I am so lucky to have had wonderful strong female role models in my life. My great-aunts are two of those role models.
Rebecca Williamson Carter Bailey - Aunt Becky was born in 1913. She graduated from college and got a master's degree. She spoke French and worked to keep that skill her entire life. She was always looking for opportunities to learn about the world and she and Uncle Bruce had a large library. She was an advocate of education and when she died she established a trust fund to help the children and grandchildren of her brothers get education or training beyond high school.
Aunt Becky served as a WAVE in the Navy during World War II. She had a love of history and a keeper of family history and artifacts. She was very unconventional and a free-thinker. She got married in a red dress and she and Uncle Bruce never had any children. They lived very simply and for many years did not have indoor plumbing, electricity or a phone. She did have a huge wrap-around porch with hanging beds and hammocks which I loved to play on when I was a kid. The house was quite a way up in the woods and her nearest neighbors were out of sight and earshot. The view was magnificent!
She was a wonderful aunt to her nephews and nieces and their children and grandchildren. Aunt Becky was tough as nails but very loving and caring. One of my visits with her when she was in her mid-eighties illustrates this well. She had been working around the farm when a barn door came off its rolling track and fell on her. She was less than 5 feet tall and weighed less than 100 pounds and as previously mentioned, in her eighties. She had broken and bruised some ribs but was quickly sent home from the hospital to recuperate. When my sister and I arrived for a visit she was propped up in a bed that had been set up in the dining room so she didn't have to go upstairs. We chatted about various things and she told us what happened. She said her thoughts while trapped under the door were "this would be a heck of way to die" and that motivated her to crawl out and get to her phone (family insisted she install one after Uncle Bruce died and she was there alone). She commented to us that "it's much better that this happened to me and not to one of you." We were very curious why she would say such a thing and her reply was that she didn't have to get up and go to work or take care of children. As we drove home we were laughing about her reasoning and how it was typical of her pragmatic view of the world.
Elizabeth Ayers Mason married my grandfather's brother, Stanley Carter. She was another college graduate in my family. This was fairly unusual for a woman born in 1907. She had a career as a social worker. Aunt Elizabeth was active in politics and interested in family history. She helped get the Bethel Historical Society started and hosted family reunions. She loved cats and I heard comments while I was growing up about the crazy cat lady who lived in West Bethel. I would just smile and say she was my aunt and she was not crazy; she was a very sweet lady. She did have about twenty cats at a time living with her after my uncle died. Most were dropped off by people who knew they would have a good home with her. She was ten years older than Uncle Stanley and close to fifty when they married so they had no children. Her cats were her children. She had all her cats spayed and neutered and they had regular check-ups. Her house was immaculate and the litter boxes were in the shed and cleaned daily so there was absolutely no odor. That's not an easy thing with that many cats.
My best memories are of the Christmas parties Aunt Elizabeth had for me, my sister and my cousins, Becky, John and Nancy. They were elegant affairs. Everyone dressed up and she served tiny sandwiches with the crusts cut off and introduced us to types of bread and fillings we did not normally experience because they are normally reserved for adults at afternoon tea parties. There were fancy cookies and candies too. We ate off china plates with real silverware. There was classical music playing in the background. It was so sophisticated compared to our everyday lives. She treated us like adults and we adored her for it. Our gifts were often ceramic figurines, jewelry or music boxes - things our parents wouldn't buy for us because they didn't trust us not to break them immediately. I still have two pieces forty years later and neither has broken. We usually got a puzzle or toy too but what we treasured were the "grown-up" beautiful gifts. Mom made sure we used our best manners and wrote thank-you notes every year. When I was a young adult, I was living in West Bethel and Aunt Elizabeth walked daily and often past our house. I would try to catch up with her every week and have a chat. She was a very interesting and active woman.
I am very grateful to have had these two strong women as role models. They were adventurous and did things their own way without caring what other people thought of them. They were confident in their decisions and values and lived their lives with integrity and compassion. Both of them made a difference in the lives of others. They certainly made a difference in my life.
These pictures come from the Facebook page "I Grew Up in Bethel, Maine"