From Rachel's Facebook page on October 11, 2015
For International #DayoftheGirl:
This was #MyLifeAt15. Me and my sisters, existing in small-town Southern Illinois, but each harboring big dreams about having adventures, seeing the world. When I look at myself, I honestly can’t remember what it felt like to be THAT slender. So much so that with my short afro, looking at me from behind, a lot of people thought I was a boy. That wasn’t helped by the fact that I LOVED collared shirts. I thought they were so professional looking, and I was obsessed with Mary Tyler Moore’s wardrobe, and Doris Day’s career girl persona. And with my sister Julie’s closet. She was the secretary to the principal at Cairo High School, and so every morning before she got married and left home, I studied her wardrobe and beauty routine. I so desperately wanted to look like her, to be as pretty and stylish as she was.
Nowadays, nobody mistakes me for a male. And I’ve reached that tragic-yet hilarious stage of life where when somebody mistakes my belly-pooch for pregnancy, I am only mad for about a second. Then I am grateful they think I’m still young enough to give birth.
At 15, I was studying hard, hoping to follow in the footsteps of most of my older siblings and land enough scholarships or financial aid to go to college. Dating wasn’t an option because nobody asked. I was one of “those Joneses,” the book-reading, bible-thumping, non-partying sticks in the mud. Even if any of the local guys were interested in me, they weren’t about to risk the blowback from Eloise Jones.
I wish I could go back in time and hug Eloise Jones. Sometimes, she was crazy as a sack full of rabid weasels. But when you know her backstory, you kind of understand why. Her courage in boarding a train in Philadelphia headed to Cairo, Illinois back in 1946, as a green, naïve 19 year old, with a man she barely knew, tops everything I have ever accomplished in my life. One year later, she’d given birth. By age 39, my mother had given birth 10 times, and her own dreams and fantasies about traveling, having a career or an adventure were long since extinguished. Until the day I die, I won’t be able to fully fathom how Eloise Jones developed the maniacal determination that none of her girls would come even close to living the life she’d experienced.
Oh, wait…I guess they call it love. Or feminism. Which is why I love feminism. And of course some people could use my life as a case study for the dangers of feminism, because I’ve been so busy following my mother’s template that I forgot to pencil in marriage and children. But on this Day of the Girl, I wish I could tell 15-year-old Rachel what an incredible journey lay ahead of her, and that she was absolutely good enough in that exact moment, and that she would be greatly blessed with the power to choose exactly what she wanted to do for the next 40 years, and that she would absolutely achieve her budding goal of making a difference in the world, of leaving something positive behind, even if it wasn’t in the form of a child she gave birth to.
It certainly would have made that girl stand taller, smile more often, feel less shy and unpopular. It would have made her a lot bolder a lot sooner. It would have prepared her to accept and receive life’s blessings a lot more readily--and to not take the knocks and blows so seriously. But now that I’ve muddled through and finally become who I was supposed to be, I’m also becoming somewhat of a zealot about empowering girls. I had great role models in Eloise Jones and Julie Newell.
Happy International Day of the Girl!