Rhonda Cagle

These Strong Women

In Uncategorized on December 1, 2010 at 8:28 pm

A few weeks ago, Megan had to write a paper about our family heritage. Where does one even begin?! And what is one supposed to say about such things? Do people really need to know that we had members of our family fighting on both sides of the Civil War? Does one really share how great grandfather so-and-so was both a preacher and child abuser? How does one distill the legacy of generations of kinfolk into 1500 words or less?

Megan’s assignment got me thinking of generations of Pentecostal preachers, moon shiners, farmers, and hillbillies. These Native American, Irish, and African-American kinfolk create a rich and colorful family tapestry – sometimes a bit too colorful. To be sure, my life continues to bear imprints of these distant relatives; however, it is the women in my family who leave an indelible impression on me.

The matriarchs of my family are strong women. These were not women of means or privilege. They were daughters and wives of farmers and ranchers. Mostly poor and uneducated, they were self-made women at a time when women were expected to be barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen. These strong women were strong because they had to be. They were entrepreneurial and thrifty because they were often the primary breadwinners in the home. Many were married to preachers. And despite their lack of education and society’s limitations, a few were preachers themselves.

My great-great grandmother, Rosie, was a preacher. She lost her first husband, a full-blooded Cherokee, and remarried later in life. By all accounts, her second husband was a scoundrel – a drunk. While he was nursing the bottle, Rosie was nursing her children, her grandchildren, and those within her community. Known for her faith, she was often called to preach at home church gatherings in outlying communities. On these days, she would dress in her distinctive white dress – a trademark of Rosie’s. She would take her children and her Bible with her, and her services always included the urging” Let the redeemed of the Lord say so!” Rosie did “say so.” With her words and her life, and in the lives of her children, she preached and lived the faith that sustained her.

My great-great grandmother, Josephine, is another strong woman who found herself unexpectedly widowed with small children at home. Her husband was killed in a stagecoach robbery, yet Josephine was determined to hang onto the homestead and make a living for her children.

Struggling to make ends meet, she decided to sell her head of cattle and one team of horses. Her neighbor persuaded her that a livestock sale was too rough for a lady and offered to sell the horses and cattle for her. The man left with her cattle and horses – and never returned. Josephine lost the farm and she and her children lived in their wagon, working as field laborers in the surrounding farms to earn enough money for food.

My dad's mother, Beatrice.

I think of my own grandmothers and am amazed at what they endured. I never knew my grandmother Beatrice. She died when my father was just 14 years of age. He left home a week later and never went back. My dad remembers a spunky woman who faced unimaginable poverty while her preacher husband was gone for months at a time going from town to town, holding evangelistic services. He tells stories of Beatrice pulling bread from the oven as he arrived home from school and dancing a jig in the kitchen when her husband was gone. In my grandfather’s world, dancing was a sin, but grandma loved to dance. Her eyes would sparkle and she and the kids would laugh as they coaxed her to dance in the middle of the kitchen floor. I wish I could have known her.

My grandmother, Beatrice, washing clothes.

My "Papa," Austin, my "Granner," Jackie, and my uncle, Jerry.

My “Granner” is another strong woman and the living link to the matriarchs of my family. Now 92 and facing cancer, Granner grew up on an Oklahoma farm. This tiny woman who is not quite five feet tall chopped down trees with her daddy’s axe, hitched up teams of mules and horses to plow the fields, lived through the Great Depression, my grandfather’s diagnosis of tuberculosis, and his sudden decision to become a preacher after God healed him. My grandmother had no desire to be a preacher’s wife – she had married a rancher. But she took this news the same way she took much of life – with grace and fortitude.

Papa, Granner, and my mom, Jan.

I often think of these strong women. Most days I picture them peeking over the clouds of heaven, shaking their heads in disbelief, wondering how they produced a wuss like me. But occasionally, I see in myself glimpses of these women. As I held my husband’s hand while he was dying, I thought of them, remembering that I come from a long line of widows who somehow, someway, found a way to carry on and begin again. In trying to make a living for my daughter and me, I remember that I come from resourceful, entrepreneurial stock and I do my best to live up to their example. I understand my love of wearing white and attempt to live my life in such a way that I am known as a woman of faith. And in hard times, I dance in my own kitchen, hoping my daughter will one day tell her children about a grandmother whose eyes sparkled as she laughed while jigging across the floor.

Me and my daughter, Megan (back), Mom and Granner (center), my sister, Shelly (right), and her girls, Elena and Larisa.

Sometimes timid, often afraid, and always imperfect, I am one of these strong women. So is my sister. Our daughters are, too. Perhaps it’s not the makings of a college essay, but this family heritage is most certainly worth noting in the making of a life.


  1. Once again with the parallel universes! I think you are very much like the strong women you came from. We keep going. It is good to have those women’s legacy to draw from. Just today I was driving around thinking about how I’ll probably have to work the rest of my life, and I was comforted thinking about so many of the strong women in my family who even lived by themselves in the middle of nowhere and were able to fend for themselves into their old age. If I could be half as spunky as them in my life I’ll be a happy camper. Here’s to dancing in the kitchen when things get crazy, and remembering where our roots are and where our help comes from always. 🙂

    • I dream of living out in the midst of nowhere and fending for myself. I often joke that I’ll be the woman who comes down from the mountains of Montana or Wyoming every three months to stock provisions. Mothers will grab for their children and people will stare at the crazy old mountain woman.

      Seriously, our foremothers are often great examples of the women we need to be. They give us something to shoot for and an example to live up to. So glad you have that in your own life!

  2. I cannot even begin to imagine what it was like for my great grandmother on her wedding day. She was 16 and her husband was in his late 60’s. The women who came before us, and the hardships they endured are humbling. What is most inspiring to me – are all the fond and funny memories that have been passed down. How these women, through it all found a way to laugh and enjoy what little they did have, leaving us with a legacy that would make any woman proud. I too, come from a line of preacher’s wives, on my maternal side. Although, more along the Baptist line. No dancing!
    I loved reading this. Thank you for sharing!

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