Monday, July 13, 2009

Good Wives

No, this isn't a post about my marriage. You can relax. Nobody needs to shift uncomfortably in his/her seat, or call my husband to tattle. For the sake of everyone's feelings, I'm going to try to steer clear of that arena, mostly. At least on this blog.

This is a post about the women who lived in Northern New England during the years 1650-1750. I'm reading about them, again, in Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's historical account, Good Wives. That is what they were called. If you've read Puritan or Colonial-era novels and ever wondered why every woman's name seemed to be 'Goody', well, that's why. It was used like "Mrs." is today, a term of respect, and even admiration for a woman who took her job as a wife and keeper seriously. For some reason, every now and again when I need a kick in the pants about housework and other duties, reading about the colonial women and their lives is both comforting and inspiring to me.

Whenever I think that my domestic burdens might overtake me, a reminder that I don't have to keep a fire going, milk a cow or butcher a pig, bottle peaches, bake bread (after my husband grows the wheat and mills it in town), spin, weave, or mend, sweep, cook, and scrub laundry, all by hand, and all without any convenience (the least of which would be air conditioning! whew!), I begin to feel a whole lot better. And then, oddly, reading about the industriousness and efficiency, and productivity of my colonial sisters prods me to get up and do something in my sphere of homemaking and housekeeping. And not only to do it, but to do it with joy and thanksgiving that I have a house and home to keep, a family to care for, the strength of body to fulfill my duties, and all the modern conveniences of the year 2009!

I worked on a flower bed in the front yard last week, needing something living and green to care for. I toiled in the hot sun, digging down and turning over the soil, and then planting and watering. Every evening Conor and I go out to water, and I can't help but feel like singing to see them all still alive and thriving!

My yard, oh my sad yard!, deadened patches of grass, overtaken with the vilest of weeds, I've turned my attention to its resurrection. Digging weeds, spraying weeds, pulling weeds. Watering grass, watering dirt, raking and aerating. Lots of praying and faith, surely. It would seem to even the most hopeful eye to be a lost cause. We'll see. There are lessons there for me, of that I am acutely aware and humbled by.

It's criminal, isn't it? And after sweeping it up, it will look like this again in three days.

Sweeping the patio and driveway free of the millions of pieces of walnut shells, dropped there by the snickering, infernal squirrels that help themselves to the black walnuts in the backyard tree. I have a very difficult time thinking charitable squirrel thoughts during the summer.

More raking. More sweeping. A few impatiens plants under the walnut tree. A red geranium on the front porch. Nothing really even noticeable to anyone but me, but these things take time. And more and more it has been pressing on my mind to plant a garden. So much work would need to be done, but I am fixed and determined to find a way. One hundred square feet in the backyard and then some herb and strawberry beds along the side yard. A little at a time, it will get there. I need it. My soul needs it. Growth and life and fruitfulness.

Then I bake. With love. I baked a cake for a friend's husband's birthday this weekend. I don't even know why I volunteered, but I did, and it gave me joy. Tonight, a picnic with the ward, and I will bring something nourishing.

I feel like sewing. (But not mending, sorry, Laurel. Didn't get me there yet.) I feel like maybe some light housework--no scouring, necessarily. But still, I feel a kinship with these women who came before me, these women among whom I have ancestors and have done temple work for. These women who maybe passed down to me through ancient DNA a love of house and hearth, a happy family, and a hard day's work.

It does a woman good.


Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

I just want to shout amen after reading this. The worst days are the days of self-indulgence with little work and far too much play. There is little satisfaction in them. Little joy. Beautiful post, Jenna.

Josi said...

Oh how I looooove the satisfaction of accomplishment. This sounds like a great book for me to read--I love that about pioneer books, the sheer industry of it. And way to go--the flowers are beautiful and in a few weeks they will be bounteous :-)

Luisa Perkins said...

Suddenly I am seeing L.T. Ulrich everywhere! It's a lovely synchronicity.

You go, girl! I'm glad I'm not the only one baking chocolate cakes and weeding. And I just ordered the fabric for the most darling skirt....

Rachel Sue said...

I know your feelings. I taught a lesson on the Temple in RS yesterday and it got me to thinking. Did you know the Saints made carpet for the Kirtland and Nauvoo temples? Carpet! And here I am complaining about keeping my yard watered. I am so grateful that I live in the time of AC!

Hannah said...

What a great post Jenna. I needed that reminder today,

Your cake looks so yummy and I'm loving the little flower bed.

PS, just in case you ever wanted to, don't plant tomatoes near your black walnut tree. It spreads some sort of poison to tomato plants (and maybe others too, not sure)

Turleygirl said...

Beautiful post - loved it!

Abby said...

Ah, this post makes me feel good. And also gave me a kick in the pants to put away all of the dang laundry already, woman! It's wrinkled and piled to high heaven! Goodness!

I envy you your ability and want to sew..the only kind I CAN mending. So, you sew..I'll mend.

I've been staring at those seeds dad sent around for Mother's day..since Mother's day. I'm thinking about planting them. Perhaps I'll have to boot the children outside and then plant while they play merrily around me.

Love you! I want to eat that cake. Nom.

Saint Holiday said...

Hey, Jenna! Is there a book out there called "Good Husbands?" I know what you're going to say, "Dad, you could write that book." Well, actually, I could use a little more training, despite appearances. If I could learn to be a good husband, maybe my wives wouldn't leave me all the time for greener, happier pastures. I would be a good monk. "The Good Monk," by St. Holiday. Or "Monkey Man, the Tragic Story of St. Holiday." If we wrote a book about you, it would be called, "The Best Wife." I love you.

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