This I Believe – We’ve left behind some of the young women of this
> I’m not sure how much of who I am was formed through the influence of a
heavy-set, heavily-accented Finnish matriarch in the form of my maternal
grandmother, who died at the age of 85 having outlived two husbands and 3 of
her own children; or through having lost my own father at the tender age of
eight years and taken the role of the second adult in the family. All I know
is as a female growing up in the ’50s and ’60s, my life was very full of rules
and expectations. The expectation was that I would be fully capable and
prepared to live a productive and responsible life, and the rules that were
put in place were very carefully designed to bring that about.
> Life lessons were taught early and often. Aside from the personal rules,
such as clean hair and clothes and highly polished shoes, there were lessons
on the necessity of growing food for our own consumption, as well as learning
the best way to purchase what we couldn’t provide for ourselves. Huge gardens
were tended to carefully all summer long, much to my chagrin, as they required
constant weeding . I always thought playing was a much better use of my time.
I knew the value of a 25-cent soup bone procured from the local butcher – it
would magically become a very tasty Friday night dinner, wonderfully aromatic
though often lacking those rare morsels of beef. No beef in the soup? That
was okay, as we would have consumed our protein through other sources. A
lunch box that contained home-canned fruit carefully placed in a baby food jar
was always something to look forward to during a first-grade lunch break; the
sandwich on home-baked brown bread seldom contained baloney or peanut butter.
In fact, I often begged for baloney “like the other kids had.” I learned
early that there was no need for prepared foods when one could prepare them at
home, again and often to my chagrin. Fresh fruit was gleaned during the
seasons and either stored carefully in a cold spot (apples buried in bins of
sawdust, away from the frost), frozen, made into jam or jelly, or put up in
quart jars to be consumed over winter, when there wasn’t much in the way of
> New dresses were carefully crafted on the home sewing machine; woollen
mittens and sweaters magically appeared from the bags of raw wool that my
grandmother would travel by bus 10 miles to retrieve, to be home spun and
knitted. Every year a new “Indian sweater” was especially knitted for us, to
protect us from the cold of northwest winters.
> As the mother of a girl child, early on I worked hard at imparting these
wonderful childhood memories and experiences to my daughter, who through the
benefit of a country childhood, skillfully learned how to raise animals and
food for personal consumption. As an adult, she bakes bread from scratch
without the benefit of a machine. She can identify a meat cut and grade it as
if a professional. She handles horses with a firm but gentle hand. She can sew
anything she feels the need to. She can cater a dinner for 50 or 5 with ease
> I was in Wal-Mart not too long ago and was standing in line behind a very
young family of four. The children looked pale, as if they had not had enough
sleep and probably ate too many high calorie, nutritionally empty meals. The
mother was thin, pale, and very haggard looking. The father of the children
was well dressed and carried the money. As I glanced in the cart that they
were pushing, I became very sad. They were there purchasing their food for a
week maybe? Two weeks? I don’t know this for sure because I did not talk to
them. But it wasn’t because I didn’t want to.
> Their cart was full of a lot of prepared foods (already buttered french
bread in a fancy foil pack), already made pancakes, already made french toast,
frozen vegetables, a lot of “tv dinners,” sweet cereal, cookies, large loaves
of plain white bread …a veritable display of the foods that young mothers of
this day depend on to get them through their lives. As I looked at this young
mother, I wanted so badly to ask her who had taught her, if anyone, “home
economics” as we used to call it. Was she ever taught about preparing foods
on her own? Did she have a cookbook containing recipes for the simplest but
tastiest of home-baked cookies? Did she have the skills to read a supermarket
label that indicates the fact that sweet cereal costs $10 a pound? Did she
understand that high levels of sodium and empty calories in the form of fats
and simple sugars do not result in healthy children or parents?
> When their food had all been tallied and placed in bags, the husband handed
over $120 to cover the cost of their purchases. I felt immediate sadness,
thinking on the real potential of that $120.
> As they walked away, I empathized briefly with this young family, who
through financial constraints probably had to place their children in daycare
at six weeks of age, and then hand over the first $600 they make in two weeks
paying someone else to care for their children. By her appearance, the
mother’s days are long and exhausting, and guilt weighs heavily on the hearts
of both parents who don’t get to spend enough time with their infant and
toddler children because they both have to at full time jobs; all too often
these jobs are of the $9/hour variety.
> After I had paid for my items and was making my way to my car, still
pondering this young family, I saw them getting into their vehicle. I
questioned my beliefs that “woman’s lib” has been great for all of us – don’t
get me wrong, I am self-sufficient and pay my own way. I am thankful for the
women who have gone before me and removed a lot of the preconceived notions
about women’s abilities to perform all manner of jobs.
> However, it would seem that we have missed out on something HUGE here. In
our haste to break the glass ceilings and do it our way, we have left too many
young women in limbo – with the desire to follow our lead but without the
benefit of the learning we obtained from our mothers and grandmothers that
gave us those very, very important life skills. Maybe what we learned from
grandmothers and mothers as children isn’t as important as it once was – I
mean, really, when we can buy fresh produce all winter at a decent cost, and
goodness knows, a hamburger can be purchased in less than a minute for a
dollar without the necessity to get out of our car, do we need to know all
that “stuff?” I think yes.
> I’m not so sure that our world is as good a place as it could be for young
women, particularly those at the bottom of the economic pecking order, whose lives
balance precariously between getting enough sleep and getting to work everyday
on time, getting the kids to bed on time so they can arise at an ungodly early
hour, and dropping them off and picking them up from daycare on time to avoid
> And I wonder, had they had the benefit of the upbringing I had, and the one
I gave my own daughter, if their lot wouldn’t be an easier one, with a few
bucks to spare at the end of the month.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.