Sometime in the 1930s a woman fled through a cornfield with her five small children while her husband, the father of her children, drunkenly fired shots over their heads.
I do not know the details: Did the woman carry one of the small ones and shoo the others ahead of her or did she simply implore them all to run, run as fast as they could? Did they have shoes on or were they were stumbling over dirt clods in bare feet, stubbing their toes on cornstalks? Were they stricken mute with terror or sobbing and whimpering as they ran? Was it summer or fall? (In my mind I make it late enough in summer for the corn to be tall and green, giving them some cover as they fled.)
All I know for sure is this: The woman was my grandmother; the children were my mother, her two sisters, and her two brothers; the man was my grandfather. Like so many other families, part of my family’s story is intertwined with violence and poverty.
My grandmother would leave my grandfather sometimes, taking the children, trying to get by with the help of her siblings. But it was the Great Depression and they were all poor to begin with. Work was hard to find for anyone, much less a woman who hadn’t finished high school and had five mouths to feed.
So when my grandfather would come back, sober, my grandmother would be convinced to give him another chance, convinced that it would be best for the children. And as a Bible-believing woman of her time, she wanted to make her marriage “work” (even though abuse and addiction had shredded that covenant beyond any one person’s repair).
The violence stopped in my grandparents’ generation, but I saw the scars it left on my mother and her siblings. So whenever there’s talk about honoring mothers and motherhood, I’m always looking for how we as individuals and a society will support the women—of any race, creed, or orientation--who have to scoop up their children and run for their lives or who feel forced to decide between enduring emotional and physical abuse and feeding their children.
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has been one way that our country has acknowledged and worked to stop the abuse that occurs every day. As Lisa Sharon Harper wrote on this blog last week, the House of Representative’s version of VAWA would exclude certain groups from its protections. Read Lisa’s post: As Mother’s Day approaches, my prayer is that as a country we won’t pick and choose which women “deserve” protection. That’s no way to treat anyone’s mother or daughter.
Julie Polter is Associate Editor for Sojourners.
Stop Violence Against Women word cloud, mypokcik / Shutterstock.com