As far back as I remember, all I’ve ever wanted to be was a homemaker.
And for all that time, I’ve been ashamed of it.
Perhaps I was born at the wrong time.
During the era when I was growing up, in the 1970s, being a homemaker was being devalued. It’s never been a high status profession, but it had once been a respectable one, and indeed formerly there were few alternatives for women.
And before we knew it, women had to go to work to hold body and mind together; the two-income family became seemingly the only formula that would allow for survival.
But beginning in early childhood, the tasks of homemaking were what I always loved: baking pans of bran muffins and learning to bake loaf bread, and helping my mother make preserves, wonderfully syrupy preserves because she couldn’t bring herself to use all the sugar the recipe called for (I can’t either).
Adults would brag on my cooking, and it made me feel self-conscious for being so backwards. “She made the pie crust from scratch!” they would say, as if I’d grown the grain, winnowed it myself, ground it between two rocks, and milked the cow that gave the butter.
“She planted her own garden,” they’d announce, eyes wide. Bless her heart, would be the implication. Maybe she can get a job at one of those reenactment museums.
I was an anachronism in a world where smart young girls were going to train for careers and become professionals in jobs in which having the time to grow a garden and roll out pastry would not be possible, or desirable.
Then in the eighties, I went out into the world and went to college, trying to decide on a career path, as they call it. I inwardly only wanted a home, and a garden, and a family. Trying to find a career that would leave room for these desires wasn’t easy. In fact, I never really found it.
All my life I’ve felt guilty for following this need, this irrepressible want to grow, to create, and to write about it. I should be at the top of a lucrative profession by now. I should be using my education. I should definitely be driving a newer car.
I feel very stubborn for ignoring the shoulds and following the wants. For filing shovel blades and gathering mushrooms when I should be filing reports and gathering data, for raising sourdough when I should be getting raises at work. I should be stepping into a Lexus in a suit instead of hopping into a station wagon in muddy jeans.
I would be a real, responsible adult then.
I would be successful.
I wouldn’t be wasting my time and energy making pie from scratch when I could be buying it from Mrs. Callender’s.
I wouldn’t be me.
As we left the land and handed it over to agribusiness, as we left the kitchen and turned it over to industrial food processing corporations, we did so with such disdain for gardening and cooking. Our parents worked hard to see we could get a higher education and didn’t have to spend our lives breaking our backs with menial labor. And I’m grateful they did, because it’s wonderful to have a choice. It’s wonderful to have the capability to become physicists or teachers or businesspeople, and we need those professionals.
I’m afraid, though, we threw the baby out with the bathwater. We also still need homemakers and farmers, and there should be no shame in that. No disappointment.
In the words of Wendell Berry, “. . . we must learn again to think of human energy, our energy, not as something to be saved, but as something to be used and to be enjoyed in use. We must understand that our strength is, first of all, strength of body, and that this strength cannot thrive except in useful, decent, satisfying, comely work. There is no such thing as a reservoir of bodily energy. By saving it—as our ideals of labor-saving and luxury bid us to do—we simply waste it, and waste much else along with it.” (The Unsettling of America, Counterpoint Edition, 2015, p. 224).
Maybe one day I’ll be able to say, I’m a homemaker and a home gardener, without a lingering feeling of having let myself down.
The pendulum swings back and forth.
Meanwhile, there’s homemade pie, and that will easily tide me over until then.
Here’s the recipe: Rustic Berry Tart