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Joan Denoo

in my family, it was not uncommon for men to have mistresses, even as they had wives at home who bore one child after another and very close together. Most women of my grandmother's era stopped having children after five or six and I asked why that was. One told me she stopped having sex after the fifth child. Tensions in her household were high and I thought it was because my grandfather had a mistress. Looking back, I think the mistress was a relief to grandma. The tension was she had full responsibility of raising their children by herself because he was always at the "Smoke Shop". Asking my other grandmother, I received the same answers and for the same reasons. 
I wonder what both sets of grandparents lives would have been like if they had family planning, if they limited their children to as many as they could afford, and there were no third party intruding into their lives. 

I come from a small town and everyone knew everything about everyone. One of the social gatherings was quilt making. Women of the village gathered in my grandmother's living room where a huge wooden frame was pulled up to the ceiling for storage and dropped down when they worked on patch work quilts. They chattered endlessly, I suppose like in the old days when women gathered at the well to get water and news. Their chatter implied to me some commonalities: they all had more children than they could care for, all the husbands spent time at the "Smoke Shop", and when the wives became tired or ill or frustrated they would complain and get a very hard slap, if not a beating. I remember a lot of black eyes, bruised arms, and weeping and wailing. Nothing ever changed for any of them until they were dead and buried. 

For my mother's generation, the Great Depression was coming to an end, WWII was building up, until all the men, except for a very few who farmed or worked in the grain elevators, went to war or went to construction jobs to build air fields and military bases around the world. My father and all but one of my uncles left; women took over the businesses, shops, banking, and provided goods and services to our community. Many women moved to the cities to work in factories or fill positions vacated by absent men gone to war. They didn't have the pill yet, but these women had much smaller families. After the war, they wanted to become homemakers but inflation made it impossible. Women started going to work for wages, My mother and many others returned to school for professional training. Returning soldiers wanted their wives doing their domestic work and do paid work as they could. It didn't take long for working mothers wearing out from the double load. An old tradition remained alive in the culture. Whine and complain, take a beating, forgive, and repeat and repeat and repeat. Husbands wanting stay-at-home wives and frustrated when dinner wasn't ready or clothes weren't clean and they would turn to the method of control they learned from their fathers. Unresolved conflict remained, ancient methods of dealing with frustration remained. 

My generation is the generation of the pill and of paid work for women and shared work with fathers. Husbands tried to use beatings to regain control over wives and wives said "NO". We simply left, finding no benefit in marriage. In fact, it is a barrier to happiness and health for many women. Dependent women need marriage; independent women don't chose it out of need, but out of desire for companionship.

We enter a new era. What of the old traditions are worthy of carrying forward and which should be dropped. Perhaps family life will strengthen, at least that is what is happening in my children's generation. Their families seem to work as teams, not as master and slaves. Children seem happier, doing very well at the hard sciences and I enjoy learning from them. "Great-grandchild, help me figure out this computer, please!" 
From my perspective, life is getting far better for women ... and I hope for men.

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Comment by Compelledunbeliever on March 10, 2017 at 8:41am

 Ruth I think you are right. I can't imagine having a silent, subservient wife. My wife is intelligent and will challenge me at the drop of a dime. Yes, this is a real pain in the ass sometimes, but it always keeps our relationship interesting and exciting! She always challenges me and makes me a better person. She is still a theist. She has recently admitted that she doesn't actually believe, but just likes the idea of God. so she is really an atheist but doesn't know it. The reason I bring this up is without her constantly challenging me
I simply would not be prepared to address atheism with others. After facing my worst critic that pulls no punches its nothing to be a shameless atheist.  A keep you mouth shut in church and public woman would not have made me a better man. How on earth could men have ever been so stupid? Why did women ever allow it? Hopefully we never go back to such sexism.     

Comment by Joan Denoo on March 7, 2017 at 5:45pm

Thomas, have you been to Spokane? or Seattle? Sykesville, MD is a long way away. How did you come to live on the east coast? I lived in Bethesda, Md for two years while my husband took his residency in prosthetic dentistry at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and Georgetown University in 1968-9. We were there for the Civil Rights struggles, through the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the burning of Anacostia. I taught school at Valley Green Housing Project in Anacostia.

Comment by Randall Smith on February 27, 2017 at 7:30am

Wow, a 2fer!  Joan's blog and Daniel's "comment". I enjoyed reading both, dispite some ugly truths. 

I'm the "genealogist" in the family. What I've discovered and concluded is that my ancestors didn't leave anything to judge them by. Nobody kept diaries or journals, nor information about their family histories. Only one great grandmother wrote an autobiography which is very precious to me. However, she fails to say what caused her son to die at age 35 when my mother was only 6 years old. My mother never knew. I guess the grief of his early death prevented anybody from talking about it. (I'm guessing leukemia from symptoms I've gleened.)

Anyway, I have already written my autobiography, write a journal, keep "valuables". It's not so much I want to be remembered "forever"--it's just that I don't want my descendants to wonder who "ol' Granddad Smith" was. A tombstone name and date isn't enough.

Comment by Joan Denoo on February 26, 2017 at 11:26pm

Daniel, thanks for sharing your story. My great-grandson just turned 18 years old and will be graduating high school this June. I wonder how he will tell his story? 



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