Women Who Carry Their Baskets
In praise of women who carry their own basket. The purpose of this page is honoring women who make choices regarding their lives and live by them
My mother, Paula Leachman, is a woman who has always carried her own basket. By that what I mean is, she is a woman who has made a series of choices regarding her life, and has lived by them. She did this when times were good and it was easy, and she did this when times were hard. In particular, she made the choice at 18 to marry my dad. She chose him and that was that, as she would say. She signed on to a vagabond life in football; orchestrating over 13 major moves; raising 3 children alone for half of every year; handling all of the banking and finances; dealing with all of the educational issues; and, even dressing my dad due to his horrible taste.
But the heaviest basket she has carried was my father’s decline from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). That decline started early (in the mid 1990s), when my father was in his early 60s, and progressed slowly over 18 years, until my dad’s death in 2012. My mother covered for him in the early years. She taught him to read again when he lost that function. She made sure he was clean, and shaved, and properly dressed. She made sure he was well taken care of in the nursing home. She made sure he was fed every day even if it required 2 hours to get that job done. She made sure we, his family, always honored him and held him close. She loved him until the end and made sure we did too.
Pauli Murray (Anna Pauline Murray) lived from 1910-1985. She was an American civil rights activist, a women’s rights activist, a lawyer, a poet, a writer, an academic, an Episcopal priest. She was the first woman in her law school class at Howard. She was the first African American to earn a doctor of juridical science of law from Yale. She was the first woman to be ordained as an Episcopal priest. She was the first black deputy attorney general for the state of California. She was The National Council of Negro Women’s woman of the year in 1945. Mademoiselle named her their woman of the year in 1947. She was the co-founder of the National Organization for Women. She was an advocate for women and minorities all of her life.
Pauli Murray called out the NAACP for sexism. She refused to be denied an education, a profession, or a voice in the the national dialog on race and sexism. She refused to dress in a feminine manner and accept a traditional role. She preferred women and relationships in which she was the “man.” She never hid her preferences or her intellect. She never accepted less than
what she deserved without a fight. And, over time her faith in herself and her abilities earned her respect, and a place in history. She carried her own non-traditional basket with moxie.
Nancy Tuttle May
Nancy Tuttle May is my friend and mentor. She is a woman who came of age in the early 1960s. As such, she fulfilled all of the traditional expectations of a daughter of the South; college graduation, marriage, motherhood. But she went beyond the short list by supporting her husband through graduate school, and then leaving him to strike out as an artist, all the while raising in two young girls.
Nancy started her career as an artist in 1970. She sold her first painting in 1971 while still married. She honed her craft and sales techniques by doing sidewalk art shows part-time, while heading up a neurosurgery lab. Eventually her talent and drive lead to National Endowment for the Arts grants, artist in residence awards, and the Durham Women of Achievement Silver Medallion award, among others. Her work can be seen in such venues as Duke University Medical Center, Weatherspoon Gallery, The Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach and American Airlines Admirals Club.
From the moment Nancy dedicated her future to art and raising her two girls, Nancy carried the basket SHE had chosen, rather than the basket society and family thrust into her hands. She did it with a sense of freedom and purpose. She did it with a song on her lips, and vibrant colors on canvas. She did it with kids in tow, and skeptics all around. She did it by herself, in spite of her family, and because she wanted her two daughters to know what it means to truly carry your own basket. She did it quite simply, because she could not do otherwise.