Writing My Life

Now and Then

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thinking of grandmothers

Mom, Uncle Lloyd, and Aunt Wyoma


 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.        

Roth writes:        

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.        

Grandma's was a gray version of this one.


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!        

This Ironrite looks like Grandma Barrett's


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.


… my day “on the hill” …

I really do not like the cliche’ “don’t just talk the talk, but walk the walk.” It’s so overused – right along with “put your money where your mouth is,” but last week I decided I needed to heed the messages of both expressions. After venting my frustrations – in rather dramatic fashion – about the conditions in our school district and state legislature, I decided I better join other educators and citizens up on Capitol Hill to voice my support for some bills that could help Jordan School District.

There is something intimidating about walking into buildings of Classicism design because they emanate an air of importance. Add the fervor of a legislative session, and visitors cannot help but inhale the tense atmosphere of decisions in the making. I didn’t expect to feel exhilaration in the face of my frustrations, but there it was: press conferences, interviews, special interest groups, pages, signs, TV reporters and cameras. The sounds of footsteps running across marble floors or climbing up marble steps echoed throughout the rotunda. A mariachi band entertained citizens, lobbyists, legislators, and school children.

Men, women, and children lined the hallways outside the House of Representatives and the Senate Chambers, and they wrote messages to their legislators, urging them to vote for or against this bill or that resolution. It was inspiring to see so many involved. I attended the press conference organized by Utah Education Association to urge passage of House Bill 295 that would ease the financial burdens of struggling school districts like Jordan and Grand by allowing building funds to be used for classroom needs. Next, I spoke to teachers, parents, and education leaders to see what I could do to help. Finally, I added to the stacks of messages being sent to legislators to plead for their help in passing legislation that supports our students’ education. It was a GREAT feeling.

Here a just a few pictures I snapped of democracy in action:

This South Jordan mom joined educators and other JSD patrons to speak out for our children’s educational future. Even HER mother came along to show support for HB 295 that would ease financial pressures, thus forcing a move towards increased class sizes.

These mothers whose children attend schools in Jordan School District are writing memos to their legislators, expressing their concerns and their demands that students come first. TV reporters interviewed the young woman on the far left.  I wonder where that footage went. I didn’t see it on any of the channels.

Looking down from the House of Representative mezzanine, I saw Hispanic leaders addressing their constituents. Now, this community knows how to make an impression. Not only did they lay out a catered feast of Latin American favorites, they entertained onlookers with a festive musical program featuring an excellent mariachi band.  Instead of feelings of frustration, this group filled the air with positive vibes!

On Thursday, the day after my TRIP to the HILL, I thought all efforts had been in vain as I heard that HB 295 and failed to pass, BUT on Friday, law-makers added an amendment to the bill that enabled its passage in the House. Now it goes the Senate, and “insiders” are optimistic about its success there.

Now I’m not an “insider” and many of the citizens who travel to the Capitol are not big time politicians either, but I feel that our voices did count. I recently learned that the state capitol is also called “The People’s House,” and last Wednesday, I witnessed why that title is so befitting. The experience did more to erase my frustrations than my whining ever did. And as I left, I paused in front of former Governor Olene Walker’s portrait because she was such an advocate of literacy and education. In fact, the painting of her shows that she’s reading A is for Arches an ABC book about Utah, written by Katherine Larsen

As I looked at Olene’s portrait, I not only reflected upon the events of the day, I thought about all the women I saw there and the evidence of women’s political contributions to the betterment of our state. I’m grateful to them all! Perhaps we should add another nickname to that stately structure on the hill: The Women’s House.