HUB IN THE HOOD: Pioneer Women WWGD?
PIONEER WOMEN: WWGD?
Pioneer women. I think about pioneer women all the time. While I am not certain this is normal behavior, I do know my ancestor-inspired thoughts propel me toward many kinds of otherwise overwhelming activities. These thoughts about pioneers started at age 8 when my parents traded in their suburban life for a rent-free existence on a 200 acre farm in a northern state. The house in which we lived was built in 1816, and although she was a doozy in her heyday she left much to be desired in the way of modern amenities. As a child, I was in heaven. My parents were in hell.
I never heard my mother complain as she split firewood, scraped ice off the inside of the living room walls, herded a nest of skunks out from under the front porch and hauled gallons of drinkable water (filled weekly at a neighboring farm using their garden hose) into the kitchen because the cistern water was laden with lime. I never heard her complain when she patiently waited for her turn to make use of the party line which was our phone service, kill poisonous snakes with a hoe, hull peas until her fingers bled or find us when we got lost in the corn field. I never heard her complain when she smeared Vaseline on our faces, bundled us up like Eskimos and sent us out to play in the snow for fifteen minutes at a time - since the windchill factor was -30. I never heard her complain when she had to drive an hour just to take us to the doctor or the dentist. And even now I am amazed that I cannot remember seeing even one bottle of wine or one prescription anywhere in the house. How did she do it?
My great grandmother was a Native American and she was so awesome she could shoot dinner with a pistol while riding a horse. She reared a gaggle of kids, taught herself how to read and write, could play several instruments, drove a Studebaker and chewed tobacco. My paternal great grandmother worked an enormous farm in the heat of the Southern sun, built a house by hand (which still stands to this day), gave birth to ten kids and still found time to help neighbors. I thought about these two women when I heard myself say, “Yes, Dr., meet me in the parking lot with the epidural and I am begging you to do the tubal.” I thought about them when I heard myself saying, “If I have to go to WalMart on a Saturday you can starve because fighting that crowd gives me hives.” I thought about them last night when I said, “We’re having frozen pizza.”
Pioneer women didn’t have a 24 hour clinic for sick babies, central heat and air, Tampax, mini vans, Dollar Tree or the Orkin man. Pioneer women did not have mani-pedis, $6 Merlot, wrinkle cream or peke-a-poos. (I see why moonshine had its appeal). Pioneer women did not engage in disposable marriages, speed dating, corporate ladders or black Fridays. Instead, Pioneer women birthed multiple children at home and those kids grew up and worked the farm. My grandmother was the youngest of ten - the baby - and she was raised by her older siblings. In fact, those kids helped build a house, raise the babies, cook, clean, harvest crops and take care of livestock. I can’t get mine to move a dirty pair of underoos from the bathroom floor to the hamper 2 feet away!
Whenever I have been daunted by some meticulous task, I clench my fist and whisper, “Granny could’ve done it.” That’s fuel for the fire as I reconnect with a deep inner ability to do the impossible. Everywhere I look I see bracelets saying WWJD. My bracelet would say “WWGD” (What Would Granny Do?) and it would remind me that I am far more able- bodied than modern society allows us the discomfort of being. Just when I think I cannot manage mating that last pair of socks...cannot fathom scribbling one more meal plan...when I can't bear the task of pushing one more buggy through Piggly Wiggly on a Saturday, I forge ahead because I know somewhere, up above, my great grandmothers are shaking their heads and Tsk-ing. Or maybe their mouths are agape as they marvel at my GE 5-eye glass-top stove with the convection oven. Who knows. All I know is that I never want to lose the grit and determination that makes these women such an inspiration to me. I want to be tough - I want to think I can handle whatever comes roaring my way.
Speaking of tough - why is it we praise the fierce accomplishments of these women when in truth, they just lived by the standards of their day? Momentarily, I envision my future great great grand children, who somehow have gotten ahold of my journals and articles and relish the revelation that "granny" (moi) didn't have robots to do everything around the house. I can hear them now, "I guess she had to chop her vegeatables by hand. And do laundry at will! Back then, they only had a few machines to help out with daily life! I don't know how they managed. I want to be tough like her!" Hey....I can dream.
Let us now return to the idea of the true pioneer woman. I recently heard a news bit about a small town deep in the wild heartlands of our nation. These townspeople have started a monthly tradition of holding a public class, free of charge, where a trade or skill is taught. One class was how to properly dress, skin, and butcher a deer; they even taught everyone how to tan the hide! Another class was devoted to the art of candle-making…the old fashion way. These people believe it is possible for our country to someday enter a period in which we must learn to be much more self-sustaining. Crumbling infrastructure aside, I immediately thought about pioneer women. It wouldn't kill me to at least think about sustaining myself. My predecessors made a way and they survived. Surely I can do it too!
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