This I Believe

Karen - Snohomish, Washington
Entered on October 10, 2006
Age Group: 50 - 65

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

fresh produce.


> 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

and skill.


> 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

“overtime fines.”


> 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.