Wednesday, April 23, 2014

My Life in Words, Part Twelve: Gender roles

My mom's story continues, this is one of my favorite stories of my Me-maw lighting her brother on fire, The memoirs began here, last installment here

when Janie was born, so was her chore list

The relationship between my grandmother and her mother had a very  profound impact on her interactions with her daughters.  My grandmother’s birth was seen as the birth of household help for Lizzie.  That is not to say that she did not love her daughter, but in the early part of the 1900s, gender roles were very strictly defined.  If Lizzie had had only sons, she would have had many beds to make and meals to cook.  Sons would not have been seen as a help for their mother unless it was doing physical labor such as bringing in wood, or carrying heavy burdens.  They would not cook and they would not have made beds, washed clothes, or ironed.  It just was not done.  But when Janie was born, so was her chore list. 

She would seethe with anger

  She often told of cooking when she had to stand on a stool to do so.  That act of standing on the stool at the stove was seen differently by me and my grandmother.  She saw it as a child being forced to do something before she had the maturity to do it.  She often told of making beds.  And it was NOT the bed making we know today of slipping on a fitted sheet, then snapping open a flat sheet so it could float down to cover the bed.  It was anything but a happy activity.  The mattresses were made of feathers and any depression upon the bed meant that the making of it had to be restarted.  Janie would complain about fighting to make the beds in the time frame her mother expected – no, demanded.  The only problem with this time frame was that it occurred when her brothers, or “the boys” as she called them, were out hunting.  They would then come home from the hunt, or from their morning masculine chores, and do what came naturally – they flopped down on their beds.  The feather beds.  The beds that their slim sister had fought to make perfect enough to avoid her mother’s wrath.  She would seethe with anger.  

blazingly clear

This went on for a few years until the time came when the man courting her, my future grandfather, heard her complaints about bed making.  He merely thought of a way to possibly  change the behavior of her brothers, by suggesting she take a cigarette paper, slipping it between a brother’s toes, and setting fire to it.  Sounds good in theory and would probably even work in practice.  If the brother in question, Audrey, weren’t such a sound sleeper.   So my grandmother, being a young 15 year old who had never been out of 20 mile radius, and in the absence of her suitor, made a decision without thinking it through to its inevitable consequences.  She took newspapers, wrapped them around her brother’s foot, tied them on, and then set the match to her innovation.  Yes, it woke him up.  His screams also woke the other brothers up.    While it made for a funny story years later, he ended up in a hospital, which was indicative of a serious injury in the 1920s.   Later, I chose to believe that it wasn’t as serious as it was described because as is the case in most stories passed down through the generations, the acts become bigger, the results more astounding, and the aftereffects more unsettling.  But there were no permanent injuries that I am aware of and yes, my grandmother’s true feelings about bedmaking became blazingly clear!

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Thanks Joseph Smith, Jr.

We could do it
If anyone could, It would be us
I'd navigate my doubts
And we would be an anomaly

Then you said,  "This."
"This, I won't talk about with you"
That moment told me more than ALL the books
It was a vast library in one statement

If tables were turned
I would have read every book for you
Faced every question you asked,  "This"
"This I will talk about with you"

You never yelled, never got mad
You put it in a compartment and ignored
Being ignored hurts more
Solitary amongst the noise

It faded away, talking waned to typing
typing became mere texts
You still can't talk
And I can no longer be ignored

Water moved under the bridge
A sea of change in droplets
The new question now was - What hurts more?
Watching it rot? or Watching it burn?

If you would only talk to me
What scares you more-
That I might be hateful?
Or that I might be logical?

The erosion of friendship painted a mural
A game of percentages
Day to day casual of the 75 percent yet never
Authenticity for the whole

I went all in
And called the bluff
Talk to me or I've had enough
Again I heard that I had heard before

"This, I won't talk about with you"
Out of self preservation
I toe tagged the friendship

Had I killed it or only admitted defeat?
Put out on the table
What could not be said

Can the devout walk with those who doubt?
Can the apostate and the believer
See eye to eye?
They can only try.

But us?
We could not talk about it.