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On International Women's Day, honoring the fearless, the famous -- and the simply beloved

Today is International Women's Day, on which we are urged to celebrate intrepid women who have changed the world.  Newsweek and the Daily Beast -- under their celebrity editor Tina Brown -- are doing something cool and interesting in New York City called the Women in the World Summit.  Here's a link to it and a nifty interactive graphic.  Among the faces you'll see associated with this event are those of Angelina Jolie, Oprah Winfrey and Hillary Clinton.

But I find myself thinking about a different "international woman" -- a girl, actually:  my grandmother, Alice Saab, who in 1908 was a pregnant 19-year-old traveling by boat from Beirut, Lebanon, to America. Early in the trip, she cared for her baby (or possibly toddler) girl, but that child died in transit.  She and my grandfather, Richard Saab, eventually settled in Lackawanna.  And by the late 1960s, she was a widow in her 70s,  and I was a grade-school girl who thrived on her warm affection and wonderful Lebanese cooking.  Some of my happiest and most peaceful times as a child were spent in the kitchen of her modest house.

SullivanAlice Saab had no role outside the home. She never truly mastered the English language.  She had no worldly accomplishments, except that her three children succeeded in a way that she valued (her two sons became a doctor and a lawyer, her daughter -- my mother, Elaine -- married well), and her many grandchildren were looking promising, too. (The photo here shows her with two of them.)  She loved her family, she nurtured an elaborate vegetable garden, and she was a great Lebanese cook.  

On Wednesday, I chatted by phone with another Alice Saab -- my cousin, A. Joan Saab, Ph.D., an art history professor at the University of Rochester.  She is three generations removed from the Alice who was my grandmother and her great-grandmother, and who died in 1977.

"When I think of Mommy Alice," Joan said, "I think of two things: the drive to succeed and her cooking."

Joan and I agreed that female role models and symbols of strength come in many forms. 

 "All those women -- all the Italian, Polish, Jewish, Irish mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers -- flew below the radar," she said, "but had such a profound effect in their own way."  

So, on International Women's Day, here's to all the immigrant girls and women who came to America, who worked and struggled and made life better for their families and the generations that followed.

And to Alice Saab, once a pregnant teenager with a dying baby on a boat from Beirut, two simple and heartfelt words:  Thank you. 


Twitter: @SulliView



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