It is a cloud laden February morning. I take my shoes off and pull back the heavy curtain that keeps the warm air in the main part of the house. Mully greets me with a big hug and welcomes me into the kitchen. The teakettle whistles and she brings steaming mugs and a snack into the living room. After she lights a candle, we settle into the lavender velvet antique couch, a fire burning in the wood stove.
Like all of the women in this project, she has known me since I was very little. However, probably hundreds of children can say the same about Mully because she was at their birth, or taught them at the Children’s Center, the wonderful community preschool she ran for thirty years.
Out of necessity and passion she is a doer, like me; always involved in a million projects. She seems to know everyone on the island by name, both the old timers and the new.
You would never know she is a great-grandmother by her rainbow socks and recent extended spiritual pilgrimage to Tibet. I knew she was a key player in the formation of our island community but was amazed by the stories she had to tell, many of which I had to look up in a history book.
Mully: What are we going to talk about?
Eliza: I have several questions to guide the conversation. I’ll start with one and we’ll see where it goes…
A large part of my confusion and frustration during the last few years has come from my pursuit of meaningful life work. I am unclear on how I would even define this loaded concept of “meaningful work” now, let alone make it happen. I wanted to hear from you what you would describe as your life work?
Mully: I live by my beliefs. There are a lot of things when you talk about your life. When you have lived as long as I have, no matter what, you are always saying, “I did this and I did that,” but really what intrigues me most about my life, which goes to your question, is that it is not linear and sequential.
I didn’t know what I wanted to do. My experiences took me to places. Just like you are learning to let your life happen. That approach is really the feminine. A manifestation of it…
When I got to the island, I had beliefs but I had no idea how they would manifest. I was not that cognitive. I just knew I had to live them. I was my beliefs. They were not in my head. They weren’t out there, gestures upward it was here, touches her heart, that I was them. So things would happen to me, around me and I responded.
Eliza: Can you tell me more?
Mully: I was very unformed as a child. I don’t know if that is good place to start? Okay, here’s the deal. I got born, like everybody, but I didn’t have a “typical” childhood for that time. I never lived with my father. He came home from World War II when I was eight months old and my mother said, “He was different”, as I am sure all the men were. Many women met their husbands after the war, so my mom had another sort of experience. She would never talk to me about anything, but by the time my brother was born nine months later, they were not living together.
So we lived with my grandfather and aunt. My grandmother had died when my mom was eleven. She was very traumatized and emotionally concretized from that loss. My grandfather was a wreck at that time; they were all a wreck. They were atheist and agnostic and stoic; no one talked about anything….what you were doing, what you believed in, what you didn’t…It was just assumed you were going to buy into the norm. So that’s the house I grew up in.
My mother smoked unfiltered Pall-Mall cigarettes and didn’t care if I smoked, so by the age of twelve I smoked at home with her. That was a huge deal really, smoking when I was twelve!
In high school we had an open campus. At lunchtime most of the 3,300 kids ended up at these little shops up the hill from the school. All the kids congregated in their own special social-economic, racial, and academic groups. I couldn’t tell you that in high school, but that was what was happening.
Everyone smoked cigarettes. I would make friends with everybody. I would go to all these little shops with the kids and smoke and just be like, “Okay this is how it is here.” It defined my high school experience; everyone in their little clusters puffing away and socializing.
Because we were in Oakland, we were adjacent to the Berkeley UC system. In hindsight, I know that I had teachers who had their PhDs. We were coming out of the 1950s, the McCarthy Era, and there were a lot of political things happening during that period, 1958 to 1962. My high school teachers were great. I remember one, who taught contemporary problems, had us read the Communist Manifesto, which was a really bold thing to do coming right out of the McCarthy Era!
I don’t think all the kids paid attention like I did. I was kind of this wild card and curious in this non-cognitive way because at home no one talked about anything. My mother had her way of explaining things and that was just what you expected, you didn’t question it.
So we had really stimulating teachers in high school and when I got to UC Davis, I was bored. I thought, “Really? This is college?” Initially it fell flat of my expectations, but there were a lot of other things going on there that were interesting.