An abbreviated speech

by Joyce “Boxcar” Miles, Lawyer, Author, and Inspirational Speaker

Let me spin you a tale, fellow travelers, of a woman who found self worth, not through validation from society and its ancient ideals of a woman, but through working hard and taking control of her own destiny. Yes, women are still earning less than men in the workplace, still expected to stay at home with the kids, still looked at as objects of beauty rather than people of worth. But you don’t need to let anyone tell you that you are unable to do something just because you are a woman and just because you happened to be raised by hobos.

Yes, I was born with ovaries and found in an apple crate by a small gang of drifters thirty-some-odd years ago. Does that mean I’m supposed to give up? Accept my fate of riding the rails as a second class citizen? No! You get yourself up every morning, brush your teeth and scrub your back with the same oversized scrubbing brush, look at your reflection in the puddle and say, “I am a woman, and today is my day.”

People think they can keep you in your place, always a rung below them on the ladder. At Harvard Law, my professor assumed I wasn’t ready to take on a thesis that would upend a century old Supreme Court ruling because it was “too difficult for a young girl.” My thesis was published in several law journals before graduation. And when Old Tin-Strang Joe tried to tell me that he “ain’t lettin’ no lady sip his moonshine,” the very same ‘shine we had all chipped in for, I stood my ground. I told him he wouldn’t be drinking no moonshine if I hadn’t thought to sell that old crate of copper we found. And you know what? He poured me the lion’s share, and we sang songs ‘round the fire ‘til the sun did rise.

And women, how can we expect men to respect us if we don’t respect each other? If you see another woman struggling, don’t walk over her, help her up. When you make snide, backstabbing comments about my makeup it hurts both of us. Besides, it’s not even makeup, it’s coal smudged across my face from sleeping in the train yards. Instead, why not open the conversation with a supportive, friendly gesture by complimenting the pattern on my bindle, and I in turn will admire the cobbling of your Prada. As my fathers used to say, “Can’t start a stew with muddy water.”

Women, I hope you find power in these words, but always remember the real power is found within. Work hard at what you love. Take every challenge head on, be it a job interview, your child’s skinned knee, or a school marm who swore she’d give you a tray of biscuits if you cleaned all her chalkboards, at which you did your best. See, chalk is a tricky thing that leaves some deep marks in the slate that don’t always warsh off! Just the way slate is. And I know what I’m talking about. How do you think we mark our hobo codes on your fence post? That’s right, with chalk, which you’ll be seeing when I draw a big “X” so everyone knows you ain’t true to your word, Ms. O’Shaughnessy!

Joyce speaks at High Schools, Colleges, train yards, AA meetings, old barns, and women’s clubs across the nation. You can buy her books from your local retailer or ask Fiddlin’ Bill to recount her tales in song.