In memory of ‘Mom’, known as ‘Nana’ to her grand children and ‘Nananat’ to her hordes or admiring younger women friends and ‘Nat’ or “Natalie’ to her cohorts in her own age group,
I shall quote from a journal dated 1960. On the opening pages of a date book it is inscribed M D Edwards, Production (Radio) Radio Building 305 and Mom has lightly scratched out Dad’s name and written Old Lady.
The first page has a list of her children and their sizes for her sewing projects.
The second page begins with a quote in capital letters:
AFTER ALL, A MAN WHO HATES DOGS AND CHILDREN CAN’T BE ALL BAD…
W C FIELDS
This is followed by,
” I try to look forward gaily to the 60’s but the thought of the next ten years…strikes terror..”
That one sentences reminded me of a painful patch of mine when I was dragging myself through anxiety and depression. I kept smiling while barely eating or sleeping.
You know when you are in love and every time you meet someone or talk to someone you wonder if they are in love? Or when you are pregnant and you see pregnant women everywhere? Well anxiety and depression has a similar effect. You wonder how people get to old age, and why. Every individual encounter leaves you wondering what keeps that person going.
When I read Mom’s sentence I realized she must have been exhausted. She could not picture getting my brother Rhys (who was very sick on and off) from seven to seventeen.
How does it happen? And then it does! And everything changes in ten years in ways you never would have expected.
From the first page you know the rest of the journal is going to be interesting, and it is. Her insights do reassure young mothers and ‘homewives’ (as my child calls me) even now.
Natalie is an industrious wife; painting, cleaning,sorting and budgeting madly while caring for her 3 little children. She is thoughtful about her faults and her diary is interspersed with information on the children and their development, comments about marriage, reviews of theater and books, and recounting many parties and informal gatherings of drinking.
A comment on my Dad that I find more funny than depressing because, well, I am married.
“Murray off to Guelph – thank heavens! Phew. He’s been worse than impossible to live with lately. Furious at catching ‘my’ cold ( but of course he always catches everyone’s and mad as hops at me for daring to get ANOTHER!) – and no doubt worried and concerned very much (and this I think is it) over his folks arrival and the problems he will have to face – and added to this the continual thesis – the thesis he scarcely works on and yet is always there – – .. so Let’s hope he enjoys his trip away as much as I think I will.”
Then she moves on to one of her bursts of honest self analysis:
” A horrible conclusion today – struck me as a result of something I happened to read – that I am one of those women who see their ‘job’ primarily as a shopper and cook; a housekeeper, cleaner etc. – as opposed to those who see themselves first as wife, companion and mother of their children. I do indeed think of my value as useful, economic etc. – how capably I shop is far too important. Why? On reflection, to consider my value from the human standpoint is certainly preferable. I’ll think more on this – perhaps the key to change in me is right here.”
“I try, of course, to rationalize myself out of this and look for some way in which it could be the OM (Old Man) ‘s fault. (if he didn’t think of me that way I ..) but realize it’s quite useless. All too obviously this relates only to me – and I think I’ve made an obvious and a stupid error, underestimating my self and giving little value compared to what I could by a different outlook to Murray and children.”
She continues, “Colds are loathsome and so in my temper. Rhys does 100,000 disobedient things – resort to wooden spoon. All unhappy”.
The details of her diary bring the sixties housewife to life. Well, this sixties housewife. She is always taking on huge jobs while juggling the three little children. And then having a party. She delights in recounting good meals and good theater. She writes down what flowers she has planted and what colour she has painted the back entry. She writes some details about the children’s health and school.
She has a house cleaner. (Oh, what I would give for a woman to help me clean my massive house too, it is not just the extra hands but the company).
“Mrs Mueller cleans up and we all feel better for it – also things better too and I keep distance and try to hold temper. On verge – if I ‘m good I’ll get children on my side and then OK ,of course. Mustn’t be so nervous and irritable – Just like my Dad! Ah if only I could recapture that sweet calm negligent attitude of pregnancy for other times!”
The next page:
“Paint the kitchen radiator from 2- 2:30 solid (use aluminum paint). Then sand and paint the little tricycle for Kate. Spent nearly all a.m. repairing trikes: fixed the pedal back on Rhys’ (Liz’s now) and then drilled holes in Kate’s saddle and bolted seat back on and repaired pedal etc. Feel clever and useful. (smiley face). Bake an angel food cake too. And don’t lose temper at all (face with halo over it, smiling). ”
She also worries and frets and feels anxious about cost of new dryer until they finally decide what to buy and have it in installed. (No she does not install it herself).
“Laundered- oh blessed dryer! What a joy!! What a difference it makes to my work- and I can dry anytime- and laundering seems so little effort now- ha heaven! (big smiley face!)”
Can you believe that I don’t have a dryer? Well, I don’t. Have not had one for ten years and I have got used to it. But, blessed dryer, you could dry any old time!
One more bit, but this could go on all day:
“Had a dream – woke up after hysterical screaming ( in sleeping – not real) and all I can recall now was that Rhys had died- I kept realizing I’d never feel his soft skin and his hair. I couldn’t get over the awful horror of him gone; couldn’t believe – oh it was a hideous dream – and also in my dream someone else died soon before and I remember feeling I was losing everyone. And then I woke up – my anguished screaming still resounding in my head- and slowly became aware of the truth – the lovely sweet truth! I lay still and appreciated it quietly and peacefully – and then I went up to see Rhys and we lay and talked and I touched the soft skin and the hair and we smiled at each other. How wonderful! In my dream I recall he looked so young and soft and little, and surely he is – just a little boy. It was a good dream and I hope it has done me good- for I forget how close everything can be to the end at anytime; I forget to appreciate. ”
All right, you have heard from time vault today. The 1960’s appeared before your eyes. Your house wife,even while cleaning and drilling holes in tricycles, was most likely wearing a pretty dress that she had sewn herself, tight around her tiny waist. She had on large black glasses and her blond hair was pulled back in a ponytail. She was proud of her house and her dramatic and moody husband working in theater and radio. She loved her beautiful children, especially when they were good. When she dressed up she wore red lipstick and put foundation on her nose, which she considered big and red.
Now I must run off and clean and cook. By the time I was a young maturing girl my Mom had left this sixties housewife life long behind. She left a different legacy with me. When I was 13 she was changing her life – it was all about writing and working and loving, but more of that later.