On this rainy Mother’s Day, I give to you a tribute to farm wives & mothers in memory of my Aunt Alice and my eldest sister’s former mother-in-law, Eunice who both passed on recently. They are gone somewhere, one hopes, where the sun shines, the crops grow, baby animals frolic and the fields smell like flax & wheat & honey.
The farm wives I knew growing up were the type of women who got up every day, day after day, and did what needed to be done. They were up with the sun and didn’t go to bed until everyone else was safe inside.
They got up and did their job though none of them would have called it a job. I never aspired to be like them. I knew that I could never do this job. I could never be a farm wife and mother.
I am too lazy to be like them. I enjoy, too much, the lure of a good book, the quiet of aloneness and the bliss of sleeping in or, heaven forbid, staying in bed all day.
I remember Christmas at the farm. My father’s parents didn’t retire off the farm until I was in my teens. My grandparents had four children and on Christmas day they were 19 grandchildren running underfoot in a two bedroom, five room farmhouse. There were babies, toddlers, preschoolers and the bigger kids – we were all pretty close in age. When the youngest was a baby the oldest would have been sixteen or so.
I remember two hour cooking sessions, spending an hour or so eating & talking, then spending an hour doing dishes before the grown-ups sat down to cards and we kids were chased outside.
We made forts inside the hay bales (there were square then, smaller and easier to rearrange). We ran wild, got chased by the geese, tried out our new sleds, climbed the rock pile across the road, teased and loved each other. I miss Christmas at the farm.
I didn’t find going to the farm in Summer as much fun as Christmas! We kept a second garden on the farm, it must have been a half acre or so, and summer was spent doing chores, like weeding. I hate weeding. It is tedious work and I sunburn easy. I do, however, agree that there is nothing like fresh produce from the garden and will happily pay the slightly-higher Farmer’s Market prices to feed my fresh veggie habit.
My sister’s mother-in-law was lucky; Grammy was just down the road and when she was gone my sister was there and then there were grandchildren and great-grandchildren next door (separated only by a small copse of woods).
What do farm wives do all day? You should do a quick google search – it’ll shock you.
- milk the cows
- feed the livestock
- feed the children
- bake bread – oh the smell of fresh bread when you come home after school & that first taste warm with butter – nirvana
- make cookies, cakes & other dainties – you never know who will drop in
- prepare numerous meals
- cart meals out to the field
- tend the children
- tend the chickens
- clean the house
- muck out the barn
- wash clothes, mend clothes, make clothes
- keep the freezer full
- can veggies – & chicken (I miss my grandmother’s canned chicken)
- move cattle
- herd children
- drive a tractor
- go to town for parts
- weed the garden
- do the books/banking
- help a neighbour
- work off the farm
What surprises me is that there was always time for tea and a visit. There was seldom extra money – I don’t remember matching dishes – but there was always time.
I relish my memories of these two women; my aunt and my sister’s mother-in-law.
I spent many a happy afternoon with them sharing tea and learning family gossip.
So, on this lovely mother’s day, I remember joy and laughter and family and hope you enjoy the same.
My favourite musical is Wicked. I am a big fan of re-imaginings. For those of you unfamiliar with the story, Wicked is a prequel to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and tells what was going on in Oz before Dorothy arrived.
These are the witches’ stories; mainly Elphaba (the wicked witch of the west) and Glinda (the good witch of the north).In the Oz books, there are four witches, one for each of the compass directions – north, east, south and west.
I have an affinity for witches, the misunderstood miscreants of fairy tales. Every fairy tale needs a villain and all too often, that villain is a witch. Witches are an easy way out to show the listener/reader what evil should look like.
Every mill town, pipe shop town, or coal town had a fortune-teller, widow women, usually … [her customers] never wondered why, if that eye really does see all, these women did not move out of an asbestos house. (p. 169) (The Prince of Frogtown by Rick Bragg. N.Y.: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008)
I’ve written here before about my views on witches, most recently in October 2010. As I said, I have an affinity, a feeling of kinship with these women. They are my fairy godmothers, my kin and my heart’s soul. They wove a protective web around my quietness and let me be who I was, who I am. They introduced me to life and books; see the post on my first library.
Another favourite portrayal of the witch is by Bernadette Peters, in the musical, Into the Woods. Into the Woods compresses four tales (Jack & the Beanstalk, Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Red Riding Hood with brief references to other tales) into the same woods/space where the witch dwells.
There had to be witches, too, in a forest like that. (p. 80)
(The Prince of Frogtown by Rick Bragg. N.Y.: Alfred A. Knopf, 2008)
For half a century, society has been telling me what I couldn’t be or do. I have let society dictate who I can be and what I can do. The older I get the less I care about society’s norms.
I want to be – I would have been in those times, those fairy tale worlds – an independent woman, an outcast, a solitary creature keeping her own counsel. This has not been and never will be easy.
This independence I crave and cultivate is both a blessing and a curse.
I envy my sisters their grandchildren. I never envied them for their children. I always felt that I have raised up many a child, working as I did in childcare; my nieces and nephews were mine as well as theirs. But there is continuity, a joy, in grandchildren that escapes me. I’m not quite sure why, what it is, this difference between child and grandchild.
To sum up, the witch in Into the Woods, does it best. During the song, Last Midnight, she sings:
Told a little lie, stole a little gold, broke a little vow,
Had to get your Prince, had to get your cow,
Have to get your wish, doesn’t matter how..
Anyway, it doesn’t matter now.
No, of course, what really matters is the blame.
Somebody to blame.
Fine, if that’s the thing you enjoy, placing the blame,
If that’s the aim, give me the blame.
I’m not good, I’m not nice,
I’m just right.
I’m the witch.
You’re the world.
I’m the hitch, I’m what no one believes.
I’m the witch.
P.S. February 2011 is my Fairy Tale month. This is the last post, in this series, dealing with Fairy Tales.
P.S.S. For additional enjoyment, search for Fairy Tales at your local library; ask for them at your local bookstore or do a web search. A quick google search got me about 12,000,000 results. You’ll be amazed at the variety there is out there. I could give you names and links to follow but I believe you’ll enjoy the resources more if you do the search yourself.
P.S.S.S. Here is a final recommendation for you. Snow White: A Tale of Terror is a TV movie from 1997. Sigourney Weaver plays the stepmother/witch and is absolutely brilliant. It is another dark tale and definitely not for the squeamish. I would re-watch it tonight but the Oscars are on.