Just Beginning

This past school year marked the second annual Ocala Style $1,000 Writing Scholarship. Like last year, Ocala Style chose to reward one high school senior with the publication of their winning essay, an exclusive photo shoot, and $1,000 for college expenses. Our review board was impressed with the quality in all of our submissions, but one application clearly stood out:

By Mary Lace Guilfoil • Photos By John Jernigan

Brienne is a cut-up. Natural and unaffected, she rollicks through life. She eats when she wants, she can sleep standing up, and acts either like no one is watching or she just does not care. She is not bothered enough by what others think ever to lie, and her honesty makes her endearing. I came to know Brienne and the rest of a remarkable group of women when I was thirteen years old.

In the summer of 2000, my grandmother decided she — and all of the women in her family — needed a trip to Europe. Because of a reputation for self-sufficiency, I got to go, even though at thirteen I was pushing the definition of a woman.

Grandma never said why the trip was required. She’s like that. Ever since I can remember, Grandma acts on life like it is the easiest thing to do. She has simplified life by deciding what is right and wrong, avoiding wrong, and acting on right as hard as she can. She is never unsure or conflicted. To her, duty means you do it, faith means you believe it, and family means unconditional, unshakable love. She is sure of her decisions because she knows she would never decide for the wrong reasons. So, a trip to Europe for the girls, once it popped in to her head, was simply a matter of making reservations.

My cousin Kate came along. Kate fell in love with the tour guide. She mooned over the tour bus driver. She pined for a boy back home. Kate was hopeful of romance at every turn. She seemed almost angry that some great true love would not recognize her and make the effort. But she was younger then, 21, and I remember the power of her emotions.

Aunt Marie is tough. Widowed at 33 with four small children, she chose to fight. Finding no reward at all in falling apart after the death of her childhood sweetheart and husband, she took charge of her life. Unlike many women I knew, Aunt Marie speaks very directly, like many men do. She does not believe in sugarcoating anything. On the trip, she intimidated me a little. Her sisters — also adults — tread lightly around her. But I was shocked when I heard her laugh. She laughs sweetly and heartily, like she deserves it.

Aunt Sue was in her mid-forties and was jumping back into the job market. She was sophisticated and elegant, gaining confidence as she realized she could go from raising children to making money. If only she could find a way to make it feel worthwhile.

Of course, my mother was also present on the trip. She acted as a maternal influence to me and to all of the other women on the tour. She missed her three children and husband back home, so she nurtured the women around her instead. She was the one we all went to with our insecurities, hurt feelings, and complaints. She seemed to know the right thing to say to each person in every situation on that trip. I’ve always been close to my mother, but I truly began to appreciate her personality and her unique talent to make people feel comfortable in her presence.

As I look back to 2000 and to that European vacation, I realize I began to understand what being a woman would come to mean to me. I could be (and would be) as crazy as Brienne, as passionate as Kate, tough like Marie, resilient like Sue, maternal like my mother, and hopefully, as majestic as my grandmother. As I enter this confused time of my life where identity is such a puzzle, at least I know that my identity will include many influences.

They’ve each taught me that the trip is really just beginning.

Mary Lace Guilfoil is a senior at Belleview High School. Ranked in the school’s top five and a graduate of Notre Dame’s summer leadership program, she plans to major in English at New College of Florida in Sarasota in the fall. Please comment on her essay at mary@ocalastyle.com

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