Ladies of Grace

By Kim Seeley

We lost another one last week. There are so few left, and I keenly feel the loss. When I moved to this rural area at the age of 22, there was a plethora of genteel, gracious ladies who welcomed me, made me feel at home, made me feel calm and serene. Their numbers are dwindling now, and I mourn them collectively, as much as I mourn them individually, as they represent the passing of an era.

We have read much about the heroic soldiers of “The Greatest Generation,” the men who fought during World War II. Their stories have been made into best-selling novels, and award-winning films, and rightly so. It was a time in history when our cause was inarguably just, and the pilots, sailors and soldiers of that war performed their duties with bravery and determination. They fittingly received a hero’s welcome.

These ladies, too, are members of “The Greatest Generation,” although they never wore a uniform or carried a weapon. These were the ladies on the home front, the ladies who knitted socks, the ladies who baked cookies to be served at the USO dances, the ladies with beaus in North Africa or fiancés in the Pacific. When I moved to town, these were the ladies who warmly welcomed me into their homes when I was selling Avon to boost our young family’s income. These were the ladies who “oo-oo-hed and ah-h-hed” over my babies at church every Sunday and were always present at any community event. They were the leading ladies of this little town.

This is not to say that these ladies were aristocrats who had never held a job. Many of them had been teachers, bank tellers, or nurses in their younger days. Some of them had married lawyers, judges, bankers and politicians. When I entered their homes with my Avon tote bag of samples, I knocked on massive doors with bronze knockers, and I was invited into formal living rooms, filled with antique furniture and family portraits. For a few minutes, they gave me their undivided attention and sent me off with an order for some favorite products.

This is a farming community, and many of these ladies were farmers’ wives who had driven tractors or trucks and ran errands for their husbands in the fields, sometimes with a child or two in the seat beside them. They canned and pickled, cleaned and polished, cooked and sewed. When I arrived with my Avon bag, I might enter a high-ceilinged family room with broad hardwood floors, while the stove might have one or two pots of something delicious bubbling away. They would cut the heat down, offer me a seat and something to drink, and then peruse my latest brochure and samples as if they were of the utmost importance to them.

Today, many of these ladies play bridge on Wednesdays, usually with the same group of friends. But their numbers are dwindling, and the number of tables set up each week is growing smaller. Their days are filled with visits to friends in nursing homes, doctor visits and lunches with the “girls.”

I am not of their generation, nor am I of their bent. My talents and proclivities do not run towards household chores. I learned in high school home-economics class that these hands were not meant to hold a needle. I am ill at ease around sewing machines, kitchens and housework in general. I am more at home at the piano, in the classroom, or on the computer than I have ever been at the stove, although I cooked and fed my family of four until the children were grown with few disasters.

But it is not these ladies’ skills in the kitchen or with a needle that I mourn with their passing. I mourn the loss of graciousness. I fear my generation of women may never replace the warmth and gentility of theirs. We were raised to be more independent, more career-oriented and, yes, more self-sufficient. None of these is actually a bad or negative trait, but somehow, combined, they have made us less tactful, less sympathetic and less refined.

I hope in the coming years to replace some of my character flaws with some of the positive qualities I have admired in these ladies of the genteel generation. It would bode me well to become more patient, more welcoming and more tolerant. If our world is to become kinder, humbler, gentler, following the examples of these ladies is a wonderful place to begin.

May God grant me grace in my retirement years, so that I may become the lady at church who makes the young mothers feel relaxed and welcome. Grant me patience so that I speak more gently to the younger generation. May my temper be slower to rise and my sharp tongue be tempered with tenderness. In this way, I can truly honor the example of those ladies who have gone before me.

About this writer

  • Kim Seeley Kim Seeley, a former librarian and English teacher, lives with her husband, Wayne, in Wakefield, Virginia. She is a frequent contributor to Sasee and Chicken Soup for the Soul. Her most recent story, “Amanda’s Jonquils,” can be found in Chicken Soup: Messages from Heaven. She loves to read, play the piano, travel and spend time with her grandson, Evan.

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2 Responses to “Ladies of Grace”

  1. Kim, again we share a publishing credit, and again, your wonderful story touched me deeply. I teach a senior citizen group and I know exactly what you mean about the graciousness of their generation.

  2. Brenda Faison says:

    Kim, loved this and I believe it is one of my favorites. You do a fantastic job.

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