as a corporate accountant and father to nine.  Who doesn't need a few Pink Elephants in their life?  Am I right?!

I encourage you to join the Fitzgerald Family this April 1.  We'll all be weaving tales of spotted stegosaurs and dancing whales to whomever will listen (I mean that, we aren't that fussy!).  And, I promise you this, I surely won't be the only one testing out the Pink Elephant in the Backyard exclamation.  I do wonder if some day there will be another generation of Fitzgerald's teasing their children . . . or random neighbors . . . with this one.  I sure hope so.

Happy April Fool's Day, Dad!  Hey, did you happen to notice that spotted orangutan in the window behind you?  Gee whiz, that's crazy!  (tee hee!) April Fool's!  Gotcha . . .

Friday, March 5, 2010

These Are Some Historical (not Hysterical!) Gals

March is Women's History Month. Can I get a woot woot?!!

Over the past year, I've been fortunate to work with a group of women here in Grand Rapids who really dig history. They collaborate as the Greater Grand Rapids Women's History Council and sponsor a month-long celebration of women and their inspiring history. I've been helping this group tell their story and engage people to attend the activities and programs taking place all month. It's been fun . . . and educational!
Even though I'm more of a history-class-dropout-type-of-girl, I've really enjoyed learning about the women from West Michigan and how they left their heel prints on our city and community!
It got me thinking about my own world. To start with, I have loads of incredible female role models! Sure, the gentlemen in my family tree are wonderful too, but a girl has to learn about becoming a smart woman by watching guts and grace in action -- enter these terrific ladies.
1. Jacqueline Marie Welch Fitzgerald. My mom. She was all of 4' 11" tall, yet the shadow she cast was enormous!

My mom taught me that a fresh coat of lipstick can hide many flaws - and instill a sense of confidence that translates into charisma (Jackie never wore makeup, but you rarely saw her without lipstick!). And, more importantly, that a well thought-out phrase or two can mean more than lots of blustering. She never accepted "good enough" from anyone . . . how many times did she correct my grammar, right there in front of my friends? Gracious!
Jackie was historical because she took chances, she listened well, and she acted without fear. She worked to support her Korean War Veteran husband while he finished college, and often returned to the workforce while raising nine children with love and humor. She taught me to set goals and then achieve them . . . without making excuses or passing off blame when things didn't go perfectly. Nicely done, mom!
2. Nina Narcissa Belle Wood Welch. My maternal grandmother. I love the stories from my mom's sisters (oh, and Uncle Bert too, it must have been tough to be the baby in that family of gals!) about growing up on a farm in Concord, Michigan in the 30s and 40s. Grandma really could get blood from a turnip. I swear! 

My grandmother made every single person who ever crossed her path feel like they were the most important person she'd ever met. She communicated incessantly; letters from her were a regular occurrence when I was a college student. Nina was known for remembering everyone's birthday - with a card or note that was perfectly suited to that person. She lived through tough times, made difficult personal decisions along the way, and never gave up on those who mattered most - her family.
3. Mary Margaret Fitzgerald Reed. My Aunt Mary. When I close my eyes and think about her, I see her in my parent's basement in the 70s wearing a pair of white patent leather go-go boots, a plaid wool skirt that hit just above the knees, and a turtleneck (coincidentally it's an ensemble I love myself today!). She's drinking a Drewrys beer out of a can (that was light beer before light beer existed!) and she's smoking a Virginia Slim cigarette (yep, she was a poster child for the 1970's transformation of women, so funny to think back on now!). She rocked!

Aunt Mary was a professional woman in Mecosta County in the late 50s and early 60s, before she married and relocated. She took on the role of County Register of Deeds when the office was left vacant mid-term (she'd been the Assistant Register) and held the office until the next election. When needed, she jumped in and took care of business without seeking fanfare for the effort. Love that about her!
4. Dolores Welch Prue, Kathie Welch McDonald, Patricia Welch Clark, and Elaine Welch England. The formidable Welch family Aunts! My mom's sisters. Today, they are matrons of a sprawling family. A true package deal. When you need someone to have your back, look no further.

These gals held down jobs in all kinds of settings, from factories to school bus drivers (those are still some of my favorite stories to hear from Aunt Elaine and Aunt Pat, whether it was winning the bus rodeo or wrangling bratty kids - they did it all!), while raising kids and taking care of their communities. I keep wondering when Aunt Dee will slow down a bit and enjoy retirement, but she's far too busy taking meals to shut-in seniors while making time for bowling, too! Aunt Kathie is renowned for just doing what's right - she epitomizes gritty determination. These ladies don't back down from a fight. I can only hope to aspire to that level of passion for the many facets of my life. You go, girls!
Today, looking back, I feel overwhelmed with the task of following in these women's footsteps. They've all got such unique style, voice, and passion. But, I'm equally thrilled to have such incredible role models who led the way. These women wore heels, work boots, and sneakers. They pushed through stereotypes and knocked down barriers. For me. Happy Women's History Month, ladies!

Apparently now its my turn. Gulp. Wonder what the heck I can do to make the world a better place for my nieces and maybe even a granddaughter someday?