–by Mary Helen Darah
People often ask why I go by Mary Helen when just “Mary” would suffice. The reason is I could never be without ‘Helen” after having been adored by two loving “Helens” who were my grandmothers. Now my family is blessed to have two “Sues.” The first, beloved matriarch, Sue, my mom, passed away on Thanksgiving in 2019. We recently welcomed our second Sue, little Ridley Sue, during Thanksgiving week of 2021. I’m hoping this new little one channels the wisdom of these women before her as she begins her life’s journey.
My grandmother Helen Scheib, (note the formality) was a Penn State grad who became a registered dietician. Considering that my daughter, Ridley Sue’s mother, once called me to see if it was necessary to remove the cardboard on the bottom of a frozen pizza before placing it in the oven, I’m hoping Ridley Sue gets her great-great-grandmother Scheib’s culinary skills. This matriarch was a force of nature. My grandfather was a surgeon but his true love was the farm. Grandma Scheib would be wearing white gloves and dishing out her latest culinary creation to the Medical Auxiliary one day and the next she would be busting out her cowboy boots and hat to perform a Biblical miracle by somehow making enough food to feed 250 members of the Hereford Cattle Association. Her philosophy was that it is just as easy to feed 12 as it is a 100-you just need bigger containers. I also hope Ridley inherits my grandma Scheib’s sense of adventure and desire to always keep expanding her mind and horizons. After being widowed at an early age, she traveled solo to many continents, often taking classes at local universities in foreign lands. Our little nugget, Ridley, will get a suitcase as soon as she can walk courtesy of this grandmother, Mary Helen.
The other ‘Helen’, Helen Shields, my gram on my mother’s side, took a leap of faith, literally, by hopping on a train against her family’s wishes to pursue a nursing degree. She was a surgical nurse who spent one too many hours picking up sterilized instruments. My gram was the only person I have known who could pick up a piece of corn right out of a boiling pot without flinching. She also could have made it big as a stand-up comedian. The woman had a line for every occasion. When asked, “Is that naturally curly hair Mrs. Shields?” She answered, “Yes, $50 bucks worth!” If you inquired about her age, she would ask, “Can you keep a secret?” After hearing a “yes” she would respond, “Well, so can I!” The best advice she had to offer was, “Always carry a big purse.” I never understood this until I dined with her and realized that leftover rolls fit nicely in an oversized bag.
I hope Ridley inherits Gram’s determination, although moderation was not her strong suit. She once pulled over at a rest stop so I could ask the nice hairy man with a “plumber’s crack” driving the Amway semi-truck if she could buy a box of soap from him.
I hope the newest member of the family blends the traits of both of my “Helens.” Grandmother Scheib would wear white gloves for church and afternoon tea gatherings on the lawn while Gram used her pair to bait her hook while sitting cross-legged in the front of the fishing boat up north. While one told me the importance of remaining a virgin until marriage or death, the other would remind me that I was from a long line of passionate women. One taught me good personal hygiene and the other demonstrated the fine art and technique of squatting in the woods.
The greatest gift Ridley Sue could be blessed with from her maternal heritage is my mother Sue’s sense of humor and her ability to make everyone in her presence immediately feel a sense of belonging. From my mom I learned the importance of digging for worms, letting your kids use glitter glue (even though you might find remnants of it for decades), my love of nature and the importance of not taking yourself too seriously. In this crazy, chaotic world. I hope Ridley, like her great-grandmother Sue, takes time to be still, look at sparkling water and find her soul while getting lost in the natural world.
As for me, her mamere, I hope to serve as Ridley’s storyteller and keep the wisdom of the women who came before her alive in her heart and mind. I hope, through me, she will see that the generations of women in her past did not leave physical monuments to remember their time here. Instead, they were the architects of something far greater. They were the silent, patient builders of rooms full of warmth and laughter kept together by faith, and duct tape when necessary. Their greatest legacy, LOVE, can’t be seen but I’m certain our little one will feel its presence.