The Women of the Village

There is a history of women, subversive and marginalized, who gather to heal, dissent, bewitch or even birth. Alone and together, these women work to save and secure, to sanctify and celebrate. We know these histories. We’ve read these stories. During this unprecedented pandemic, the women came again. For me, in my village, they transfixed our simple street into an unlikely neighborhood, a place where children feel safe, loved and protected. For you, perhaps, they showed up differently; nevertheless, they were there, and they are here.

Like so many, as the chaos over COVID-19 climbed and debates about educating our children flared, I faced a decision. Ultimately, for our family, I shifted my life completely and chose to homeschool my children for the year.

Recently, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, California’s surgeon general, claimed that “connected, nurturing, trusted relationships are the number one antidote to stress.” Ironically and fortuitously, her words mirror my understandings this year. As a way to honor both my experience in the pandemic and my refreshing, restorative female friendships, I want to tell you about the women I’ve met, the women of my village, the women who became the sacred antidote Dr. Harris talks about.

Megan brought her children from D.C to Connecticut to live with her parents for the year. Her children’s D.C school was fully remote, and she was fully a lawyer. In September, she packed up her red subaru with her two kids and a few of their favorite things. She brought them to live with her mom, their Granny, for the entire year. Once the children were settled, Megan returned to D.C to work, leaving her children with Granny. Granny lives across the street from me, and so for the first time in the ten years we’ve lived in our small, Connecticut town, there were two more children on our street. Here’s what I admire about Megan: her discipline, her drive, her no-nonsense parenting style and her I-don’t-give-a-shit sense of style. Perhaps more than anything, though, I admire her for her strength and for her children, whom I’ve come to love like they are my own. Seven days a week, her children live over at my house from around 2pm until 7pm, when the dinner bell rings, and they scooter back across the street to Granny’s.

At 74, Granny is Irish Catholic through and through. She taught math in our town’s public school system for thirty years. She is as tough as they come, drilling multiplication, manners and make-your-bed! When I started drowning in long division, Granny volunteered to teach my son fourth-grade math. Several times a week, he rides his bike over to her house, and she patiently sits with him, molding him into our very own Archimedes, or at least getting him that much more ready for fifth grade. Over and over again, I offered to reimburse Granny for her help. She declined, grinning, “Laura, this is what we do, what neighbors do, what teachers do.”

With only about eight houses on our street, our neighborhood is small. Like many neighborhoods, sometimes there are sticky situations, sometimes there are spats over things like a tree. You need to know that I’m a lover of trees. In graduate school, I took an entire course on evolutionary adaptation and the coniferous vegetation of my surroundings. Trees are my favorite literary symbol. I even named my daughter after the Oak tree. So naturally, when my neighbor cut down one of my favorite trees on the street, I was distraught. I may have overreacted. Ever since “tiimmberrr,” things were never the same with the little grey house that sits to our left. Until this year, of course. With kids home all the time, our tree-hating neighbor started to wave more often. A few months into the pandemic, she even started leaving gifts for the neighborhood kids to share over Halloween, and Christmas, and more recently, Easter. We have drastically different views on landscaping, and even things like the election; however, the kindness she shows to the children, restores my faith in neighborhoods. Despite our differences, and also because of them, she certainly is a woman of the village.

This year, Ricky rented the house at the end of the road. He and Sonal are going through a divorce. At first, I watched a few times as Sonal slowly drove down the road to drop her children off at their dad’s new rental. Then, as I got to know her kids more, I started texting with her. When her children are at their dad’s, they’re really over at my house, with my kids, and Granny’s grandkids. Sometimes, as Sonal drives back up the road after “the drop off” she stops by, and we share donuts. Sonal and Ricky are from India. They married in India, moved to the states, had their two daughters, and opened up two businesses. Each of their parents live with them, now in separate homes. When their daughters play in our neighborhood, the entire street feels more vibrant, more alive with youthful energy and radiant hope. Trusting, Sonal leaves her young daughters in my backyard. Knowing, she, too, believes in the wisdom of the women.

In the cedar shake house with the lone swing and the c-driveway, resides the gracious and tender-hearted, Mrs. Clorite. With gardens galore, Mrs. Clorite’s backyard is our dreamy home economics classroom, complete with chickens and a brand-new rescue puppy named Hudson. The children in the village love wandering around in Mrs. Clorite’s yard, exploring her garage, and playing with the just-hatched baby chicks that live under a warm, red light in her basement. Last weekend, everyone shared Sunday together, their hands in the dirt, tilling the earth, preparing for the planting. The children of the village shadow Mrs. Clorite; they recognize her sagacious, calming ways.

The children, like the women, believe in the neighborhood. In a time of upending isolation and confusion, women made community, built calm, and transformed lives. For centuries, women, together and alone have practiced these rituals. Sometimes, though, their stories are lost, deemed dismissable. This year, despite the turbulence all around us, these special women on this everyday street, gifted us trust and connection. Like they have done forever, in both ordinary and extraordinary ways, the women of the village save us again and again and again.

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Laura Milligan

Laura Milligan is a teacher and writer. On medium, she often shares personal essays. www.lauramilliganwrites.com