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Archive for March, 2011

All these women have something in common:

Mother Teresa, Madame Curie, Indira Gandhi, Sojourner Truth, Jacqueline Kennedy, Nobel Prize winner Jody Williams, Katherine Hepburn, Amelia Earhart, Susan B. Anthony, Harriett Tubman, Queen Esther of Biblical fame…

And then of course, there’s Salome Aulbach, Mary Sophia Reineberg, Eileen Bertram, Susan Mullins, Shirley Clark… and YOU.

“Wait”, you protest. “What’s my name doing up there with Mother Teresa? And who the heck are those last six people?”

Let me answer your last question first.

Salome Aulbach was my tiny, wiry Pennsylvania Dutch grandmother who lugged heavy baskets of wet wash up flights of stairs to hang in the air; who made crab cakes lighter than an angel’s wings—the very angels she prayed to at daily Mass; whose most shocking profanity was to pronounce something “crappy”.  She’d giggle at jokes and put her thumb to her mouth, pretending to “blow up” her bicep. And beer suds would sit on her fuzzy upper lip when she allowed herself a treat of pretzels washed down by a juice glass of  brew.

Mary Sophia is my mother, a woman who defied convention by going to podiatry school; who served as a test pilot in the WWII Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASPS); who sent us notes every day in our lunch bags, made sandwiches in animal shapes, and to this day still worries about our physical, emotional and financial health.  She went back to work in her late 50s to support herself, quitting only when she broke her hip at age 75. At age 84, she thrived on working the church Thrift Shop and driving “old people” to get their groceries.  Now, age 95, it’s my turn to care for her as her body and mind hover between this world and the next.

I am named after Eileen Bertram, my Dad’s mother. Eileen was her stage name when she had an all-women’s orchestra. Thank goodness for stage names. I could have been called Ethel Copenbarger.  (Even she didn’t want that name!) Unlike her flapper-dancing contemporaries, this Nana was a senior executive in the dry cleaning business, could barely cook frozen peas, took on any battle against city hall, and sent care packages of black olives, fancy cheese wafer crackers, and exotic chocolate to me during starving college days.  And in those times when my self-esteem was lower than a snake’s belly, Nana thought I hung the moon. By the time I got to college, I thought she walked on it.

Susan Mullins is my sister-by-birth, my role model, mentor and best friend. She was a Hollywood producer who refused to cave into the demands of television for sleazy programming.  She’s the activist who has protested U.S. policy in El Salvador, created an after-school tutoring consortium to help inner city kids, and continues to pull stray dogs out of bushes and stray people into her generous heart. And for two years waged an unrelenting (but losing) battle with her husband Noam to fight his lung cancer, teaching us all again about tenacity, love and courage. In the 11 years since his passing, she has become a family mediator, a fearless organizer of her community, and opened her heart to a new husband.

Shirley Clark was one of my adopted “mothers”. From the minute we rented three rooms in her converted motel off US Highway #1 outside Hilliard, Florida, I loved her. The monthly rent of $75 fit a teacher’s salary and Shirley fit the support I needed in that rural community. We’d sit at the linoleum-covered kitchen table every day for my after school wrap-up. She put her own bedspread on my bed when Mom came to visit for the first time. She brought avocado salads to my door, taught me how to make bread & butter pickles, helped sew a Santa costume, and waited for me to return to her side so I could be with her when she died.  An ultimate gift.

All of these women—from the well known to the only-known-by me—are remarkable women.   Just like you! They have crafted a life from the stuff of everyday living. They bloom where planted, offering a gift of authenticity and caring to whomever is wise enough to see it. They have screwed up, messed up, fessed up and been totally, wonderfully human.

Funny thing though.  I doubt any considered themselves “remarkable” in their moment on this earth.  All of these women did (or continue to do) what is required of the place and space they occupy. Sure, some have left enormous legacies. Others have left legacies in my heart. And some, like my sister Susan continue to extend love and caring for a larger community.

You, just like these women, have courage, vision, tenacity, a sense of humor, frailty, moments of doubt and sometimes despair. You have a willingness to keep on keeping on, flashes of brilliance and days of confusion, a heart made for love and hands made for holding.  You alternate between understanding your world and wondering what’s this all about anyway. You work, play, rest and pray. Sometimes it seems like all work.  You console, cheer, mend, and feed.  But best of all, you don’t see any of this as “remarkable”.

I do. It is why I the song you will get in tomorrow’s post.  Somehow, we women often downplay our efforts and contributions.  I’d like you to celebrate yours.  At a time when the world seems to throw all that is bad before us, I think there’s great hope if we understand and accept our power and place to mold our corner of the universe.

I’m just glad we’re in this world together!

Celebrate the 2011 theme, Our History is Our Strength. The stories of women’s achievements are integral to the fabric of our history.  Learning about women’s tenacity, courage, and creativity throughout the centuries is a tremendous source of strength. Begin celebrating National Women’s History Month by visiting the official website at for downloads and information.

Cindy Carpien is proud to announce that her story on NPR “Female WWII Pilots: The Original Fly Girls” has won a Gracie award for Outstanding Portrait/Biography.  The awards will be held in Los Angles at the Beverly Hilton.  The 36th Annual Gracie Awards Gala was held on Tuesday, May 24, 2011.  The evening will commenced with a welcome reception at 6:00 p.m., followed by a formal dinner at 7:00 p.m., with the awards ceremony immediately following.

This story featured Eileen McDargh and her mother, a former WASP!