One day in high school, a friend of mine didn’t dress for PE. I asked her what was the matter, and she pointed out that it was “that time of the month.” Oh. Hmmm … I had one of those every month, too, but it never really altered what I did from day to day. I mean, I cannot even imagine his reply if I’d have said to my dad on one of those 5:30 a.m. wake-up calls, “Oh, I’m sorry. I cannot go out and milk the cows this morning because it’s ‘that time of the month.’ Seriously?
Okay, I know I’ve gone on and on about my farm-girl life on Ricochet. But, it was the only life I knew, and it totally shaped everything I was, and am, and will be. For instance: I just didn’t understand the Women’s Rights movement when it began to rock the world as I was becoming a woman myself. I didn’t know that women needed to be liberated. I, personally, didn’t know any oppressed women.
It may have been my naivete or my small world, but most of the women I knew were pretty much equal in power and status to the men I knew. Some of these women had a paying job — they worked in town in a business, or they were a teacher, or they owned their own business (hairdresser, piano teacher) or were nurses. The rest of the women in my world, including my own mother, were equal to the men in their lives because they were married to a farmer.
My mother graduated from high school, attended business college, and then worked as a secretary in a nearby city during WWII while she wrote letters to my dad, who was a Navy radioman on an island in the Pacific. He used to say that he “listened to the war.” When the war ended, they were married, and within six months of their wedding, they had returned to our isolated mountain valley to be farmers. They loved it — both the valley and the farming!
My mom milked the cows each night, drove machinery, maintained her chicken coop of 100 hens, sold the eggs, cooked all the meals, did all the laundry, gave birth to eight children, and kept our house neat and clean. No, I do not know how she did this. My dad was also as busy: irrigating, milking in the morning, and growing and harvesting the crops. In winter, he was feeding the animals the hay they’d stacked up during the summer, driving a school bus (so they could have health insurance as a district employee) and maintaining the buildings, fences, and, and … I can’t even tell you all the jobs!
The idea that I would beg off doing my chores because I was having “that time of the month” never even crossed my mind. I watched my mother milk cows when she was nine months pregnant. I know that my dad didn’t necessarily want her doing that, but she did it because he had other things to do that she couldn’t do in that condition. I’m sure she was delighted that, for the youngest four children, she no longer had to milk cows because we older daughters were perfectly capable of doing it without her by then.
Neither of my parents was The Boss. They both were. They worked together. My mother kept the books. My dad made fudge or oyster stew sometimes. My dad and we children did the branding each spring. My mother oversaw the done-with-laying hen “harvest” — two days of chopping off heads, plucking out feathers, and removing innards so that she could cook the birds and preserve the meat and broth in Mason jars. Or, in the case of the young heavy breeds she raised each year — get put away whole in the freezer for a roast chicken dinner in the middle of winter.
My husband has always appreciated that I was raised in a world of competency. I was not a little delicate flower that he had to care for. His family had a cattle ranch, so he didn’t know many delicate little female flowers. Neither of us wanted to stay forever in that valley, so we left for other adventures. That was 45 years, five children, four states, and several careers ago. We work together. He has skills that I don’t have. I have skills that he doesn’t have. Some of them are totally related to our genders, I’m convinced. But, I hope we’ve raised our children to understand that, just because men and women aren’t the same, there isn’t a list that is gender specific. You just work hard and do what you can, and don’t let other people’s notions of limits keep you in a box.