So, are you hot enough? I can’t believe we’ve had no reprieve in two months here in the South. I’m ready for fall. Bring on football, gold and reddish colored leaves, and cool nights.
I’m in the middle of downsizing. Yes, it’s horrible. I think maybe it’s human nature to hoard everything, memories, stuff we think we’ll use someday, wear someday, or fix someday. Well, it’s all going. My husband and I are moving to a smaller home across town. Yikes! I only have one month to pack it all.
Now, to Part Two of my interview with Jan Sheppard Kelleher.
- 1. Do you feel that women are inherently stronger than men are? Why or Why not?
No doubt in my mind. I know that in the fifties and sixties women were portrayed as being hysterical people screaming bloody murder when they saw the monster and swooned into the hero’s arms. We’re not those women anymore, if we ever really were. I think education, as it has done with race, has made the difference. Women have acquired more confidence in dealing with life’s situations. I think we’re stronger for many reasons. We can give blood, because we’re used to seeing it. Women deal with child bearing, and that alone makes a difference, and child rearing, if you did that. There are lessons, which come from pain and suffering you can’t obtain anywhere else. Women suffer more and experience more pain.
2. How many women do you know whom you consider strong?
Quite a lot. I attended Sweet Briar College, a women’s college. You’ve heard me talk about that, so I’ll throw a plug into the mix. The President and the Board of Directors tried to shut the college down, but the alumnae were not going to let that happen. They timed the announcement so that there was only a 0.5 percent chance of anyone doing anything about it. But, some of those sharp alums jumped on it—you know, lawyers, doctors, Indian Chiefs—and were able to say they weren’t going to stand for it. I believe that Sweet Briar alumnae are some of the strongest women in America. Taught to survive and keep things afloat, these women don’t take no for an answer.
3. Do you have a mantra that you use each day to get you through the tough times?
I think the title of my next book, But What If I Can, is kind of a theme that goes through my mind often. It’s an optimistic outlook.
4. How proud are you to be Southern?
More than just about anything. Being southern is the grit, the guts and the roots of who I am. I am writing a book about where I came from, so obviously that background is terribly important to me. My southern relatives were not highly educated, but all of them were storytellers. So if they could tell it, I could hear it. They gave me their example of passing on advice and knowledge to use in daily life. That is what I strive to do. Readers have asked, “Does it matter to you if people read your books or whatever?” Well, I’d rather make no money at all, but just know that people are getting something from what I write—that it’s helping them somehow. And I’m so grateful for the feedback that I receive, not daily, but often, about the differences I have made. Not that I’ve done anything brilliant, because I haven’t, but just because I was able to help.
5. As a woman in this day and time, how do you see the role of woman today?
From my heart, I think the women are the best people to raise their children. I know that everybody wants to get ahead, and women want to be smart and get an education, and want to apply that to the household income, but I still think the mommy is the best person to raise her own children. I say this knowing that the response I got even back in 1977 from my own mother (not a stay at home mom) was, “You spent all of that money and all of that time and all that energy and heartache, difficult as it was for you a little girl from Podunk, South Carolina, to go to Sweet Briar College, get an education, a degree in Mathematics, and you’re going to stay at home and change diapers?” But, that’s me. I feel like it’s important. I also believe that because children have missed that, it has made a tremendous impact on our society and not for the good. That’s not a particularly popular opinion.
Now, when my baby was two years old, my husband’s partner left the business leaving him with a chunk of debt. And I said, “We’re not going to starve here. I’m educated. What can I do with zero learning curve and make a lot of money?” I sold real estate. I’m sharp in Math. I love houses; I love showing houses for I had bought and sold three already. So I sold real estate for four years until we paid off that $25,000. At the end of the four years, I asked each of my three children—a ten year old, six year old and a fourteen year old, “Would you rather us put a pool in the backyard and I continue to work, or me stay at home?” Their answer was to stay at home. But let me tell you, I sold the biggest property I had ever listed in my life myself. From that commission, the last check I received, I was able to put a pool in the backyard. So I did work some of the time, because I didn’t want my husband’s business to fold. And it’s still going today. You know small businesses are rare to last that long.
6. Do you look back at your life and think how different you are today?
Yes. Being a math major with a minor in biology, writing was not something I ever thought I would do. I only wrote eulogies and read those from a pulpit, and came this close to flunking English. Looking back on it, I would have paid better attention to the one English course I took in college, if I had known I’d be writing when I grew up. Yes, I am different in that respect. I never suspected I’d be writing for a living. But also, when you stare cancer and death in the face, which I have done on numerous occasions, it affects you. As I told The Today Show, you become bitter or better. It’s going to go one way or the other. I chose better. And do you see that blue car parked out there? It’s a step up from driving a mini-van for 25 years. It’s a hardtop convertible. I went to the store the other day and a guy helped me out to my car with the bags. He stopped and said, “This blue convertible is your car?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Was that a mid-life crisis?” I responded with a no thank you very much. This was a senior crisis. My midlife crisis was a blue motorcycle. I bought one of those and drove that thing around for about five years along with my mini-van. So yes, I’ve changed a little bit. I think our attitudes change when we get older. I honestly don’t know if I care whether you don’t like my shoes. I don’t dress for others; I dress for myself.
7. Can you give me the name of a celebrity you admire? One whom you consider a strong woman? Or even a strong southern woman?
Well, I’ve always been a huge fan of Fannie Flagg. I will tell you exclusively, because this story, about the first time I met her in Alabama, is yet to be written or published. But, let’s just say I met her and loved her, having a twenty-minute conversation. When she won the Harper Lee Award for Distinguished Alabama Writer, I went to the 2014 Alabama Symposium to watch her receive her award and to attend other events that weekend. During a nice white tablecloth affair, an event luncheon with probably over one hundred people there, the room became absolutely silent—Harper Lee rolled in. Harper Lee! Everyone stood up and applauded. Like who knew right? So yes, strong southern woman here we go. She was friends with Fannie Flagg and she came just for her. Fannie was so humble that when she stepped up to the podium, and rather than talking about Fannie Flagg or her books, she focused on Harper Lee and her influence. It was so moving. And I will say that there is nothing like walking up to this icon and having her stick out her hand and hearing her say, “Hi, I’m Nell Harper Lee (in the thickness Alabama accent), and you go “Oh, heck yeah, you are.” Does that give you chills? And that’s an exclusive.
Thank you, Jan, for your insightful and honest answers.. You can find Jan at the following:
Link to Today Show interview: http://www.today.com/health/shes-embracing-life-laughter-hope-after-second-cancer-diagnosis-t53006
Link to the funny “Birthin’ Babies” story https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a6dDYUxcSSE
Link of videos on Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/JanetSheppardKelleher/videos.
(Jan would love it if you would “like” her author page when you check out the videos.)
Toward the end of this month, I’ll introduce you to author and business woman, Debra Ayers Brown, another Strong Southern Woman.
Bye for now,