I remember my Aunt Katie, with a can of beer in her hand, one leg up on a chair as she stood in conversation with the men around her. She wore slacks, almost always, which allowed for her stance, and , in general, more freedom of movement. Later, after her retirement, and when norms had relaxed enough to make it more acceptable, blue jeans replaced the slacks. Simple blouses, sweaters or sweatshirts completed the outfit. Her hair was neatly trimmed and arranged; her face free of make-up.
Aunt Katie deferred to men, as was so common in her generation, but in her own way she stood her ground with them, too. “After all,” she said, “I grew up with a bunch of stubborn brothers.” She told me, once, how to better get along with my father:
Raise your arms, then drop them to your sides. Say, “You are absolutely right!” Do not say, “You might have a point,” or “You could be right,” or the argument will continue. Say “You are absolutely right!” Then, just go on and do what you were planning to to begin with.
She demonstrated this tactic frequently. My Dad would rail on about the foolishness of the game of golf: “Only an idiot would go out there and chase a little ball around for hours at a time!” “Robert, you’re absolutely right,” she’d say. But whenever she got the opportunity, my aunt would load her nice clubs into the car and head for the golf course. “If you can’t eat it, it’s a waste of time to grow it,” Dad would voice his scorn for flowers. “You’re absolutely right,” Aunt Katie would tell her brother, but she’d continue to string twine along the front porch for her morning glories to climb.
Aunt Katie worked with men in the mail room at Pontiac Motors. She trained them, then watched as they were promoted ahead of her. The unfairness did not escape her, though to fight it seemed futile in her world view. She questioned it only once. The explanation? “Well, that young man will need enough income to make a house payment, buy a car…maybe support a family someday.”
At that time, my aunt was making mortgage payments on her own home, as well as taking care of all the other expenses of owning and maintaining a home. She was buying a car. She had taken in her elderly uncle, and often helped her nieces and nephews with temporary lodging, or a loan. With all of this in mind, in the telling of this story Aunt Katie would just sigh, and give a little smile. “That’s just the way the world was,” she’d say.