Saturday, May 31, 2008

Homesteading Women

I have a rather passionate fascination with women of the early 1900's, the homesteading years here in the West. You always hear about the men- the miners, the ranchers, the trappers and cowboys and such, but you don't get to hear too much about the women, and what you do find to read is often fiction - you never know how much is actually true.

I'm reading this book called Homesteading Women. It's an oral history of women who grew up in that time period, either as small children or as wives, and it gives their take on what life was like. The author did a wonderful job of asking women all the right questions, everything I'd want to ask them myself. For instance, most of those women, when they reached puberty, had no idea what was going to happen to their bodies, that they would menstruate, etc. Some kept it from their mothers and eventually their husbands, because they thought something was wrong with them and they didn't want anyone to know. Can you imagine?

They talk about the chores and the housework - washing laundry in a copper kettle with a washboard, tending to a 3-acre garden, cooking over coal and woodstoves, caring for the children, having babies at home, etc.

The best part of the book though, is the end. (I skipped 3 chapters or so because I couldn't wait.) She asks the women about what satisfactions they have in their lives, and if they had any disappointments. These women, who are now in their 80's and 90's, talk about their lives, in retrospect, and it is so uplifting in some ways. One says she found plenty of satisfaction in the work she did every day. You may as well learn to enjoy your work, because you're going to work plenty throughout your life. No use grumbling and complaining about things that must be done. Every single one of them that had a family named their children as their greatest satisfaction. Regarding disappointments, one said something along the lines of, 'When something difficult happens in your life, it is a tragedy. And then you look back on it later and realize it wasn't so much of a tragedy afterall.' Another talked about not dwelling on the bad things. "I think everybody has disappointments, but I've found one thing out: as you go through life, leave the bad stuff behind and take the good with you, because if you pull all of it, you get to where you can't take one step forward. "

"Your kids are the only thing you'll ever have that's your own. Maybe some woman can come along and take your husband, or somebody can steal your car or your money out of the bank or something. But I say nobody can take your kids away from you."

Many of them talk about how women today simply couldn't hack the kind of life they led, and they're undoubtedly right.

What these women have to say is so valuable. This book is a little piece of solid gold! The women in the book lived an entirely different life from what women today are living, but one thing hasn't changed - the way women feel, who we are inside, our love for our children and the pride we take in our accomplishments, none of that changes even when the times do. Another lady notes that women today are simply too hard to please - they are always dissatisfied, no matter what they have or what they do, they want more. I see that so much! I'm probably guilty of that too, to an extent, though not like some who are perpetually unhappy. I think you just have to let yourself be happy, be satisfied, with what you have.

When I'm an old woman, I want to be able to look back on my life with satisfaction, like most of these women do. Sometimes it's hard, because my day to day life seems so mundane and unimportant - cleaning, cooking, changing diapers, teaching, playing, working outside. But ya know, I enjoy every day. I truly do, even those chaotic days when the kids are making me crazy and I'm all stressed out - i go to bed at night and I'm fine with it. There's a line from a country song: "Doing what I love, and loving what I do." That pretty well describes my life, and I think from that, I'll have a tremendous satisfaction.

1 comment:

Katey said...

I have a book about a woman and her daughter who walked all the way from Spokane to Chicago! I have been reading it aloud to the kids they love that they recognize the Spokane area and places mentioned