Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Wisdome of our Elders

My grandmother, whom I call Mockie, is the poster child for "Better Homes and Gardens," or any other housekeeping tome. Her humble single-story home in Georgia is always immaculate. The garden bursts with perennial flowers every spring; tantalizing scents drift out of her kitchen; and the woman literally vacuums the floors every day. (Am I the only person who thinks that's nuts? I had a roommate once who insisted on vacuuming every day, and I'd be like " vacuumed yesterday...")

Mockie is also the matriarch of a very large extended family with four generations living today. She and my grandfather (may he rest in peace) raised four boys who grew up to be the kind of men you would be happy for your daughter to marry (just ask their mothers-in-law!)

I recently asked her (along with a few other women who have influenced the woman that I have become) how she thinks a homemaker can relate to the Feminist movement. "When I was younger I probably was not ,or did not think of myself as a feminist, there was no such thing at that time," she told me.

She married my Grandad in 1948, a time when America was still rejoicing over the end of the hardships caused by World War II. Women who had joined the workforce while their husbands and sons were fighting in Europe and the Pacific were now returning to their traditional roles as homemakers. "I loved your grandfather, always thinking that if he made the living it was my duty to do my household responsibilities: washing, ironing, cooking, cleaning, and rearing four sons."

I've just finished reading the first chapter of Betty Friedan's iconic manifesto, "The Feminine Mystique," where the author describes how women of this era did not feel fulfilled by homemaking alone but were unable to voice their trouble, thinking that their feelings were unjustified. It is possible that my grandmother felt this way too. She said that she sometimes felt resentful when my grandfather spent his weekends away from the house playing golf, leaving her to look after the boys for a sixth and maybe seventh day that week. "But as the boys grew . . . we began to join him, swimming and picnicking."

"Now I realize that I probably evolved as a feminist," Mockie said, "When our son's married I made it plain to them that as long as their wives worked, and contributed to the income, it was their responsibility to do their part in the household duties and the rearing of the children. "

Husband and I do work together to maintain our home. In fact, recently as I've been making more than my usual effort to keep our apartment tidy, he has been more eager to help out.

Husband and I have only been married for a few months, but we are already learning what Mockie told me about marriage: "It is not easy. It is not always perfect, there will be good times sometimes not so good, but the good outweigh the bad. It takes a lot of working together to make it work."

She finished by telling me that she is "no authority on marriage," but I think the almost 60 years that she and my Grandad spent together speak for themselves.