Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Tribute for International Women's Day - THE GRAND DAMES


I am a Canadian woman born in 1966.  Less then 50 years after women were recognized as "persons" and no longer considered an object owned like livestock or a coffee table.  I have the right to vote, marry whom I choose, drive, wear pants, own property, get an education, receive equal wages, be free of sexual harassment, have my own bank account or go out on my own without fear of prejudice, imprisonment or death.  According to a study done in Newsweek Magazine in 2011, I live in one of the top three countries in the world when it comes to the rights and quality of life for women. It's hard to comprehend living in a time where I would have to ask my 13 year old brother's permission to get $50.00 from my own paycheque so that I can buy myself a bra or worse where the simple act of getting on a bus by myself would automatically equal being gang raped.  However, the sad and sobering reality is that in 2013 this does still happen in almost half the countries on this planet. It seems like a heavy burden for the generations to come.  I have hope that before I pass, education and changing times will create better living conditions for women everywhere. 

The point of my blog on this day is to write about two generations of women I have met and come to be inspired by.  They are not famous.  They didn't win Nobel prizes, invent a life saving piece of equipment or do anything to warrant them time on your local TV news channel.  They are four women who have lived under different circumstances simply following the path they have chosen for themselves.  I hope their stories make you smile and appreciate them for who they are:   Strong Women. 

GRAND DAMES (Part 1) - It all seems too strange now in hindsight.  Bob Caron and I befriended each other on Twitter in August of 2012 totally by accident really.  I believe he tweeted something about his love for two Canadian whiskies.  I tweeted back and in the end because I travel for work to Maine on a regular basis I was able to mail him some within a few weeks. A couple of days after receiving his package he sent me a lovely picture of him, his two aunts and the evening that ensued.  I was delighted.  It seemed befitting that I would meet all three of them on my birthday in November when we traveled to New Hampshire and after spending a day with these two women, I was compelled almost immediately to tell their story.   Here it is...

Dot & Cis - Basketball in the 50's
Willie and Josephine Caron were French Canadians looking for a life that didn't involve farming. After the birth of their first two boys, Izzy & Lucien, they picked up roots and moved to the US where Hurb and Moe soon came along.  Cis was born on May 5, 1930 and Dot on September 13, 1933 in Nashua New Hampshire where they both still reside today.  They went to school and helped around the house.  While the other girls graduated from high school and searched for the perfect husbands, Cis and Dot took a non-traditional road and went to work for electronics companies.  Secretaries?  Nope:  Cis started her career in production then moved to quality control until her retirement whereas Dot started as a circuit board resistor assembly line employee then moved on to circuit design and drafting.  They both lived at home, which certainly helped the family financially. Both involved in sports: softball, basketball and Dot also was proficient at bowling.  Most of the sporting events usually ended with a bit of socializing.  Dot says: "Nobody drank vodka back then, it was mostly just beer and whisky".  She recalls her first whisky was Seagram's 7 and eventually switched to Canadian Club with water or sometimes on the rocks.  The Canadian whiskies were commonly referred to as Rye.  Cis, on the other hand had Scotch as her first experience.  She was at a company Christmas party and her plant manager plopped a glass of whisky in her hands:  "This is what you should be drinking and this is how you drink it".  It was Chivas Regal.  To give you a bit of perspective of the times:  The bars, clubs and lounges in New Hampshire in the 50's were gender segregated.  Men were free to be in the women's lounge without an escort however women could only enter the men's lounge by invitation only.  The neighboring state of Massachusetts did not have the same restrictions so post game partying often headed there instead.  Cis being of legal drinking age would sneak Dot in by showing her own ID and claiming that she and Dot were twins, it worked every time.  Back then their whisky journey wasn't a varied one.  It was more about the camaraderie and having a good time with friends.  "There wasn't much to pick from and there was not much guidance".  
Heading up the volcano - Canary Islands
Life moved on as did the ladies.  Together they have rode a camel in the Canary Islands, drifted in a balloon over the African Savannah, rode in a Tundra Buggy on a polar bear expedition in Canada, visited exotic places like Iceland, Hawaii, Australia and New Zealand as well as toured most of the US by car.  All the while living in the homestead in Nashua.  Luckily enough for them, the house had been partitioned.  Upstairs was their brother Hurb's family (including son Bob) whereas downstairs housed Cis, Dot, two of the brothers and their parents.  Hurb was the only one of the siblings to have children so Cis and Dot always felt like they had all the advantages of having kids but without any of the hassles.   This from Bob: "If we were being a pain in the butt while we were downstairs, they would simply send us home  but as you can probably tell my aunts and uncles were the coolest adults on the planet to us so we did our best to not misbehave. Growing up in a big extended family seemed like nothing out of the ordinary until we got a bit older and compared our lives to those of our friends.  We quickly realized just how lucky and grateful we were to have them in our lives."  I asked the sisters if they had ever looked back on their lives with any regrets or whether they would have done anything differently given the chance?  Their reply:  "We figure that everything turned out just the way it was suppose to and near perfect.  No regrets what so ever".   So, what makes two sisters buck the trend and do things that were practically unheard of in that era?  How does one look around and say I don't care what others are doing, I am doing this!  From my perspective my mother pounded into  my head the importance of education, self reliance and independence but I was born and raised in the late 70's & 80's.  Cis and Dot beat most of us by almost 40 years.  I asked what value did they hold dearly and were most proud of about themselves.  "Perseverance.  Hanging in there through the toughest of times.  Also, not having any regrets".

Their outlook on life seems to be that everything they have lived happened as it was suppose to.  It was how they dealt with each situation and not the situation itself that they learned the most from. Neither waited for Mr. Right to come along or retirement to start living.  Their lives were and are still full of adventures. I'm always fascinated with what advice people can give to the next generation.  In this case Cis and Dot have lived and experienced so many things that some of us could only imagine.  The sisters advice:  "Follow your gut feeling every time.  Live your life on your own terms and not by what others or society may expect of you.  Above all, be true to your yourself".  Bob recollects asking aunt Dot once why she never married.  She answered: "Because I never found anyone I liked more than I liked myself".  This touched Bob profoundly and I can't help but wonder how many divorces would be avoided as a result of that advice.  How could you possibly fully commit and love someone else until you truly loved and respected yourself.    

The love and adventure of whisky came back to Cis and Dot's lives when Bob started coming home with a whisky he would have bought for the "boys".  He quickly realized that his "aunties" not only knew a little bit but really enjoyed them too, so began the tradition of bringing whiskies home for them to try every time he came to visit.  Over the years they have come to love some of the delicious bottles Bob has introduced them to.  They both took a shining to Johnnie Walker Green Label for a while and neither are big fans of the heavily peated or sherried drams.  As a bit of an experiment for this blog Bob gathered 13 different whiskies and set up a blind tasting for the three of them.  He diluted all the drams so that they would all be 40%.  He gave Cis & Dot score cards and they were to rate the whiskies on a scale of 1-10.  Although their noses may not work as well as they used to, their taste buds are still quite reliable.  Amid some giggles and good conversation they worked their way through all 13 whiskies.  There was some Japanese, Scotch, Welsh, Irish, French and American whiskies there that night.  But for Cis and Dot the overwhelming winner and best whisky thus far for both is   Brenne French Single Malt Whisky (Allison Patel's baby that I reviewed a few months ago).     

What can those of us learn from these two lovely octogenarians who have not slowed down: Everything.  Their decisions to live their lives entirely the way they wanted to must have been difficult.  Maybe not always for them but for the people around them.  Did Josephine ever wonder why her daughters didn't want to marry or have children?  Were Cis and Dot judged for working instead of marrying or for travelling abroad as two young single sisters in an era where that really wasn't acceptable?  Were they stigmatized or shunned somehow?  What about feared?  Did married women see them as the ultimate threat?  How were they treated in a mostly male dominated work force?  We will probably never hear the answers to those types of questions because frankly these two women don't dwell on the negatives.  They will probably disagree with me on this next statement:  Although they were not feminists burning bras and demanding equal rights they were two women in charge of their own destinies, decisions and lives.  Something every single one of us should have the right to do.  I can only wish I would have had women like this in my life as role models.  Not saying the ones that were there weren't good, but every young girl should have an aunt she can look up to and want to grow up being like.  I hope to see Cis and Dot again someday soon.  In the meantime I revel in the stories and photos that Bob sends me.  Whisky has changed my life in many ways.  This is yet another wonderful part of the adventure that touched me.

If you are a woman or love the women in your life please pass this story along today and remember the fantastic generation of those who came before us.  Some more quiet than others but still creating the place I call the whisky fabric.  Maybe someday when I'm in my 80's some young whipper snapper will sit with me and share a dram just like I hope to do again soon with the Grand Dames of New Hampshire.  

To Cis and Dot, my respect, love and complete admiration.  I am in awe and aspire to living my life the same way you did.

Cis and Dot today, in their home in Nashua New Hampshire

Celebrating being a proud woman, I remain...   Whisky Lassie.

PS:  Bob left the bottle of Brenne at his aunts' house stating he'd be buying more.  "After all, nothing but the best for my Aunties".

1 comment:

  1. This is lovely! I found myself clapping at Dot's reason for not marrying, and with a huge smile on my face at the end. Thank you for sharing this story!! I'll be sharing this with my friends. xx