My grandmother was a bookkeeper at a meatpacking plant. As a child, I never really understood what she did, but I had some pretty bizarre images in my head about her workplace. I pictured her sitting off in the corner of a giant butcher shop, typing away on her adding machine. And, I always imagined a burly middle-aged man standing over her shoulder in his bloody apron, barking orders and urging her to work faster.

Yes, I know this seems pretty outrageous. Why would I have such grim, violent images of my grandmothers workplace? Im not even a vegetarian.

Perhaps its because my grandmother was one tough broad (so much so that I fear her wrath even now for labeling her a broad). But, I guess she had to be a little hard on the outside, since she had to hold her own for most of her life. She left my grandfather when her two children were both under the age of five. She raised them alone and did an extremely admirable job of providing for them, even as a single mother. I guess the bookkeeping came in handy.

My mom tells me that my grandmother always drove a little sports car and cried when her only daughter came home from the mall one day wearing new designer jeans. Were not so poor that you have to wear dungarees, she wailed. Did I mention that my grandmother was also a very proud woman?

Perhaps now, you can begin to imagine the rage she felt when everyone else at the beef-packing plant got a raise and she didnt. Naturally, she confronted her boss. I had to give the extra money to the men. They have families to support, he explained.

This story has stuck with me since I was four-years-old, and I dont think Ill ever forget it. Quite the opposite: My appreciation for it has evolved dramatically over the years.

Families to support. What an outrageous statement. And what exactly does it mean to have a family to support?

It was the 1950s, so Mr. Beef likely thought that, as a woman, my grandmother wouldnt need to provide for her family financially (since that was traditionally a mans job). But, even if we excuse him as a victim of the times, his ignorance of what it meansor what it meantto support a family cant be overlooked, particularly today, in an era that is characterized by womens dramatically expanded roles in both the workplace and the family.

Today, many women aim to support their families financially. Whats even more impressive is that many also tackle the responsibility of nurturing a private practice. I dont know how these women do it. But, as youll learn in this months cover story, The Changing Face of Optometry, they somehow find a way to have successful careers while meeting societys more traditional expectations of them as primary caregivers for their families.

Personally, I have mixed emotions about what Ive learned from the outstanding women who were interviewed for this piece. On one hand, Im saddened knowing how hard they had to fight, much like I felt pity for my grandmother, who gave everything she had to her work and her kids. But, on the other hand, I feel a tremendous amount of pride in knowing that women are capable of so much more than what society expects of us. Either way, I gleaned a tremendous amount of useful knowledge and advice from these truly heroic women and am confident that, whether youre male or female, you will too.

Vol. No: 143:06Issue: 6/15/2006