A few months ago, my mother was able to locate a pair of news articles about my grandmother through the website of her hometown newspaper.
I learned things I didn’t know about Nancy Skiles Bullington, and read things I’ve always known.
In one article, my grandmother and other women took their concerns about the price of gas and milk in their resort community to city hall. They researched what other cities were paying and also reached out to state officials to correct a wrong.
The other was a human interest piece on Mountain Home, Arkansas’s first female mechanic. “The greasier I get, the happier I am,” my grandmother told the reporter, who noted that my grandfather oversaw all of her work at their Gulf service station.
My mother also shared a story that wasn’t printed in that article. How the father of a friend of hers came in to get his car fixed. My grandfather wasn’t able to fix it and the man remarked that Nancy probably could have. My grandfather never cared much for the man after that.
I had never heard the story about the gas and milk and it’s hard to imagine my grandmother, who didn’t socialize much in her later years, organizing the meetings that were held to protest the situation. But she was never one to let things like poor service or poor quality products slide (I’m sorry if she ever faced you down over a restaurant table or store checkout. She could be blunt.)
I’d heard the stories that she was the first female mechanic in their town, but I didn’t know it was a matter of record.
I hadn’t heard the story about my grandfather, but I’m not surprised (he had his faults, but he loved his grandchildren, I should add here.)
It left me to wonder how far we have come since that article was printed in 1976.
A successful woman recently told me that she learned early, if she wanted to play with the boys, she could never beat them. They wouldn’t ask her back if she did. It was a different generation, she said.
In the not-too-distant past, a male elected official tried to embarrass me by telling a crude joke (I wasn’t if you’re wondering.)
Would he have tried to ruffle the feathers of a male reporter? Probably.
Would he have done it using a slang term for female anatomy? Maybe.
The only thing I know for certain is that I learned more about his character from those few minutes of private conversation that he found so amusing than all of the public meetings I’ve ever attended. His intent was as important as anything else that happened that day.
A past reporter told me another story, and it was certainly a while ago, of a different male official who blatantly scratched himself throughout an interview.
If his intent was to embarrass her, it didn’t work. And she learned a lot that day about his character too.
Have we come any farther than when my grandmother did that interview, letting my grandfather take credit for her knowledge and skill?
I don’t know.
What I do know is that this March, recognized as Women’s History Month, I want to honor the amazing women in my life and their very real contributions to making my world, and the world around them, better.
So, I’m sharing my grandmother’s story, and maybe setting the record straight.
Donna Farley is the Associate Editor of the Daily American Republic. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .