I came into this interview unsure of what I might learn, because already, in just the past few months, I’ve started learning so much about her life. Now that I’m an adult, everything my mother never wanted me to know can be out in the open. Since they only live an hour away, I go over there and do dinner with them when I’m home on breaks, without the rest of my family. Having this one on one time with Granny-Bird has given me the opportunity to learn more about her life. Granny-Bird, whose real name is Elizabeth Lint, was born in 1943 to conservative, Christian parents in Durum, North Carolina. She has a husband, Tom, a daughter from her first marriage, Erika, a son-in-law, Rob, and 4 grandchildren, Caitlyn, David, Steven, and Jacob.
Growing up, Granny-Bird explained, “Girls were expected to be little frilly, quiet, appeasing, nonentities. Better seen with a smile on your face, and helping everybody out than being someone who had an opinion.” The plain way she explained all of this told me how this idea was ingrained in her at such a young age. She was forced to go to teas and other social obligations, because young girls and women were expected to attend events like that. She explained that, “People were looking at you and saying ‘oh how nice dear’ and you know good and well they’d stab you in the back in a heartbeat. That’s what it was like. We were the little nothings.” Women were still viewed as useless, pretty things until later in Granny-Bird’s life. Even in recent a lot of women are still viewed as objects.
One of the most profound and saddening stories she told me was when she applied for George Washington University to become a doctor. I could see the anger and sadness in her face as she told me “I received a rejection letter, even though all of my credentials were superb. I sent a letter back asking what deficits do I have and how I can make it so I would be eligible. They wrote back and said ‘You’re a woman and you’re too old’; I was in my thirties at the time. This story was something she had actually told me earlier that day and I had told her would be something I’d love to use in the interview, because that moment really showed her how limited the world was and what caused her to always fight for more for herself and her children and grandchildren. Not only was her age in an issue, but the fact that she was a woman who wanted to be a doctor was also called into question. When she said, “I think today’s society has become much better for women, but it’s been an uphill battle all the way. I would not wish that early experience on any woman today.” She looked sad when she told me this, because those early experiences really took a toll on her and her peers. I asked her later if these gender norms had affected her first marriage, but she just gave me a look that told me that talk was for another day.
When I started asking her about historical events, she first mentioned being involved in demonstrations against the Vietnam War and how she has “always been proactive in protesting injustice”. I started to ask her if she had any experiences that involved women’s rights and she jumped right into describing how she “became more of a women’s lib person back when women had difficulties getting birth control and how they were treated as if they were whores [if they used birth control]” This is when she started working in a women’s health center in Northern Virginia. I never knew that Granny-Bird had ever worked in a center, because part of the center was an abortion clinic. My mom disagrees with abortion, so she kept that part of my grandmothers past hidden from me. I’m the only one of my siblings that knows. I loved hearing about this, because I learned that Granny-Bird is passionate about women’s rights of all kind and doing whatever it takes to try to give women the rights they deserve.
Speaking of my mother, Granny-Bird and my mother have always had a bit of a rough relationship. When I asked my grandmother about how she raised my mother, she said she raised my mother to be “independent” and to “advocate for herself”. My grandmother has always wanted my mom to become a professional woman and not just a stay at home mom. Although my mother is a stay at home mom, my grandmother spoke very fondly of it when she told me, “However she is a professional, because she has homeschooled. So I guess in a way I would say I am very proud of her and she has done well in what I consider a very difficult role.” I’ve never heard Granny-Bird say she was proud of my mom for how she chose to live her life and I don’t think my mom has ever heard those words as well. The fact that my grandmother can now say she is proud of her shows that women have gone from staying at home, to working out of the house, and now they have the option of either with less stigma than either has had in the past.
When I asked my grandmother what she thought about women today, she paused for a bit before declaring, “I think that today’s women have a lot more ability to advocate for themselves. They have made a lot of progress in becoming full citizens and I’m very proud of that, that they have done that. Similarly though, there is still a lot of societal pressures to make them more docile and malleable to the needs of men” She realizes that when she was growing up, women weren’t really full citizens. Although there is still progress to be made today, she loves to see how far women have come. When I asked her what she wanted to see in the future, she clearly stated, “I would rather see women equal”
Her closing statement is something that I can never forget. When she said these words, she looked at me, grabbed my hand and spoke these words not just for the interview, but so that I could hear these words and understand how they impacted my life. “Dream your dreams and don’t be afraid to try to have them, live them, be them. And don’t let the naysayers keep you back. You are who you are and be true to that.” These words resonated with me, especially after recently coming out to her. I think she knew that, because I started getting misty-eyed at that point in the interview, which is why I decided to end the interview there.
Granny-Bird is one of the strongest, wisest, and greatest people I know. She survived abusive parents, her lesbian sister’s drug related death, and is now the sole survivor of her immediate family. She is proud of that and I’m proud of her too. She overcame gender roles that were forced upon her by pushing them back and asking why. She knew what she wanted and went after it, no matter the odds against her. I can’t imagine my life without Granny-Bird by my side, encouraging me to always follow my heart, no matter what anyone else thinks or says about it. I want to be like her, a professional woman, fighting for the rights of women. I hope someday someone looks up to me and is inspired by me, the way Granny-Bird inspires me every day.
- Caitlyn Busser