In the prologue to Staci Drouillard’s SEVEN AUNTS, she writes that her book is about the hidden lives of women: “Those who rarely speak out of turn and those who shout their truths to the sky, even though no one is paying attention.” But in truth, she says, “ … our grandmothers, mothers, and aunties have all committed great acts of heroism, devotion, and self-sacrifice so that the people they love might have a chance at being seen one day.” The aunties are a diverse group: German and English, Anishinaabe and French, born in the woods and born in farm country – but there is one thing they all have in common: a strength and resilience that was hard fought, paving the way for the next generation to make a different choice.
Drouillard gifts each of the aunts — Faye, Lila, Doreen, Gloria, Betty, Carol, and Diane – her very own chapter. Four the aunts are from her mother’s side and three are on her dad’s. Each of these remarkable women bore tragedy and hardship. They loved their families fiercely. They were a product of their time in some ways – taught to be invisible and to find self-worth through their families. Drouillard names this affliction the morbidity of motherhood, the symptoms including an insatiable desire to have children, and the belief that a woman’s value was directly proportional to the number of children she had.
Besides the stories of the aunts’ heroism and resilience, I loved Drouillard’s reference to her imaginary dictionary, in which she names various afflictions and defines them. For instance, chronic feminity is defined as a mental disorder exacerbated by 1970’s sitcoms and Olivia Newton John singalongs. It is a noun defined as a “persistent and long-standing expectation that women look, dress, and speak consistently with society’s feminine ideal, secondarily defined as an assumption that a woman’s “primary role is to be pleasing to the masculine eye.”
Drouillard is transparent as she shares her family stories, but she is resolute in her determination to speak the truth. She likens our collective history to a river in which by speaking the truth about the past, trauma is set forever downstream. Telling the truth, she writes, is essential to our collective and long-term well-being. We no longer need to be prisoners to our past. We can live, learn, and be better.
“…every family has to learn to live with scars, both physical and emotional … we can either choose to try to hide them or we can use them as marks of courage and healing and find a way to live with them.”
Drouillard’s last chapter is entitled Coda and outlines seven lessons derived from her aunts’ lives, including the importance of empowering girls to embrace their independence, and affirming their worth as human beings.
Reading SEVEN AUNTS, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for these women and the author’s commitment to truth telling. Drouillard writes with such integrity. I cared deeply about the aunties, and I didn’t want to leave them. Extraordinary women leading ordinary lives; they lived in a world that did not recognize their contributions, but the lessons of their lives changed the world for future generations.
This is Lin Salisbury with Superior Reviews. Listen to my interview with Staci Drouillard on August 25 at 7:00 pm on WTIP 90.7 Radio http://www.wtip.org.