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The Gray Wave
A Place by the Fire
In the Company of Women
Elizabeth Wicker Bennefeld

I was not often in the company of women during my early years. Growing up in a small town, I found only a few who shared my passion for war novels, the inner workings of prop jets, archaeological expeditions at the farthest corners of the world, and books of all sorts. It never occurred to me to fit the narrow mold my home community had laid out for women of that era. I had no interest in bearing and raising children, teaching home economics, or becoming a secretary or a nurse--the acceptable options.

While at college, I plunged into one subject after another--chemistry and math, psychology, religion, and computer programming--finally ending up with a degree in English and Philosophy. Then, determined to spend my life learning everything there was to know about everything, I secured a position in computer operations and settled down to read whatever I wanted, and to write my poems and short stories to please myself. I had not realized how much the women of my day were oppressed by boundaries and barriers. I was absorbed in my own thoughts, with goals that made such things irrelevant. The few friends I had were men. For the most part, I was an outsider and content to be so.

When Women Gather

In my later years, as the pace of life slows, I find myself more in the company of women--women who are no longer confined by earlier expectations or demands that life begin and end with parenthood and family. Women are making up for lost time with a vengeance. In their fifties and sixties, they are finishing master's and doctoral programs and setting out on new careers. These are women who are taking control of their lives in ways that were unthinkable forty years ago. It is now the women in my life who are breaking new ground, trying new things, pursuing a lifetime of interests with no thoughts of barriers or limits.

In 1996, my mother, who had a degree in accounting, then abandoned a career to bear nine children and raise the seven who lived, inquired about computers. Rhoda Elleen had never run one, and had only looked at mine from a distance. So, my husband and I built a computer for my 77-year-old mother out of pieces and spare parts gathered from various family members. In the meantime, Rhoda had decided to call the telephone company to have a dedicated computer line installed.

After a couple one-hour training sessions and a few frantic phone calls, Rhoda was out surfing the web and corresponding with people from all over the world, particularly about quilting, which is her passion. She paid her America Online subscription two years in advance. She encouraged her children to get their own computers and helped them learn more about how to use them. During the past three years, my mother has added a fancy color printer, a scanner, and a sound card to her computer, as well as doubling the disk space and memory. When I signed up to be a beta tester for WorldNet's web pages feature, Rhoda announced,"I need something new to learn. Is HTML something I could learn to do?" I do believe she's actually gone out and bought an HTML how-to book, now!

It seems that this woman whose company I enjoy with increasing frequency wants to spend some of her time, now that she is older, putting together a web site on quilting and teaching the younger people how to quilt, because, while she still loves quilting, learning HTML programming and putting up a web site on the same would be less strenuous. She is also transferring the old family photos to digital format, while one of my sisters edits the book that Rhoda wrote about our ancestors from their arrival in America to 1900.

I am reminded that my mother's mother, Florence Elizabeth, died at age 84, still employed as an undercover store detective at Younkers Department Store in Des Moines, Iowa, and really enjoying it. On one of my web pages, I have a photo of Florence taking part in a ballroom dancing competition, an activity she picked up in later life.

These women represent my heritage. I'm in very good company.

Elizabeth Bennefeld lives in Fargo, North Dakota, with her husband Al and their two cocker spaniels, Rascal and Ladd. She enjoys herb gardening and creating poems and essays, and she has worked as a freelance writer and copyeditor since 1984. Previously, Elizabeth was employed in computer programming and operations.

Artwork"When Women Gather" by Patse Hemsley
Visit her web site at http://www.moondance.org/1999/summer99/Art/art.htm

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