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For decades my mother and I have stood apart, neither truly knowing the other. I saw her as a pioneer woman, not so much the innovator, but a force with which to be reckoned. She is rugged, square of jaw, set in her ways, a woman who’s mostly kept her tenderness to herself. She dismissed and was disdainful of some of the material things that might have made her life easier. She’s never owned a dishwasher and did not, until the past decade, invite a clothes dryer into her home.

In recent years she’s allowed she must have been born into the wrong century, identifying more with women of an earlier era. I imagine her walking among that bonneted group that crossed the continental U.S., kicking up dust alongside covered wagons, carving out a new home and hearth each night.

Oh, this story is so old. Not the one of my mother, a misfit in this “modern” era. But the story of a daughter who becomes, more and more, like the mother she has shunned, the mother for whom she has mourned.

I bought these boots some years back. They spent most of their time in my closet until they got pulled into service recently, as I’ve been carving out a new home and hearth in the woods of North Florida. My jaw gets more squared. I am more set in my ways. And the boots, oh these boots, and the many worn-out shoes that came before them, have found just how rugged I am. These boots might have crossed a continent. But it is the one between my mother and me that still divides.

It will not be my mother to cross it. She has done her time. It is I, the first-born daughter of this mother, who must find a way to step in tenderness toward her, to see the beauty in us both: two women, square of jaw, set in their ways.


Ellen Hamilton