Hulda Nite – A Woman of Valor
By Liz Myrick
I always pictured her with leathery hands, fingers calloused and worn from years in the kitchen. I pictured her in a blue dress with a full skirt, though in my mind her dress would be perpetually covered by an apron that started the day a bright white and became more and more bespeckled by the hour. I pictured her measuring out the ingredients for her pound cake by hand, plunging her thick, German fingers into the flour bin and pulling out a fistful for the mixing bowl.
In my mind, she is always caught in that period between the wars. Brought from Germany as a bride and a mother, the proud wife of a US soldier, then promptly abandoned and left to raise her children alone as the depression dug its claws into the land she had only just begun to call home. To me, my great-grandmother, called Granny by everyone I ever heard speak about her, is an icon forged and frozen in the years after her husband Archie left her alone to raise their three children in his country.
She has always been equal parts German kitsch and Rosie the Riveter to me, like one of the Hummel dolls she collected but with hands and a will both implacable as stone. She seemed a simple hero who climbed, steadfast, over every barrier placed in her path: the language barrier, the barrier of being a single mother, the barrier of finding work as an immigrant in the midst of the depression. I see her life as the progression of undaunted footstep after undaunted footstep.
Everyone loves to talk about how Granny could take a pan out of the oven without a hot pad. Years of cooking in a busy university kitchen had deadened the skin on her fingertips. As a child, I considered it just more proof that Granny had been superhuman. In the heady naiveté of childhood hero worship, I saw her as a statue, raising a scorching pan above her head while her skirt swirled around her knees and her apron strings swung out in a wide arc behind her. But lately, I’ve been noticing how that image of her obscures the truth of the woman she was. Lately, I’ve been thinking how many pans she had to burn her fingers on before she stopped yelping as she pulled things from the oven.
I think of her on the evening her husband didn’t come home from work. I imagine her fumbling over the few words of English she knew, trying to ask the neighbors if they had seen him. I wonder if she walked the roads, calling for him, and when she knew he wasn’t coming back.
I wonder when she realized that she could not feed her children, that she had to lose them to save them.Did her knees give out when she took her oldest, my grandfather, to live in an orphanage, or when she sent her three-year-old daughter to live with a friend? When she held the baby to her chest, the only one she could manage to keep, did she say thanks for his comfort or did she only ask herself how she would feed them both?
It would be a year before she could bring her children home again, and even when she did, I imagine she anticipated more hungry days in their future. Even when she made it through the odd jobs, milking cows and clearing tables, when she became a cook for the university, I imagine she did not see that she would eventually become the Head Dietician and that for decades businessmen from all over Chattanooga would swarm to that dining hall and stand in line with undergrads to buy a plate of her remarkable food.
I wish I could whisper back through time to tell her how it would all work out. I wish I could tell her that the faith she and her oldest son discovered together in that neighborhood mission would transform the family for generations.
I wish I could stand beside her on the day she sent my grandfather off to the second world war, probably looking like his father in that uniform, and tell her that her son would come home all in one piece and marry a lovely woman named Juliet. That her son, the same one who spent a year in an orphanage, would become apastor, a doting husband, and a father who would see four of his own children give their lives to the ministry.
Lately when I think about my great-grandmother, I see her not as iconic female superhero, but as something far more moving: a broken, challenged, tenacious, fragile person. I see the complexity and bravery she must have shown, but also I see the terror she must have felt. And now, more than ever, I am proud to say that her blood runs in me.
Liz Myrick is a thirty-something wife and mother of two with an English degree and an administrative gig at her alma mater. She is a person of faith, a champion of the underdog, a believer in fair treatment for all, and a smartass. Not necessarily in that order. She blogs about rediscovering her faith, learning to live in the moment, raising a son with Down syndrome, and just generally feeling like a square peg in a world full of round holes at These Square Pegs.
This post is part of our Women of Valor series. Eshet chayil—woman of valor— has long been a blessing of praise in the Jewish community. Husbands often sing the line from Proverbs 31 to their wives at Sabbath meals. Women cheer one another on through accomplishments in homemaking, career, education, parenting, and justice by shouting a hearty “eshet chayil!” after each milestone. Great women of the faith, like Sarah and Ruth and Deborah, are identified as women of valor. One of my goals after completing my year of biblical womanhood was to “take back” Proverbs 31 as a blessing, not a to-do list, by identifying and celebrating women of valor. To help me in this, you submitted nearly 100 essays to our Women of Valor essay contest. There were so many essays that made me laugh, cry, and think I’ve decided that, in addition to the eight winners to be featured this week, I will select several more to feature as guest posts in the weeks and months to come.
The winners of the Women of Valor contest, will receive a flower necklace that is hand-made by the artisans of Hill Country Hill Tribers, a non-profit helping Burmese refugee women in Austin earn supplemental income and learn marketable skills. The necklaces and other new products in their fall line are available on their website now. I enourage you to read the stories of these women of valor in their Artisan Profiles and find out how you can become a Hill Triber Patron to support the artisans in their work.
Read the rest:
Mrs. Foster - A Woman of Valor by Jenn LeBow
Rebecca - A Woman of Valor by Cheryl Cash
Sarah - A Woman of Valor by Jenny Everett King
Sky - A Woman of Valor by Jonathan C.
Sofia - A Woman of Valor by Emily Allen
Mala - A Woman of Valor by Joy Bennett
I hope you will consider writing a tribute to a woman of valor on your own blog this week. If you do, leave a link in the comment section so we can all enjoy. I'll be sure to tweet/share some of my favorites. (Note: All the winners of the contest have been notified.)