I have a picture of my mother and I on a hill that makes me cry every time I see it. Not out of sadness but out of appreciation. My parents never gave up. They never stopped trying. No matter how dire the situation, they always moved forward.
We had to move with them, my sisters and I. We never fought against it. We accepted it. The calluses on my mother’s hands. The dirt under her nails. The lack of makeup on her face. That “toque” on her head. She was, and is, the strongest woman that I have ever met. She and my father worked harder than anyone I have ever known.
I grew up the youngest of four daughters to dairy-farmer parents. My parents milked cows twice a day. They planted and harvested hay and corn for feed. My sisters and I helped where possible. I still remember having to “stand guard” when the bull had escaped and my father was trying to wrangle him back into the corral. That was a terrifying moment for my 11-year-old self. I have seen calves born and actually helped pull one out when it was stuck. I showed cows at the fair as a member of the 4-H Milk Dippers. I have milked cows by hand, which is harder than it sounds.
My sisters and I spent many Christmases waiting for my parents to be done in the barn so that we could open gifts. I mean, waiting until after lunch. Frozen pipes were the fear every winter. The farm came first. It had to. My parents worked harder than any people I have ever met, for next to nothing. We struggled to get by, but my parents always made sure we had everything we needed. Notice I said needed, not wanted.
In order to get those things, I began working at age 11 and never stopped. Babysitting, cleaning houses, working during my study halls for an incredible teacher (thank you, Beverly), and the moment (I mean the moment) I turned 16 I started working at McDonald’s. That work ethic never left me. I put myself through college by working two jobs and with the help of many banks, which I am still repaying. I was determined to pull myself out of the farm and not struggle as I had watched my parents do.
The farm ended with an auction, not by choice but from necessity. My father had suffered two strokes by the time he was 43 and the money was not coming in. They still never stopped. Factory work replaced the cows as I turned my attention to my future. That lesson has never left me.
No one will live my life for me. If I want something I have to get up and do it. Regardless of how I may feel, or how hard it may be. I saw all that my parents endured and I made a promise to myself to never stop trying to achieve any goal I set. So, I set my sights on law school, while my now husband set his sights on me.
We met my first year in college. We dated, worked multiple jobs each, and went to school full time. By 2001, between my junior and senior years, while he was in his master’s program, we were married. Call it young love. Call it crazy. But we did it. And where were we married? In my parents’ barn. It was beautiful. Once we cleaned out all the packed manure, that is. We had talked about starting a family but I was going to law school right after graduation in 2002. A family would need to wait, or so I thought. As a result of my husband’s considerable powers of persuasion, I spent my first year of law school pregnant with our first child.
Hannah was born in 2003, during my second week of finals. At least I managed to complete two exams before going into labor. I took the two remaining tests two weeks later. Having Hannah caused a significant change in our plans. My husband stopped going to school and took on a full time job. There was no money for daycare and family was not close by, so I went to school during the day and he worked in the evenings and overnights. My goal was to become a prosecutor and so I began interning at the Albany County District Attorney’s Office in 2004. I continued doing so until I graduated, in 2005, and immediately returned as a full time Criminal Law Associate.
Following my bar passage in 2006, I was made an Assistant District Attorney. Just when things had “settled down” at work, I became pregnant with my second child, Owen, who was born in 2007. Needless to say, those six years were rather intense, very difficult, and entirely jam-packed. The point of all this is to show how perfectly I happened to fit the “idea” or “mold” of a Gen-Xer and why I was an obvious choice for this season of “Survivor”.
I knew “Survivor” was going to be the most difficult thing I would ever experience mentally, physically and emotionally: but that would only make me work that much harder. I have always done my best when pushed to the limit. When I am on trial, I hardly sleep and barely eat because I am focused on the end game. That final summation.
So, how does all of this relate to the rock draw? My picking that one black rock? I could have given in, done the easy thing, and flipped. I could have voted against my alliance and have saved myself from the rock draw. But, as you can tell by now, I never take the easy route. The easy way, though it may be enticing in any given moment, can work against you. If I had flipped, I had no path to victory. I wasn’t playing for 7th place. I would have lost the loyalty of those who had my back and I would have looked weak. This is not a winning combination in “Survivor” or in life.
The path to victory was through drawing rocks; the path to having your torch snuffed was through choosing the wrong one. Adam experienced the former, I the latter. In the end, I along with my fellow rock-drawers, made the hard choice. My willingness to make that hard choice came from my parents. They never took the easy route. They always fought through the hardest moments and made it all work. I made the right decision, I just picked the wrong rock.
The reason some choices are hard is because there is no guarantee of success. Things don’t always work out. But nothing ventured, nothing gained. That’s why they are hard choices. I might not have won, but I am proud of the choice I made. I know my parents were proud too. So, thank you Mom and Dad for your guidance, love and inspiration. As my father said when he found out that I would be on “Survivor”, “Jessica is never done.” And he is right. Like my parents, I will never be done.