Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Woman's Story

Have you ever had two thoughts collide in your mind? For me it was this piece over at Mulholland Books and the unrelenting horror movies that the month of October brings.

This collision brought to mind a real life horror story that I was privvy to and that has haunted me over the years. Moving to our farm back in the seventies dropped us smack dab in the middle of a Polish/Russian Catholic neighborhood. Many of the older neighbors were first and second generation immigrants. They'd come to work in the coal mines in Scranton until they scraped together enough money to purchase a bit of land to farm. And they brought their old country beliefs and way of life with them.

We met one of the older gentlemen, he was in his eighties, when his heifer came in heat and decided to visit our bull. About a week later we were talking about this "strange" neighbor with another neighbor who dropped by for a visit and he told us about an incident he witnessed years ago.

As a young man he'd gone to visit with the man and his wife only to find the wife tied to the silo, her blouse ripped off, and the man beating her with a leather strap. When I asked him why he didn't stop the man or report the beating. He informed me that you didn't interfere between a husband and wife. Now this had happened back in the fifties and I could well believe the attitude.

I can only imagine the hell that woman lived through during her lifetime and found it oddly satisfying when I'd heard that she'd passed away. Why satisfying? Because her husband was bedridden and she was his sole caretaker. He laid in bed beside her dead body for two days before the visiting nurse came to check on them. I like to think that her ghost remained in that room, taunting him, getting her revenge for all the years of abuse.

Women are the strongest human beings I know. That woman nearly drowned in old country religious beliefs, being unable to divorce the man she had married or even speak up for herself. Even suicide wasn't an option. She had no children, no friends, and no means of escape. And who, in this country, would ever believe the life she was forced to live. Her final revenge only coming with her death.

And coming back around to the Mulholland piece, I really do have to wonder why publishers don't want to read about older women. Women who have over the years developed a strength and courage that most younger women today can't even begin to imagine. They are bold and brave and interesting. We should be able to tell their stories, not some exaggerated fifties sitcom version of their lives.


Anita Page said...

I was so moved by your telling of this, Sandra. I can understand why this woman's story haunts you.

Of course older women's stories should be told. An agent once reminded me that B&N reps and publisher's first readers are often in their twenties. These are the people who think they understand the market. Pathetic.

sandra seamans said...

Yes, I think that's a lot of the problem, Anita. Kids fresh out of college reading the slush pile aren't interested in what the old folks are doing. They want what appeals to them.

I remember a reading about Tillie Olsen's short story, "I Stand Here Ironing" being tossed in the trash by a young female editor because she didn't want to read a story about a woman ironing. A male editor rescued the story because he remembered his mother ironing. Losing that short story would have been a great loss.