the mountain climbers

my great grandmother climbed mountains
climbed one of the Three Sisters in a skirt
she was 21 when women were given the right to vote
after her husband died, she loaded her two children in the car
and drove to Oregon
her sister told her
there were more opportunities for women there
my great grandmother climbed mountains.

so did my grandmother
she asked my grandfather (before he was my grandfather) grandma
to meet her at the base of the North Sister
he started climbing mountains after that day
in World War II, my grandmother was a coast watcher
looking out for fire balloons
and wrote a poem about it,
she’s always written poetry.
my grandmother climbed mountains.

so did my aunt
as the child of two mountain-climbers, how could she not?
she served in the Air Force for 29 years, 5 months, 11 days,
and retired as a Full Bird Colonel
stationed at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001,
luckily just on the bus when the plane hit.
a party early in her career, four star general
tells sexist jokes
she, not one to back down,
approached the general after
said she appreciated his presence,
but, she said, “you offended me as a woman and as an officer.”
four star general pinched her cheek and walked away
my aunt climbed mountains

so did my mother
as another child of two mountain-climbers, how could she not?my mother, the mountain climber
climbed Mt. Hood 13 times
climbed Three Fingered Jack 10 times
she raised two boys
(and taught us to climb mountains)
while winning national recognition as a district sales manager for Avon,
while earning her pilot’s license
as a child, she wanted to be an astronaut
but rules required hours of military flight
and women could not fly in the military
instead, my mother climbed mountains

as a child, i too wanted to be an astronaut.
a fear of heights convinced me otherwise
no one told me i couldn’t do it
no one made rules that kept me from it
my choice
my decision
i didn’t have to climb that mountain

i climbed most of a mountain once
it got too foggy, too snowy,
and we had to turn around
i just couldn’t see the mountain

there are mountains that occur in nature,
soaring towards the sky,
covered in snow, with thinning tree lines.
when you ask a mountain climber why they climb a mountain,
they say “because it’s there.”

there are mountains we make
mountains that don’t exist in a natural world
mountains that say “you can’t”
mountains that say “you’re not good enough”
mountains that say “you should look like this”

the mountains we put up
the mountains men put up
some of us can ignore the mountains
some of us thrive by ignoring these mountains
not my mother, my aunt, my grandmother, my great grandmother
for them, ignoring the mountains was impossible
they had to see it

i have to see the mountain
that’s my choice
my own decision
to see which mountains belong here
and which mountains do not
which ones we can flatten
which ones have been climbed by enough people
their feet tramping the snow and soil, tamping it flat
and i can climb that mountain too
i can do better
i can follow in the footsteps
of my great grandmother, my grandmother, my aunt, my mother –
i can stomp it down
again and again
and help make those man-made mountains
into paths

i can climb that mountain

after all,
i learned
from generations
of mountain climbers
 
me, learning to climb mountains
 
 
for my mother, especially, on this mother’s day
also for my aunt, grandmother and great-grandmother
(with special thanks to my aunt & mom for fact-checking/gathering)

this piece was originally written in April 2015 for Milton Middle School’s “Power to the People” unit about struggles for equality.

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2 Responses to the mountain climbers

  1. Pingback: Ode to Poet & Mountain Climber: James W Moore | schauflerized Scribble

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