Book records lives of area women
As women continue to navigate their way through society, making their mark and challenging boundaries, a newly released book “Before They Were Our Mothers:Voices of Women Before Rosie Started Riveting,” is supporting that movement by adding to the dialogue. The book takes a look at remembering that many of the women raising families during the 1800s to the mid 1900s. These women often faced unimaginable circumstances that included extreme poverty and war. Christy O’Callaghan-Leue, a community educator with Planned Parenthood, helped to author the book, telling the story of her grandmother.
The nonfiction anthology was conceived when editor Patricia A. Nugent realized, at her mother’s funeral, that she knew little about her mother’s life before she became a mother. In response to that regret, Nugent worked to create an anthology of real-life stories about women’s lives before they were mothers. When O’Callaghan-Leue heard about the project she said she knew wanted to be a part of it because of her own grandmother.
“I knew I had to write about my grandmother, Elizabeth Ann Sexton, Betty. I wrote a story she told me when I was young because she realized that I was going to have the same health problems she did. She stood up against a doctor at a time when she had minimal rights over her own body. The doctor and her husband could have made all the choices for her at that moment, but she wanted to be able to make her own decisions. My grandmother never thought of herself as rebellious or a rabble-rouser, but even in her 80s and 90s, she went to Boston to fight for Senior rights in Massachusetts. I really wanted to be a part of the book, and I think I submitted my piece, Secrets, on the due date because I kept working away at it,” said O’Callaghan-Leue.
O’Callaghan-Leue said she is not a professional writer, but did major in creative writing and literature in college. She said after she graduated she started working, but became very ill, tabling writing for about 15 years.
“Around two years ago I started writing again, this time in non-fiction memoir. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, I’m a big reader, and I love stories. Even while I was sick, the writing was the goal in the back of my mind. When I finally had the right surgery to fix the problem, in my last week of medical leave I bought the prettiest journal I could find and a cool set of pens and I decided it was time,” said O’Callaghan-Leue.
O’Callaghan-Leue joined the Mohawk Valley Writing Group, a writing group in the Fulton/Montgomery area, and when one of the members saw the submission call for the memoir book, she felt it was meant to be.
“I thought it was right up my alley. The call asked for stories about our mothers and grandmothers born before WWII before they became mothers,” said O’Callaghan-Leue.
All of the contributors are female writers from New York, with a of 15 stories. Two other local writers include Barb Spaeth from Northville and Constance Dodge from Edinburg, who also contributed.
The experience is something that O’Callaghan-Leue said gave her a chance to interview family, including the 1940s era. She said the piece celebrates her grandmother, whom she loved dearly.
“She would have been so proud of the book, being in a collection alongside other such amazing women, and that people are so taken with her and my grandfather. People keep asking to know more about Tom and Betty,” said O’Callaghan-Leue.
The purpose for the book is ultimately to inspire families to talk to each other and to listen, says O’Callaghan-Leue.
“As I was interviewing my family, I found out these were stories my grandmother hadn’t told my brothers; these were just for me. I know there are a ton of stories that were just for them. Treasures that she placed in our care. We’re an Irish family and storytelling is a huge piece of what we do when we get together. She used to get so excited when any of us would repeat her stories to other people; she knew we were listening. I also hope that it will encourage people to see how not all history appears in history books. That most of who we are and how we got here happen in these small moments by everyday people,” said O’Callaghan-Leue.
The book, which also includes stories of parents making questionable decisions; arranged marriages; the desire for education and a career; unplanned pregnancies; the centrality of faith and religion; the need for family and affirmation; medical advances; the brutality of war; and the crippling effects of poverty, prejudice, and discrimination can be purchased locally or online.
Locally, you can find the book at Mysteries on Main in Johnstown, the Paul Nigra Center in Mayfield, SVAN in Northville or find it at Amazon.com