It's a Big Job, But It Can Be Done
Contributor
Written by
Brenda Henning
October 2014
Contributor
Written by
Brenda Henning
October 2014

Mrs. Esther Grosvenor taught the Colfax High School seniors their last English class before they graduated and embarked upon the world to conquer whatever it was they thought lay before them. While the 17 and 18 year old students in her class spent more time counting the days until graduation than they did counting their verbs and nouns, Mrs. G. (as we affectionately called her), nevertheless, persevered in her job in assigning the task of diagramming sentences and drilling the rows of pimple-faced boys and girls on the difference in meaning between affect and effect, lie and lay, and simile and metaphor.

If she was inpatient with the impertinence of us she didn’t show it. After 40 plus years in the classroom, Mrs. Grosvenor had developed enough equanimity about her job that not much fazed her in her interactions with children disguised as adults.

When I finished her class and Colfax High School in 1984, I also left the town for the bright city lights of Des Moines. Six weeks after I walked across the gymnasium stage, my parents had sold the-old-Miss-Byal house where we lived and packed up the green Chevy pick-up and moved us off to the town where both of them worked for the city government.

After I moved to Des Moines, I wrote to Mrs. Grosvenor. I don’t remember the details of my letter to her; likely, I thanked her for attending my graduation reception and made mention of my move. Based on her response to me, I must have had questions about the role of women in the work force.  It’s been 30 years since I graduated from high school, and I have kept her letter tucked away in a small cedar box.

It’s because of our move for my husband’s promotion for work, that I had the chance to reread the letter. In this move I am following my husband for his work and I am unclear as to what my professional place is. Mrs. Grosvenor’s words are more apropos to me now than when she originally wrote them. When she first wrote the letter we were still in the somewhat backwards 80s of the feminist movement. I was benefiting from the activism of Gloria Steinem and Marie Wilson Mrs. G balanced a professional life and family without the benefit of the feminist movement, Her perspective on women in the workforce was formed from her own life experiences and long before feminism became a topic of conversation and debate in our popular culture.

As I settle into a new phase in my roles as wife, mother, daughter, and employee, her words provide a gentle reminder of the importance of finding the right balance. The past few years were rigorous in tending to all of my family members and embarking in a second career as a mental health counselor.

We are in the beginning stages of our family’s transition. Many details have yet to be decided upon. But just like they were 30 years ago, Mrs. G.’s words are encouraging to me. I’ll keep hanging in there and like Mrs. G. vowed for herself as she expressed her apprehension about the change she was about to seek for herself, “maybe I’ll finish that novel I started some years back.”

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