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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 Thomas Murray on March 7, 2017 at 6:13pm


I have been to both beautiful cities. My mother took me to the famous Seattle underwater town, or is it a mall now? It has been so long ago.... over 35 years ago. I preferred Spokane for its surrounding forest. My overall impression of Washington and the Washingtonians was, and still is, green, ancient, and openness.

I am not a native of Md. I am actually a product of Pacific coast... a beach boy among groves of lemons, avocados and hippie's. I came to the east for college.There I met my future Chinese wife.

I can tell you more but not on this open forum. ...the FBI are looking for us. ;).

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 Thomas Murray on March 7, 2017 at 4:18pm


My mother passed away about 7 years ago. She, her sisters and brothers grew up in Seattle and Spokane. Many of my relatives lives there still.

I dunno if the patriarchs of my families had mistresses during the early part of the 1900s They were not law abiding troupe. There is history of bootlegging and other stuff I will not going to mention here. Because of the difficult time, hardship, unstable economy, they did what they had to do to survive.

The real lost is, not much written history speaks of the turbulent time the mothers had to go through during those difficult and uncertain times.

Comment by Daniel W on February 27, 2017 at 10:15am

Joan, I bet your family will be very grateful for your writing down your story and those of your parents and grandparents' lives.  When young, they may not be so interested, but as they age it can become more precious than any physical object.

Comment by Daniel W on February 27, 2017 at 10:14am

Randy, I think what you are doing is great!  I don't know what to do with the stuff and info that I have accumulated.  I posted some on and I have offered some to paternal cousins, who seem uninterested.  They are the only ones with offspring.  I offered my grandfathers 1906 Army dress uniform and his photos from the Philippine - American war, to local and national military history museums, and they are not interested either.  So, I expect it will all go away with the dust of history.

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? 

Comment by Daniel W on February 26, 2017 at 2:10pm

Joan, that's so interesting.  While the start is very disturbing and sad, you finish with hope. There is also something hopeful about resilience in the face of oppression, even though it is oppressive.   It's surprising to me about the men taking mistresses - I wonder if they had children and what happened to them. 

I don't know enough about my family's social history to even begin to compare.  My mother's parents were tenant farmers, descended from long lines of migratory farmers and woodsmen.  She was the third child born, the only one to survive.  She was born in a one-room house with a dirt floor.  My grandmother said, if this one survives, I will name her after the midwife, so she was named Mildred Maxine.  My grandmother was very sweet, but my mother said she never laughed.  Except one time at a Keystone Cops movie.  I wondered if she was abused some how.  My grandfather raised an occasional steer for sale, but the family's meat came from fishing, hunting quail, squirrel, rabbits, ducks.  I don't think there were deer.  Mostly they ate from the garden, especially turnips, sweet potatoes, sweetcorn, and tomatoes.   Photo is my mothers' parents.  I remember granddad always laughing, joking, and teasing.

On my Dad's side, they were what passed for more cosmopolitan, living in a town that might have been 20,000 at the time I don't know.  My Dad's father was a railroad porter.  His father was a butcher and his, a stonemason.  His mother's father was a factory worker in a paper factory.   The women did not work outside the home, although my grandfather's sister, who never married, was at upper echelon in the tractor equipment factory where most family members worked.  She dominated the family in her later years, and was called by some "the queen bee".   I was the only one in 3 generations who never worked at that factory.  Their parents lived in a Germantown community in one side of the town.  I asked my Dad, why did his parents move to the other side of town, and he said it was to get away from their parents. I get the feeling that Germans, even after several generations into the diaspora, can be overbearing.  Photo at right is my paternal great grandparents and some of their their children at a picnic, maybe mid 1930s.  I never knew my dad's mother, she died when I was an infant, supposedly of complications of diabetes at Christmas. 

My parents were typical post WWII small town couple, moved into a house in the newer part of town within walking distance of the factory where my dad worked and where my mother worked until my older brother was born.  Then she stayed home.  The Baptist church was also walking distance, and was also my family's social life.   I think my Mom was depressed sometimes too, although photos always show her smiling and laughing.  I don't think there was even a hint of physical abuse, they really did appear to love each other, but my dad was clearly the unquestionable financial manager.  My dad worked 8 to 5, walked home, my mom did the household work.  She saved GreenStamps to buy things that she wanted but didn't fit in the budget.  On weekends we worked on the garden or went to the family farm in Missouri and worked there, or fished on the Mississippi river or in the farm pond.

The trend in my family was, all of the men joined the Army.  It wasn't a military family, but it seems that is how it worked out.  In my generation, I joined the army against my parents wishes - they were horrified - and my brother was not qualified. 

The last photo is my Mom, in the early 60s.  My parents had such similar temperaments, I don't know who I turned out more like.  Sometimes I think it's my Dad, sometimes I think I am most like my Mom.  I'm thinking about making a pots and pans rack like the one in my photo, that my Dad made, and I often make dinner rolls like the ones in the photo that my Mom made.

I wound up being an outcast.  Some of that was, like previous generations, to escape the overbearing aspects of family and community.  Some - maybe more - was my own journey for exploration and continuous self creation and redefinition.   I called every week, and visited often especially when they became very old.  But I never talked about my own personal life.  That was a line that could not be crossed, I lived my life as one person, and visited them as another.  That was especially hard when bad things happened, but I did not want them to be ashamed, or alternatively, tell me how to live.  In some ways, I wish they knew me better, and that I knew them better.


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