We’re visual types, so we decided to adopt the fiercely protective mama mourning dove who stood watch over our book party last weekend in order to announce the winners of our “Everyone Wants to be” Mother’s Day contest.
In all seriousness, we found her protectiveness touching and couldn’t help thinking of her when we read all the wonderful essays our readers sent in, praising their female mentors for being the kind of women who provide strength and inspiration in ways too countless to mention. It was almost impossible for us to narrow them down to a set of winners, because literally every single entry we got was touching and every single woman described sounded like a truly awesome human being to us. We settled on these seven entries (two more than the five we announced, because we just couldn’t whittle them down to that number) because of the beautiful range of women they depict and the lovely way the writers expressed their admiration.
Congratulations to all the winners. Your signed copies of our book are in the mail, darlings. For everyone else, enjoy these wonderful tributes.
Everyone Wants to Be … Sherry
My mother is literally an award-winning parent. No, really – she’s got plaques. Many cards may be covered in “Mother of the Year” sentiments, but I’m sure not many have actually claimed the official title in the whole state of Alabama for years in a row. One important word was added to the beginning of that title, however – “Foster”. You see, I’m one of 6 children adopted by this wonderful woman. I was #33 in her list of the nearly 600 children to whom she’s opened her heart and home. Being admirably known as “Mama Sherry” to her former children, who are sometimes grown with their own kids, can be awkward for all parties involved, but she doesn’t care. She’s often ridiculed for taking on so many kids (there are 10 children under 16 in their home currently), but has said that as long as she is able, she will care for children. I’ve never seen anyone so committed to making kids from all sorts of horrible situations see her as “Mama”. Of course, claiming to be 39 for the past 27 years, she’s fooled generations of children. When challenged, she smirks and quips, “I no longer have birthdays…simply anniversaries.”
She never had a job or learned to drive a car. She never went to college. She wasn’t a feminist and she never climbed the corporate ladder. She never started a business. She never travelled abroad or learned to speak a new language. She never had her ears pierced and never wore a pair of pants.
She was a reader and a poet. She was a self-taught pianist and church organist. She was a basketball player and board game lover. She was a fierce competitor and a master NYTimes crossword puzzle solver. She made the best apple turnovers and always over-baked her cookies. She had a fabulous collection of earscrews that she would let her granddaughters wear around the house. She was a mother, a grandmother, a great-grandmother, a friend, a wife.
The joy that radiated from her smile was contagious. Everyone wanted to be near her because she made everyone feel like they were her favorite person in the world. And at that moment, they were.
Everyone wanted to be her because she had figured out the secret of success – that life is about people, not things. It is not clothes or wealth, degrees or titles, houses or cars. The secret of success is that these things will never make you truly happy, only love.
My Mom is a kick ass Valkyrie Warrior in the body of a Cute as a Button midwestern nurse. She’s a cookie baking, sweater knitting, multi-tasking dynamo who, when a drunk driver drove his Corvette head on into the tree by our house (and praise the Higher Power of your Choice for that tree, otherwise he’d have driven through our living room), my Mom ran outside – feet bare, dressed only in her lacey nightie, and dragged the driver from a burning, fiberglass death trap. After she determined he’d live, she yelled “Call 911!” and raced back into the house, emerging seconds later (still in her nightie, now covered in blood) with a blanket and an old bed sheet. Mom threw the blanket around the driver and then hurled the sheet over her side garden. Why? It was an unexpectedly cold night and she “didn’t want her flowers to frost. “
Mom’s always embraced fashion trends but puts her unique stamp on whatever look she’s rockin’ – which I’ve tried to emulate. In fact, I SO much want to BE her that for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, I forced my husband to help me recreate some old photos of them, in which I tried to capture my Mom’s breezy, sexy style and honor what I treasure most: her strength, integrity, and independence; her fierce loyalty to loved ones, and her ability to save lives – both human and plant – in one fell swoop.
B really helped me know I wanted to be a mom. We’re 4 years apart in age, and she started on the path to motherhood before me. I was so scared of having kids, I didn’t know how it would change my life, but when I looked at B become a mom I knew I could, and wanted to, do it. She didn’t lose her identity in her motherhood. She still placed a priority on her friendships and wasn’t always talking about her babies and how cute they were (they are really cute though, so she could have and no one would have been upset). She’s not super rigid in her parenting which showed me I could be a mom and it didn’t have to take over my whole existence.
We both have two kids right now, and I’m so glad I get to go through this scary world of parenting with her. We joke that if we were married to one another, instead of our spouses, our kids would have great names, not boring unoriginal names and we’d never fight about dumb parenting stuff. I’ve watched her struggle through postpartum depression in this last few years. It’s hard to see someone you love fight within themselves, but even that is inspiring. She doesn’t give up and she keeps moving forward.
~ Kristiana Rodriguez
Everyone Wants to Be… Sian
My sister Sian, because when I was a bespectacled agonizingly shy seventeen year old she bought me my first pair of contact lenses, which our parents couldn’t afford and made me come out from the shadows. She’s super smart, tall, blonde and gorgeous, was a genuine rebel at school, ran marathons until she could beat all the guys in her office, and hated being judged as a dumb blonde. Whatever she chose to attempt she mastered, which was kind of cool, scary and sometimes frightening to watch. She’s also unflinchingly honest, and when her husband, the love of her life became ill with Alzheimer’s in his early fifties, she gave up everything to look after him. And she still does, because as she says, he’s her best friend and no one will ever love him or care about him as much as she will. I respect the fuck out of her and still want to be her when I grow up.
~ Kate Pearce
Everyone Wants to Be … April
It’s impossible to encapsulate April McAnnally in this teensy peek into her life – suffice it to say that her very existence as a wife, mother, friend, sister, daughter, swimsuit-winner-in-Miss-Alabama, children’s choir director, pre-school teacher, champion of the underserved and underprivileged, dress-repairer and last-minute shopper, finder of lost things, rabid Auburn football fan, biggest fan of anyone she meets, fixer of broken hearts and broken people, lover of blue Christmas lights and all things sparkly, comic, perfect hostess, expert at falling-asleep-on-the-couch-with-her-mouth-hanging-open, and so many more nebulous identities – all those that are impossible to articulate – is the reason that my family is what it is, and that my marriage has something to aspire to.
When I was growing up, people were quick to tell me that I was “just like my father.” I always took this compliment with pride – what people meant when they said that was that they thought I was precocious, well-spoken, opinionated, and funny. It’s only recently that people have started to tell me that they think I’m like my mother. To be honest, I could work my whole life and still not deserve a compliment like that.
Everyone wants to be her? Of course they do – me, more than anyone.
~ Mary Catherine McAnnally
Everyone Wants to Be … Barbara
Let me tell you about Master Barbara Dickens, seventh-degree black belt and two-time breast cancer survivor. Let me tell you about this goddamn marvel of a woman from Mississippi, who first tried martial arts in Singapore in the 1970s. You can imagine how welcoming the instructors were of her, and in fact they used language barriers as an excuse to kick her as a form of correction, but you’re dead wrong if you think that discouraged her.
In America, she found a new instructor and trained with him through her fifth-degree black belt, until he ordered her to close a satellite school, refusing to hear any appeals, and she wouldn’t do it. So she started her own school — 22 years ago, still going strong — and ignored impotent letters declaring her stripped of all rank. He blackballed her across the old boys’ club of top-level American black belts, so she found other black belt women in the same situation, and they founded the Association of Women Martial Arts Instructors.
Let me tell you about this woman, born in the Japanese Year of the White Horse. Not the Year of the Horse — the Year of the White Horse only happens once every 144 years. According to legend, centuries ago, all girls born under the White Horse were killed because they were thought to become too strong and domineering toward men.
That’s why our school is White Horse Academy, and she is my inspiration.
~ Laura Renee