This past week, my beloved friend Estelle died. She had been living with her granddaughter Michele, and thankfully, she was at home with her family during her final days and hours. She had been in declining health for a while, but the shock of her death reverberated through a wide community of people who loved her. She was another person in my life from whom I experienced unconditional love. Estelle was a woman who created community around her, and many people felt her unconditional love. She had a way of seeing the specialness in each person.
I met Estelle in 1985 at the Women’s Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice–the Women’s Peace Camp for short. The camp was 52 acres directly next to the Seneca Army Depot in upstate New York, where it was rumored that nuclear weapons were stored. Estelle visited the encampment the first week it opened in 1983 and lived there on and off for the next 20 years. She was a founding member of the encampment’s second incarnation, Women’s Peace Land, and was co-founder of the Peace Encampment Herstory Project. I can’t remember it clearly, but Estelle and I probably got to know each other more deeply while sitting by the fire on overnight watch duty. By the end of my first summer staying there, I counted her one of my closest friends.
Estelle was an elder to younger women at the camp–most of us were in our 20s and 30s, and she was in her 40s. But she already had wise crone energy–she was fierce, courageous, protective, and creative in a context where we were willingly on the front lines in the battle against nuclear weapons. There were numerous actions of public civil disobedience and less public direct actions taken on behalf of peace. Because Estelle had a job to go back to, she didn’t risk arrest, but she was a stalwart support for those who did. I want to share one story that was recently shared on the peace camp Facebook page that illustrates her so well.
“So, one night a group of women came back to the house after sneaking into the Army Depot and painting peace slogans on the water tower. They had mud still smeared on their faces and spray paint on their clothes and hands and were telling of their triumph when soldiers came racing after them and tried to charge into the house but Estelle, in her white haired Mother Jones persona, blocked the door and calmly told them, “women are sleeping in here, you men can’t just walk in” and that stopped the men, who were after all mainly young and only here because the world didn’t give them other ways out. By the time an Officer arrived to Put Down This Womanly Nonsense some of the women had wiped off the mud while many others had smeared some on so there was just no way to know who the soldiers had followed home. Much ordering around ensued and women were told to line up and account for themselves and well you know that just did not go as the Officer thought it would. Meanwhile Estelle, who had long since befriended the local sheriff and deputies called that sheriff and those deputies to report that men were trespassing on the farm and threatening the women so then the sheriff and a deputy or two came roaring up and then more ordering around and demands to account for themselves happened and meanwhile the women with spraypaint on their hands got snuck out the kitchen door and into the dozens of tents in the dark field and eventually it was impressed upon the soldiers that they had no rights even one inch off the base and as they drove off Estelle smiled and waved then – Mother Jones, remember – got right back to organizing the next day’s actions.”post by Elliott BatTzedek
I remember being in a similar action, with similar magic worked by Estelle to confound the army personnel who came after us. Estelle demanded that they produce a search warrant describing who they were looking for, and of course, their descriptions weren’t close to matching the actual women involved. There is so much more I could say about Estelle and about the Peace Camp. Being there from summer 1985, and then winter through summer of 1986, was transformative in my life. Coincidentally, I have been going through old papers and letters from that time this week, so perhaps some other thoughts and memories will bubble up during that process. But for now, I wanted to express how grateful I am that I knew and loved Estelle. There was a shed on the camp with a slogan painted on its side: 13 Hugs Are Healing. I am mindful of the many diverse ways that love that has touched my life through the years and the healing I experienced from that love.