I got a tattoo yesterday.
A really big one.
I have been thinking about this tattoo for close to a year. I have been interviewing artists and asking friends who they go to. I found this woman who tattoos out of her home in Yachats, Oregon and has been working on one of my friends for years. I started chatting with her and I realized that she was the one. I liked her style. I liked her energy. I liked her. Her specialty is flowers. This is important because the tattoo is a bunch of flowers that are important to my family and to me. They represent important women in my life, important personal values, and memories that sum up my childhood and have shaped my adulthood. This tattoo is also about my heritage.
Let me explain. At the top there is a rhododendron, the flower that reminds me of my great-grandmother. Next is a hydrangea, colored like the bush in front of my mother’s house, a sweet memory from my childhood. Then there is a bright red poppy flower to symbolize imagination, one of the values I hold close to my soul. At the bottom there are small flax flowers, to tell the story of my family’s immigration from Ireland. My ancestor came to the United States to run a flax mill in the Willamette Valley. When he got here, the man who hired him had decided that flax seed wasn’t the way to go. He was left job-less, having used all of his money to come to America, without his wife or son. Eventually, he found work and saved enough money to bring them to Oregon. Without his hard work and sacrifice (along with the hard work, leaps of faith, intuition, and sacrifice of countless other ancestors), my family wouldn’t be here. Under the flax flowers, there is detailing from my great-grandfather’s childhood home with the phrase “Alis volat propriis,” which is Latin for “She flies with her own wings (and also the state motto of Oregon).
One of the most important women in my life is my Great-Grandmother. She was known by her grandchildren and great-grandchildren as Granny. She was a fierce, intelligent, loving, and independent woman. When my sisters and I were kids, we would spend time with Granny in the kitchen, baking snickerdoodles and making up new cookies. Her home on 7th street was comfortable. She had a grape arbor and a tree fort in the back yard and rhodies bloomed alongside the house and next to the front door. Birds visited her often and she taught us their names. She loved to hike and pick wildflowers with her friends. She loved Oregon as much as I do. She was certain that a woman could do absolutely anything a man could do. We might be smaller than men, but that was no reason for her great-granddaughters to run into the arms of a waiting man; we just needed to be a little more creative and use our thinking caps to solve problems.
Granny married my great-grandfather in the living room of her parents’ home in Oakville, Oregon then moved to Corvallis to start her family. In 1953, she started a career at OSU that lasted around 20 years in various departments. The last position she held at OSU was as the Assistant to the Dean of Women (later the Vice Provost of Student Affairs), Jo Anne Trow. She spoke about her time with Jo Anne as a high light in her life and she saw things change for women at OSU. I have always felt a special connection to OSU because of Granny’s time on campus.
I visited the archivists in Valley Library to learn more about Granny’s time at OSU. They looked through her personnel file and shared that she was known for her hard work, kindness, sweet personality, and dedication. One remark that struck me was that she was also known for her organization and determination to keep a neat and tidy office. Granny was the family genealogist and had the reputation for being a bit of a pack rat. She kept every news clipping, hand drawn picture by her grand children, school picture, letter written from camp, and birthday card.
I also learned that Granny worked as the “living group secretary.” She managed the day-to-day operations for Student Housing. I knew there was another reason I felt so connected to her… I started my career in Student Affairs in Housing and have landed (for now) in the Women’s Center. I think that Granny and I are alike in many ways: advocates, a little feisty, and passionate. I hope I got that from her.
Granny passed away in the Fall of 2004; she was 94. I am still devastated that she’s gone. I know, though, that she lived a full life and passed every bit of wisdom to her younger generations that she could muster. In the years that she has been gone, I have taken an interest in genealogy and have started baking. I think of her whenever I see a chickadee or smell cinnamon. I have found myself wondering where she liked to sit on campus on a sunny day. And now, there are rhododendrons blooming on my arm.
Thanks for everything, Granny. You are the reason I create, advocate, reflect, and educate.
OSU Alumna, Class of 2010
Women’s Center SisterScholars Program Coordinator