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July 22, 2012 / hippiechickamblings

Floozy in the Family Tree?

Apparently, my great grandmother was quite the scandal. Her name was Sarah, and from all accounts, she was a natural beauty, though the way she lived would’ve been considered anything but beautiful. She had six children by different men. SIX! Even more unbelievable, she didn’t marry any of the men who fathered her children! As a matter of fact, she didn’t marry until later in life, and divorced the man long before there was time to collect the china.

Had Sarah lived in our time, she would’ve been heralded as an independent woman who lived life according to her own rules, a modern woman unafraid to spread her wings and free herself of rigid guidelines proscribed by men. Unfortunately, Sarah wasn’t from our time. She was part of an era when morality was defined as one man and one woman married until death, and children only came after vows were sanctioned by God and the laws of man. Living outside that box was likely to get you tarred and feathered. So, what was the deal with Sarah? Was she a harlot, a floozy hanging from a rotting limb of my family tree? Or was she a woman ahead of her time?

The answer to those questions may forever elude me, as I have few authentic facts about her life. The rest is pure speculation. What I do know is this: First, she was physically attractive. I’d love to include her actual photo here, but my mother wouldn’t like it, and even on a bad day, she can still take me.

Second, I know that Sarah was poor. She was so poor, in fact, that she was virtually homeless for most of her life. She survived by living as a hired hand. She moved from place to place, performing common household duties, which consisted of brutal, manual labor. In exchange for her services, she was housed and fed until it was time to move on. This continued even after she went blind, which occurred while she was still relatively young.

This brings me to the third fact I know about her. She was a hard worker, a die-hard perfectionist who took pride in the quality of her work. Her station in life as a drifting laborer doesn’t appear to have caused her the pain of low self-esteem. Now, for the biggest surprise of all: Instead of being a social outcast or being branded as some kind of street strumpet, she was highly regarded by all who knew her. Somehow, this woman, living out of her time, managed to walk tall, with pride and an untarnished name.

The answer to this mystery may lie in simple geography. Sarah was born and bred in the mountains, away from the wagging tongues of city-dwellers or small-town gossip mongers. Mountain culture dictates a pervasive loyalty and cohesiveness. Through decades of physical isolation, mountaineers grew clannish, with a profound sense of family, a deep regard for their neighbors, and a natural suspicion of outsiders. They were protective of their own. Perhaps this accounts for their easy acceptance of a woman who would’ve otherwise been shunned.

Finally, as for the moral questions Sarah raised. I don’t buy into the “Loosey-Goosey” theory. I believe Sarah was not only a product of her time, but a victim, as well. From childhood, she was forced to labor for her existence, and lived at the mercy of her benefactors. Depending on the kindness of strangers, her very survival was defined by how well she pleased others. I think she was probably abused, maybe even raped, and it’s possible that some of her children may have been an outcome of this tragedy.

The fact that Sarah didn’t marry until late in life indicates that she probably didn’t trust men. Had she respected them or held them in high regard, she would’ve been more inclined to legally bind herself to one. Single women, after all, weren’t in vogue, once they reached a certain age. There’s also another clue to the real Sarah which haunts me. When my mother was a young girl, Sarah (who was her grandmother) cautioned her against being alone with a boy. She told her, “Boys are stronger than you. They can overpower you before you realize it and make you do things you don’t really want to do.”

Sarah fascinates me, not just because she’s my ancestor, but because she was different and had the courage to make the best of what life dealt her without indulging in self-pity. Without a home, husband, or station in life, she still had self-respect. We could learn much from her impoverished life. Moral of the story: people who live in stone houses shouldn’t throw glass…or, something like that.

4 Comments

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  1. annie / Jul 22 2012 5:32 pm

    Thanks for that story,People are too quick to label people.She sounds like a strong woman..You go granny!

    • hippiechickamblings / Jul 22 2012 5:38 pm

      Thanks so much for that! She has always fascinated me. She was totally blind, long before she got old, and still managed to work! Amazing! No handouts back then!

  2. queenicess / Jul 31 2012 9:53 pm

    i love hearing about people from those times and how they made she was a strong woman it does seems like that in every family there some one that seems to have secrets and that is why we want to know more about them. I loved the wording you used in this and how you described her it was as if I was taking to her. you do so great in writing this has got to be your talent WRITE A BOOK LOVE you GOT WHAT IT TAKES.

    • hippiechickamblings / Aug 1 2012 6:38 am

      Thank you so much for your kind words. We all have those secret skeletons in our closet, all of them human, at least in the beginning. It means so much for me for people to stop by and comment, especially now. I appreciate your input and your help–you’ve been a lifesaver and friend, and I’ll never forget what you’ve done for me.

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