I chatted with my mother this evening, when I picked up the Kiddo from her house. (She had taken him on a 30 mile bike ride today. He wasn't tired out.) I told her what I had written, and my point of view on how I was raised: that when young the home arts were emphasized and when I was older I was encouraged to go to college, get a degree, and be able to support myself.
When I was young, I wanted to live like that forever. I have wonderful memories of juicing tomatoes out on the picnic table, getting them ready for canning. I thought cutting the corn off the ears was the coolest thing ever, watching the sheets of kernels fold away from the cob. And it tasted amazing in February. I used to love to look at the rows and rows of jars neatly lined up on the shelves in the pantry down in the basement - every one of them packed by us, grown by us. Dad would sometimes let me drink some of the tomato juice with him (that, and the butterscotch candies on the mantle were his, and were untouchable without invitation) and I learned to love fresh (or jarred) tomato juice with a bit of salt and pepper. (V8 tastes so fake to me)
We lived in a farm house, but didn't keep the farm. We rented the house from the owner, who lived elsewhere. So the fields around us were farmed, sometimes wheat, sometimes corn, occasionally soybeans (this was before they were such a big crop), and the barns stood big and white around the property. It was a lot of yard, and dad mowed it.
We had two gardens - one behind the house next to the field, and one across the driveway perpendicular to the road. They were HUGE, and covered far more square footage that the house and garage combined. We grew potatoes, tomatoes, corn, beans, and all kinds of good stuff. We had a Concord grape vine that make awesome grape juice (I didn't like to eat the skins, so I would peel them with my teeth and eat the sweet insides). I certainly can't forget walking long rows of potatoes with a jar of gasoline in my hand, picking off the potato bugs and dropping them into the jar. I hated killing them, but they were killing our food - the food we were going to eat until next year. Later in the season, Dad would walk along the row with a pitchfork and turn over each plant, and my sister and I would scramble to dig in the soil to find each and every potato and put it into the bushel basket, making sure that we didn't put any in the bushel basket that had been cut by the pitchfork.
We would pick raspberries in the summer, strawberries from the U-pick farm, more grapes from Grandpa's house, pull long straight carrots from the soil, and eat from this bounty all year. (Somehow, the cherry tree that I so loved to climb never seemed to yield much fruit...)
And then, of course, there was The Deer. (It's still a bit of family legend) The Deer ran across the road in front of the car (full of kids) driven by Mom's cousin, it jumped the ditch, hit the fence, and broke it's neck. we drove home, Dad called the DNR, and they gave him permission to kill it and keep the meat, if he wanted. He did, and split the meat with the cousin who was driving. That's when I learned how butchering works, and the different cuts of meat, as I assisted by sorting the cuts into the yellow buckets on the floor while Dad did the cutting up, in the basement. (I don't remember how he carried that thing down those steep stairs!) And it was my job to pick the hairs off as I sorted.
All this, and more, was "normal" to me. And it still stands as my example of how to live sustainably and self-sufficiently. And it's what I still am striving to return to.
From my mom's point of view, this was how she was raised. She loved it, staying home with us kids, gardening, sewing our clothes (I didn't mention that part, did I? She sewed most of our clothes for us) For her, this was the way to raise kids. She learned how from her mother(who learned from her mother, and so on, I'm sure, though the centuries, since that's how that kind of information usually gets passed on.)
Mom was very good at...being a Mom. She taught me to sew, to bake, to can, to garden. She showed me how parenting can be a relaxing, wonderful, happy occupation. We would play with cousins, roam the yard, try to peek in the barns that were always locked, and generally explore the outdoors around us. It was this example of motherhood and raising children that instilled in me the desire to be a mother myself.
I hear stories about and from women who never learned these things from their mothers. Some of them actually refused when asked, and told their daughters "no." They didn't want their daughters to grow up to be housewives.
And that's where I think Women's Lib went wrong...instead of offering the business world as an option, an alternative to being a housewife and mother, the business world became the only choice for many women, simply because they never learned the home arts from their mothers.
One of my (random) hobbies is reading old homekeeping manuals and cookbooks. They started appearing in about the 1830s, and are still being produced today. These books offer an amazing peek into the lives of women of the age, in what they assume you know, and in what they presume to teach. By reading through a cookbook from a different era, one can read between the lines and infer so much about the life they led - does the cookbook have recipes calling for exotic spices? Powdered sugar? sugar? honey? How about eggs, milk, butter? Does it have recipes for making butter? Some even remind you to wash the cow's teats prior to milking, using a blue cotton washcloth, not a white one (intended for kitchen use only). You've really got a gem on your hands if it tells you how to make the washcloth!
By following these books through the decades, you can actually see the transition away from knowledge passed on from mother to daughter, and to young women in need of education in the home arts. As the decades progress, the information becomes more and more basic, more fundamental and less "icing on the cake", until finally you reach a modern cookbook or homemaking book, and we are taught how to make a bed and hang clothes on a (plastic, machine-made) hanger. Reading between the lines (and in a few other references on history and the industrail revolution), we see that the need for this information comes about because young women are no longer staying home and learning this from their mothers; at about age 16, many young women left home to live in dormitories and work in factories until they got married. Then they would set up households with their new husbands, and take up homekeeping, some as late as their mid-twenties.
Fast forward a hundred years, and mothers are refusing to teach their daughters how to keep a home. And hence we need a book to tell us how to make a bed and handwash dishes. (Not me, personally, Mom - you gave me lots and lots of practice at those!)
What was your experience? Did your mother teach you how to keep a house? Garden? Sew? Or did she refuse? I'm finding the comments from Tuesday's post to be fascinating and engaging...I hope we can continue to converse on this.