“You would have liked her.”
It’s what my dad always says about my great, great aunt Ethel.
I grew up hearing a variety of stories about this woman. My interest in writing and English began young, and this unfamiliar relative was our family’s nearest reference point for that set of skills. She was an English teacher, I was often told. And by the sounds of it, a stickler by all accounts. Eventually, I also grew to know her as the benefactor whose funds would end up covering the first several semesters of my college education. There were other details here and there—about how she bought my dad his first car, how she never married—but they floated in the background of my consciousness.
There’s an inevitable degree of identity we take from our families; we inherit eyes and bodies and even mannerisms along with, for the fortunate among us, recipes and inspiration and warm memories. As much as I take from my parents—my dad’s logical brain, his thick brows and careful wit; my mother’s deep sense of care and her commitment to baking traditions—there are core interests of mine, pieces of my identity, that we don’t necessarily share. My creativity is a larger corner of that, as well as other life circumstances or privileges I’ve independently collected:
The vast majority of my formative years and twenties have been spent quite single. Gratefully, I now say. Travel, and forming a wide worldview through it, has become a core value of mine in my twenties—a fortunate opportunity I don’t fully share with much of my family, though I hope to share it with them someday. For better or worse, I also operate with a sense of independence and a hunger for tackling new challenges: I left my home state for school, I chose a major that was wildly impractical, I’ve enjoyed solo travel, and I’ve wrestled through any job where I felt limited in my growth capacity.
“You would have liked her,” my dad reminded me again, for what conversational relevance I can’t now recall. I pressed in, and asked why—asked for more.
He told me that yes, she was single. And so she traveled Europe, she had cats, she owned rental properties, and her sharp sense of sass never dulled. I felt a sudden sense of awe, of kinship with this distant relative, who seemed to share qualities with me even those closest to me naturally did not. She was independent and feisty, particularly for a woman born in 1903.
Experiences and relationships evolve into the recipes, gifts, or stories we pass on, and the legacy we offer.
She left fingerprints on my life, and my family’s trajectory. I didn’t recognize in my late teens just how much her generosity enabled me to go to the college of my choosing. I didn’t think much about her support of my dad when his family was less able, and how she gave him a car and an education that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible, which eventually resulted in a more stable foundation for our generation. I didn’t realize how her actions significantly shifted the opportunities available to me, and my family.
From my mom’s side, I have a little lined card that reads in the most stunningly perfect cursive writing, “My Christmas Cookie Recipe,” and goes on to spell out my grandma Polly’s cutout recipe, the centerpiece for all my Christmases. I distinctly remember that my mother’s copy of this also has “to save on your phone bills!” printed in that flowing cursive. I’ve committed myself each Christmas of my adult life, apartment counterspace be damned, to making these cutouts, inviting friends into the tradition of frosting them, and giving them away before they become the bulk of my December diet (they inevitably do).
The recipe is one of my favorite inheritances from that side of my family, along with a handmade Raggedy Ann doll, a CD of my mom and her sisters’ favorite songs from the 70s, and a boisterous extroversion shared by much of our large extended family.
Experiences and relationships evolve into the recipes, gifts, or stories we pass on, and the legacy we offer. Without much say, we inherit the glasses through which we see the world, the words we use to interact with others, or the hands that bake cookies from our foundational interpersonal relationships—familial or otherwise. Some amount of leverage comes in our adult lives—how and with whom we decide to spend our time, if and what we decide to study or practice, what we fill our minds with. Yet we never mature beyond the profound impact of the people closest to us, and what they are willing to offer.
“You would have liked her.”
I’m sure I would have. Even knowing marginally little of her legacy, the idea of her—not to mention the tangible remnants of her—have been a comfort and an encouragement, knowing someone in my bloodline shares these miscellaneous pieces of identity that have long felt random.
It feels foolish to say, at my still young age and being quite childless, that I think often about who comes behind me—how the whispers of my life might drift into someone else's, or even the ripples that I can cast in my present life. But I feel a deep indebtedness to those around me and before me. Their legacies have molded everything I am and everything I believe, not to mention an ever-deepening humility knowing how much more there is to learn and grow.
So, the namesake of this publication is my great, great aunt Ethel, yes, but it could just as easily be Polly, Sharon, Heather, or any of my many influential aunts. It could also bear the name of my mentors; of professors and preachers; of my friends who have become chosen family and the women I’m in awe of every day, who I’ve inherited so much from, and continue to. To tell you the truth, Ethel is simply a scapegoat for any threats of favoritism (and I do enjoy the antique charm of it).
Minds and hearts change and are formed not in determined corners of the internet, but compassionate conversations around a table.
Ethel Magazine, then, is an ode to each of those women, and hopefully an offering of the same wisdom and warmth to you. Minds and hearts change and are formed not in determined corners of the internet, but compassionate conversations around a table. While this is a far cry from a table, I hope it can be some kind of space to hear about an experience you’ve never had or never learned about, or acquire second-hand knowledge about a meaningful topic or a unique occupation, or simply gather and share what you have to offer with women generous enough to do the same.
Mostly, I hope the words featured will move our hearts in such a way that bends us to real action. I hope what you find here is not haughty opinions, but thoughts that motivate hospitality or service or even a radical change. Because truly, with everything I have, I believe each of us has something to offer the world around us—and particularly as women, that’s too often and too quickly dismissed, when in reality, that’s the bulk of what’s formed me and the motivating force behind who I want to be.
This creative project is our love letter—myself and my dear friend and cofounder, Ashley—to the women and the legacies that have carried me, and my meager effort to give them the platform they deserve. I think you’ll like them.