Old Women with Shovels

With a quiet strength
Old women with shovels can
Handle anything


This post is dedicated to all the old women with shovels I know.  I hope to be one of you someday. 

Did you see the article about the 85-year-old woman from Alaska whose husband was being trampled by a moose? She grabbed a shovel and used it to beat the moose until it took off. It was 30 below; they had been out walking their dogs.

I love this woman.  In fact, I know several old women with shovels who are amazing role models for me.

These are not “old ladies”. Old ladies carry handbags.  You give up your seat on the bus to old ladies because you fear for their hips.  Old women carry shovels, or the metaphorical equivalent. You give up your seat to them  in deference to their fortitude and the paths they have quietly walked for decades.

Here are a few of the old women with shovels I count myself lucky to know.

We used to live 2 doors down from my husband’s Aunt Sarah. Frank and I were doing a major house rehab — so much so we couldn’t live in it — and she would help us out. I remember one afternoon, my job (as unskilled labor) was to clear up all the shingles that had been stripped from the roof and now lay strewn all over the ground (where I swear they reproduced).  Aunt Sarah came over and we worked shoulder to shoulder loading the wheel barrow. Then she would wheel it to the dumpster (she wouldn’t let me push the wheelbarrow; I was relatively new to the family and still perceived as a city princess, I think. And it was true).  Once at the dumpster, she and I would get on either side of that wheel barrow, pick it up, hoist it over our heads, and empty it into the dumpster. We did this dozens upon dozens of times until all the shingles were cleaned up.  I was in my late 20’s. She was in her mid 60s. She worked me into the ground. I couldn’t keep up.

The Howard Sisters; Aunt Sarah is in the middle, in purple

Not too many months later, once we had moved in, I uncovered a snake under a bag of mulch. I have a real problem with snakes. Scare the bejebers out of me. Who did I go to? Actually, I ran… two houses down to Aunt Sarah. She grabbed her shovel and marched over to where the snake was, completely nonplussed.  The snake had already departed, but I was left with a feeling of deep astonishment and gratitude for this woman.  With nary a worry, she was ready and willing to chop up a snake to protect me.  There are 9 Howard sisters and 7 are still living.  All of them are amazing old women with shovels.

My mom is an old woman with a shovel, although her shovel is less literal.  First woman in my hometown in Georgia to do just about everything – from President of this to Chair of that, she has been a role model for many professional women, including me.  I spent many afternoons after school in her office (she and dad had their own CPA firm), listening to her counsel people not just on taxes, but on life. I watched her manage her staff — from the CPA’s to the bookkeepers to the secretaries to her daughters. She was always able to get the best out of each, and each felt important and vital to the running of this small business.   And 40 years after she arrived in that small city, she is still blazing trails. In her semi-retirement, she is working up an idea on how to help out women who find themselves, 20 years after shelving a college education to raise babies and keep a home, divorced and not quite sure how to proceed. She knows how to shepherd them. Her shovel is her brain.

Miss Atwater, my second grade teacher, passed away a few years ago. Major first class old woman with a shovel.  Second grade was a crucible year for me — I know that’s laughable, but it’s true: I tried to do just about everything wrong I could, all in the name of testing boundaries. Tried to cheat (got caught). Wrote on the bathroom wall (got caught). Was a jerk to another kid (I know, who isn’t at that age, but I still got caught).  She also introduced me to the woman who would be my piano teacher for the next 10 years, a gift I treasure still today.  Another gift she gave me was the Golden Rule – each day, someone would recite it in class, and that remains a primary guidepost for how I live my life today. Her shovel was an unwavering dedication that provided a type of guidance that was critical for me at that time.  I am a better person for her teachings.  And she did it for 30 years of students.

Women with shovels cultivate.  By digging in the earth to raise food to raise a family. By using words or actions or convictions to raise awareness or help grow the generations after them.

Women with shovels build things. They have “a lot of work in them” and want to stand side by side with the partners in their life – partners in business, in love, in friendship, in life. Their shovels topple things. They reshape things. They brings things into being.

Women with shovels protect what matters to them. They don’t pick a fight, but be warned if you come after one.  That isn’t a handbag, it is a shovel, and they know how to use it.

To the old women with shovels I have known and loved, thank you for helping me find my shovel and so gracefully wielding yours.

Leave a comment


  1. This was beautiful and heart felt as I realized I am part of the “Shovel Tribe”…and happy to be considered a “Sister Shovel Lady”. I will print and share this with my Mother to let her know she is a “Shovel Woman” as well! Thanks, Maureen~♥~

  2. I love your blog and I’ve nominated you for the Kreativ Blogger award. Come to my website Mighty Inspiration to check out the rules and process. Be blessed! ~ Barb

  3. SImply wonderful and touching – and true..

  4. Rhonda

     /  January 27, 2012

    I am beyond proud to say that I was raised by the shovel woman in your story. She is an amazing mom, grandma, great grandma, aunt, sister, friend. I was adopted by her and the wonderful man that was strong enough to be her husband, and I thank God every day that they had hearts big enough to give me the privilege to be part of an incredibly outstanding family. Thank you Maureen for sharing your appreciation for her, and you can bet your hiney, that I am printing this and giving it to her. Love, Rhonda g

  5. What a heartwarming log! How I wish I had an old woman with a shovel to call on. I shall just have to find my own shovel. Where I live, in Yorkshire, England, folks are known for being direct and “calling a spade a spade”.So when I do find it I’d better not call the shovel a spade.

  6. Susannah Childers

     /  January 28, 2012

    Another amazing posting. I super duper love this and aspire to be a shovel woman myself. You continue to share your wonderful self through your writing making me laugh, appreciate, wonder and pause for reflection. Keep up the great work… so happy that your writer / blogger role is coming forward. I’ll be sure to share this on to the women in my family too.

  7. Reblogged this on myownprivatemind and commented:
    I also know Old Women with Shovels, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be one too someday. My husband and I were rehabbing a house ourselves several years ago and the contractors were amazed that I was carrying sheetrock and heavy scraps to the dumpster. One of the guys said, “Mr. S., you have a good woman. She hauls trash.” Yes, I haul trash…and so much more. Great work, as always!

  8. Beautiful!

  9. Reblogged this on Writing from the twelfth house and commented:
    I am mulling over setting up a new page on my blog called ‘Diary of an Emerging Elder’…..whilst I mull, check out this post which celebrates feisty Elder-hood!


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