Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Admiration for My Mother and Grandmothers

This blog is inspired by the admiration that I have for all the creative work that my grandmothers, great-grandmother, and mother did as I watched them as a child. I am not a stay-at-home and never have been. Right now I am a single Mom, and therefore the household income depends upon me. Here are some of the things that I so admired in my grandmothers and mother.
My maternal grandmother did beautiful needlepoint, kept a very neat and tidy home, operated within a very strict budget (out of which she had to squeeze any presents she might want to give someone, including her husband), and cooked a great meal every night that always included a homemade dessert! (Quite a contrast to Little Miss Sunshine--that heart-cooling movie where the Mother slings the bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken on the table, throws the salad onto plates, and then slams down the carton of ice cream on the table for dessert.)
My paternal grandmother was a wonderful cook, with emphasis on huge slabs of roast beef perfectly cooked. She made a scrumptious German chocolate cake from scratch. She canned peaches, tomatoes, and brandied peaches every year from produce that my grandfather gardened. She also knit mountains of sweaters--these sweaters were not fancy but serviceable, and she produced them as if she were on a production line for any child that she knew. If anyone was going to have a baby, she went to work. Sitting in her chair in the corner watching the tv, she would churn out piles of receiving blankets hemmed with the feather stitch and make little flannel shirts with ties to match. She knitted little caps and booties. She was tall and beautiful and I considered her a formidable force.
My mother had done canning in the early years of her marriage but stopped. However, she was a wonderful cook, always on the chase for more good recipes, rarely cooking a meat-and-potatoes meal, and was always busy. She created a beautiful home through her genius for interior decorating--always restrained, always elegant, always inventive. All through the month of December, she baked cookies, so that every afternoon when we came home we were greeted with the sweet aroma of hot cookies stacked all over her tiny kitchen. She was always cooking food for a neighbor, for her book group, for the church pot-luck suppers during Lent, and for other church charities. She always cooked from scratch. She sewed many of my party dresses, including a prom gown. She knit and she did crewel needlepoint. She kept her house clean and neat, and if you got anything out of order in the front part of the house--living room and dining room--you would hear about it. She kept no routines but worked hard and got evertyhing done. Late at night, when she felt that she was finished with the work for that day, she read the New York Times or a magazine and went to bed. She never watched TV. I loved to watch my mother decorate the house for Christmas on Christmas Eve. Suddenly, the normal household condition was transformed, with a reminder of Christmas wherever you looked, ribbons pulled throught the lattice of a milkglass plate and greenery everywhere.
I did not feel that she was at all frustrated in her role as wife and mother, and I certainly did intend to follow in her footsteps but was waylaid, as I guess many of us were by the terrible bruhaha of the 1960s.
Even though sometimes I hung around women's groups on campus at times of desperation, I never believed that housewives were oppressed by their husbands, or oppressed by doing menial chores. I wanted to do them. I agree with Cheryl Mendelson, author of Home Comforts (a book I love) that "Modern housekeeping, despite its bad press, is among the most thoroughly pleasant, significant, and least alienated forms of work that many of us will encounter even if we are blessed with work outside the home that we like...housekeeping actually offers more opportunities for savoring achievement than almost any other work I can think of. Each of its regular routines brings satisfaction when it is completed. These routines echo the rhythm of life, and the housekeeping rhythm is the rhythm of the body. You get satisfaction not only from the sense of order, cleanliness, freshness, peace and plenty restored, but from the knowledge that you yourself and those you care about are going to enjoy these benefits."
That just about sums it up. Of course, like many working mothers, to the extent that I am able, I try to keep my house in fine fettle almost as a hobby. I always envied Joyce Carol Oates, the housewife who wrote at home. In this blog, I will set down my musings on housekeeping, cooking, and women's work and also on the role of women in society today and in the past. I have read about the history of home and family and others might find this information useful or interesting. The family is under such threat today that it behooves us, I hope, to consider its worth as a vital institution, to try to maintain it that way not only at home but throughout our culture, and to celebrate the many joys that come from keeping your home well and loving your children well (or at least we certainly try).

I would like to dedicate this blog then to Saint Mary and Saint Martha, whose different approaches show us in a combined way the strengths that women have to offer in their homes and to society.


Mrs. White said...

This is a very interesting post! I enjoyed reading about your Grandmothers and Mother and found it inspiring. Thank you!
Mrs. White

Anonymous said...

i love this post. reminds me of my mom. and i agree. i did not think them oppressed and wanted it for my generation too.