Growing up in Central Texas in the 80s, I was one of many girls my age who coveted the Miss Flame crown. Miss Flame was a pageant run by area fire departments, and the winner got to give fire safety presentations at local elementary schools and, best of all, ride on top of fire trucks during parades and throw out candy.
To 16-year-old Michelle, there was no higher aspiration than to be Miss Flame.
One year, I was named Miss Flame for Nolanville, my town, so I went on to compete in the regional Miss Flame pageant against girls from towns all around. I was a nervous wreck to be this close to my dream, and I was even more thrown off when I saw girls from other towns trying to psych me out before the competition. Their mean glares and whispers hurt my feelings and threatened to wipe out all my poise and preparation.
When I confessed to Momma that the other girls were giving me mean looks, she told me “Just go be the blaze,” she said. “Don’t back down and don’t try to be the same as them. Make your own path and blaze your own trail.”
When I was on stage and nerves threatened to overtake me, I looked at Momma and she just mouthed “Be the blaze.”
It must have worked because – dream of dreams – I walked away with the crown.
It wasn’t until years later that I realized Momma was using two meanings of the word “blaze.” First, there’s blazing a trail, the process of marking a new trail by painting a line on a tree so that others could see the path. Then there’s the fire connotation – which I now see as passion, motivation, energy, and spark.
When she told me to “Be the blaze,” she meant both of those things: that I should be myself and chart my own course, but that I should also be the spark that helps others do the same for themselves.
The Texas Tornado
I want to tell you about a blaze of a woman who is one of my role models. If you’re not a lawyer in Texas, you’ve probably never heard of her. But if you’re a woman in Texas, trust me, she changed the very ground you walk on and gave you rights you never knew you didn’t have.
Louise Raggio was a lawyer here in Dallas, starting work in 1954 in the DA’s office, making half of what her male colleagues earned. As a lawyer, she became excruciatingly aware of just how unfairly the law treated women, specifically married women. They couldn’t start a business or get a loan in their own names. The minute a woman in Texas said “I do,” she effectively became her husband’s property.
Louise set out to change that. Working with the Texas Legislature, she spearheaded the passage of the 1967 Marital Property Act, which gave married women property rights. She was also key in the creation of the Texas Family Code, which governs family law issues in Texas. That may not sound like a big deal, but if you were a woman getting a divorce in Texas, trust me when I tell you that you would rather have a written body of law guiding the proceedings than the whims of whatever male judge and lawyers were deciding your fate.
Louise, nicknamed The Texas Tornado, was a trailblazer in the literal sense of the word, but she was also a spark that ignited a blaze here in Texas. The women’s movement here may not have looked like the same as it did on the coasts, but it had a real impact on women’s lives, and Louise was at the forefront of it. She was the quintessential Texas woman – strong, determined, fiery, and extremely effective.
Be Your Own Blaze
Women like Louise Raggio – who passed away in 2011 at the age of 91 – and my Momma taught me the importance of being my own blaze.
With their help, I learned to tune out anybody who tries to tell me – explicitly or implicitly – I can’t achieve my goals. I’ve always known that nobody was going to blaze my trail but me, so there’s no point in internalizing other people’s negativity.
Unfortunately, women often let negativity take up residency in our heads, without even making it pay rent. Well, it’s time to give an eviction notice. Don’t listen to those trying to psych you out or bring you down. Your Miss Flame crown is waiting, so find your own path and create your own spark.
Be the blaze.