Being Beautiful: Of Willie Vee, Victoria Ivy, and their unbroken circle of love

Let me be guilty of many things, but never of ingratitude.

Since we have just celebrated International Women’s Day, allow me to honor some of the most amazing women in my life from the grandmothers I only ever knew in stories to the tiniest of little women who hold the future in their hands.

My maternal grandmother was Victoria Ivy. She had auburn hair and a slender frame. To hear my mama talk about her, she was the epitome of a strong southern woman who lived and loved fiercely. I am left with old photographs of her sitting on mounds of green grass, soft, delicate features belying the fact my daddy described her as stick of dynamite in a small package. Mama quit school in the eleventh grade to be her caretaker as she battled lung cancer, a choice Mama never regretted.

My paternal grandmother was Willie Vee. The high cheekbones, ebony hair, and soulful eyes passed down to her from her Native American heritage. I am told she was kind, loving, and as tough as steel raising 13 babies when she wasn’t in the fields from sun-up to sun-down tending rows and rows of crops.

Daddy could never speak of her without a tear in his eyes rekindling favorite memories of one who sacrificed so much for so many. Much like my other grandmother, she left us far too soon in a car accident, oddly enough on the way to the sewing factory for her first job. It made her proud to be working outside of the home for the first time in her life. Truly, gone too soon.

I celebrate these two legends in our family who came and went before I ever got to thank them. I also honor other powerful figures in my early life such as Miss Armendy, Miss Madie, and Aunt Marie, all fine women who take me back to a simpler time, a time when women, at least where I grew up, were happy to be thought of as “ladies” and had the time to pick flowers from the side of the road. I can’t remember any of them without images of them holding their Bibles and purses in one hand, always with a smile that radiated goodness.

Then there was, and is, my second mama. She, too, left us way too soon, but in so many ways is still here. University Press of Mississippi recently published an anthology of Mississippi writers, “A Year in Mississippi,” including a touching essay by none other than our own Peggy Gilmer-Piasecki. In fact, the entire book is dedicated to the memory of this woman who redefined on a daily basis what it means to be a “Steel Magnolia.”

All of these women are special to me, but it’s the tiniest of these—my little great nieces Arley, Everly, and Merrily—who I am thinking most about today. They have promising futures only because brave women like their great-great grandmothers paved the way for them.

Let them and their generation be guilty of many things, but never of ingratitude.

Contact David at [email protected].