By Lisa Whaley

This past weekend, a friend invited me to attend a matinee show of the “The Wild Women of Winedale,” Jonesborough Repertory Theatre’s latest production.

For two hours, we laughed until we cried as Fanny, Willa and Johnny Faye – two sisters and a sister-in-law – navigated their paths through life’s oft-harried second half.

As I walked away from the theatre later that afternoon, a smile still on my face, I thought of the women I had just seen portrayed — lively, kind, funny and strong.

And I thought about the many women I knew who fit that description to a T – nearly all, by the way, women from the South.

I’ve told stories about my Grandma Rosa Morgan, mostly known for her sweetness, but also for being as wily as a fox.

My grandfather was a perfectionist, and she would share tales – when sweetness failed to work in getting him motivated on a particular task — of jumping in to “do it herself.”

Wallpaper would go up upside down. Blacking for the stove would be slapped on first this way and then that. Nails to secure a particular step would be “thwacked” in sideways, “but still secure,” my grandma would claim. Brownlow (grandpa) would finally snort in disgust and take over the task, banishing “Rosie” to another room or duty. She would depart with a smile, knowing she had accomplished all she had set out to do.

My Aunt Judy and my mother were two more strong women from my childhood – sisters who were as different as they were alike. Mom took after Grandma, sweet as pie unless she really felt a need to set you straight. Aunt Judy always told it like she saw it. She never believed in sugar-coating anything, yet she was the one that every one of her siblings turned to when they were in trouble.

When they both got riled up, often with each other, it was a sight to behold. But they were also devoted to each other and to all of us. If you were ever in a fight, you wanted both women in your corner.

When I first came to Erwin to work a little more than a year ago, I felt, in some ways, like I had come home. Strong Southern women, I soon learned, were as much a part of this mountain community as apples and train whistles. Over and over again, I ran into women who I would be proud to call my family.

Women who were unafraid to fight for what they believe in.

Women who did not hesitate to be exactly who they believed God created them to be.

Women with more than a little bit of sass.

Women with a whole lot of love.

Strong. Outspoken. Compassionate. Graceful. Funny. Imperfect and fine with that imperfection. You couldn’t find better role models for upcoming generations.

In recent months and even years, there has been a lot of discussion on the rights of women and what we as women need to focus on, almost as if it’s a new idea as we look to the future. Yet, when I look at the women in my family and the women here in Unicoi County, I really think that we should perhaps begin by looking at our past and present for our inspiration. Strong women are already a part of these mountains. And I’m grateful to share in that legacy.