International Women’s Day: I may have missed it online but I have spent this day– this entire week, in fact– working with a woman I greatly admire and like. I’ve written about her before, my 96-year-old friend who was in the OSS and married a man who had fought for Chiang Kai-shek in World War II and against the Communists after the war.
It has been a week of learning about my friend, her mother, her aunts and great aunts and grandmothers; of learning about her daughters (and son), and her friends and the work she did.
Tuesday night, we had dinner with one of her friends who lives in a little red house not far from where I lived before I left Rhode Island. The Little Red House, as we always call it, was cozy and warm, built in 1793 when the East Side of Providene was rural, and the north end of it occupied by the Dexters, Morrises, Sessions and Coles on their farms.
The parlor was small, and the five of us filled it (along with a silver standard poodle who shook hands with us all). We ate in what had been the kitchen of the house, with a fire in the fireplace that had been used for cooking (and was still set up for cooking, though that was not where our meal was cooked). We ate from antique transferware, drank wine poured from antique decanters, and sat on antique chairs at an antique table in a room lit by candles. I would be lying if I tried to deny the warm magic of the setting, the scene, and the storytelling.
But the point is not that I had a wonderful time: the point is that I learned that night, and this week, about the ways that women look out for each other (when they’re not competing with each other), and the ways that women shepherd the history of families and places as they maintain collections of furniture, textiles, paintings, and prints.
As I held my friend’s hand and lit her way with my phone flashlight down a stone path to a waiting Subaru, I might as well have been holding a lantern and guiding her down a path to a waiting carriage, where wooden and tin footwarmers would replace a heater and blower motor. Some things are timeless and placeless: friendship, love, and caring. The need (the aspiration) to always care for the people around you, to be gentle and giving when you can, and to take and ask for help when you must: Those “feminine” values are what makes the world go ‘round, and keeps it steady.