Yesterday I took Mom to celebrate my Aunt Wyoma’s 90th birthday. While there, I chatted with Uncle Lloyd. These three are the remaining children of my grandparent’s 9 sons and 4 daughters. Last year, Mom wrote the first installment of her personal history, and so we talked often of her mother and father and her growing-up years in southern Idaho. Their lives were hard, especially in comparison to my own.
Sometimes I have a difficult time realizing how much has changed in just a couple of generations – more than fashions or hairstyles, homes or cars, technology or pop culture. I’m thinking about my grandmother’s way of life compared to my own. Interestingly, I recently read a paragraph in a novel that lists some housewives’ duties as rendered in 1940. While the plot of Philip Roth’s fiction of alternate history has VERY LITTLE to do with the direction my reverie, I decided the author’s description extends beyond that of a Jewish neighborhood in Newark, NJ. I could picture both of my grandmothers performing every listed task plus more in their little Mormon homes in Idaho.
The men worked fifty, sixty, even seventy or more hours a week; the women worked all the time with little assistance from labor-saving devices, washing laundry, ironing shirts, mending socks, turning collars, sewing on buttons, moth-proofing woolens, polishing furniture, sweeping and mopping floors, washing windows, cleaning sinks, tubs, toilets and stoves, vacuuming rugs, nursing the sick, shopping for food, cooking meals, feeding relatives, tidying closets and drawers, overseeing paint jobs and household repairs, arranging for religious observances, paying bills and keeping the family books while simultaneously attending to their children’s health, clothing, cleanliness, schooling, nutrition, conduct, birthdays, discipline and morale.
As I perused the long list, I pictured how much time women devoted to performing these responsibilities. I do SOME of these things, but modern conveniences have stripped away much of the drudgery.
For example, Mom related that for much of her married life, my grandma heated water for washing clothes on a “boiler” that she placed over two plates on the stove to heat the water. In 1940, Mom’s parents purchased a Maytag washer. I can’t even imagine what a thrill that must have been for her.
Nevertheless, my grandmothers and my mother hung clothes on lines to dry as did I when I was first married. Dryers weren’t part of their households for a very long time, but I didn’t go without that luxury for more than 5 or 6 years. G.E.’s mom NEVER purchased a dryer. She loved the freshness of hung-dried sheets, towels, shirts, etc. in spite of their starched-like stiffness!
In the 1950s, I thought Grandma B. was rich because she owned an Ironrite, an automatic roller iron, also called a Mangle! (What kind of name is that for an appliance that was supposed to make life easier?) I watched her feed sheets, pillowcases, DISHTOWELS, hankies, dresses, blouses, shirts, and slacks between the two giant rollers with a deftness that I admired. I dared not stand too close, however, because I was afraid the monster might grab hold of my little hand and press it flat!
Additionally, one grandmother served as president of the Relief Society, the women’s auxiliary of our church, for 8 years! My other grandma played the organ for Sunday meetings for many, many years. Grandma H. often assisted Grandpa in hanging wallpaper – one of his many jobs that included carpentry, butchery, dry farming, and mechanics. And Grandma B. organized her children into a family dance band to help bring in extra money.
Both Rebecca and Ethyl were amazing women that I still adore across the decades and into the eternities. God bless them!
Note: I’m a fan of The Writer’s Corner (and also what I ate today), written by Ann Cannon, and so I’m sort of taking her lead by adding a “page” to this blog – “and what I read today!” So if you want a little info about what held my interest via hard copy OR audio copy, go HERE to read what I think of The Plot Against America by Philip Roth.