Recently a friend, Bill, posted on his blog the story of the women in his life, which included his mother, sisters, wife and daughter, and let’s not forget the men along with them. He described his live from early childhood to retirement. Retirement for many of us is still as busy or busier than before we retired. At the end of his blog he asked for comments, here are my comments.
I too grew up in a world where women were expected to stay at home while the man went out to make a living. I was born in January 1949, the first of four children, all born in the Pacific Northwest, as far as I can remember my father worked at three different areas of labor (that’s not to say he worked for only three employers). My first recollection of where he worked was at an ice and cold storage facility, I have vague memories of going with him on a Saturday and running around the ice plant. Next he worked for the railroad, I don’t remember him working there very long, less than a couple of years, since it was shift work there were weeks we did not see him for days at a time. After the railroad he started a series of jobs that spanned the next thirty plus years, he became a salesman. He sold home freezer plans, then furniture and appliances, home delivery of dairy products and back to furniture and appliances. I have met people who knew my dad when he was working and they told me that he could sell ice cubes to native Alaskans in the middle of winter.
All this time my mother stayed at home and did what she was expected to do. Mom did the laundry, cleaned the house, cooked meals and listened to the soap operas on the radio, and later on TV, while ironing. Mom was bored. She didn’t drive for it was not expected of her to drive. If she needed to go somewhere there was the bus or a male friend of the family who would take us if Dad wasn’t available or wait for the weekend or dad’s day off.
It was in my freshman year of high school that mom decided that it was time for her to learn to drive. She had tried several times before with my dad and my uncle, but it always ended up a disaster, of course it was always with a stick shift. Now she asked me to teach her, there was a large parking lot very close to where we lived and it was always empty on the weekend. That is where we would go for her to practice her driving. Later, dad took her out on the roads and highway for her to practice. She passed her drivers exam the first time surprising my dad. It was not long after she took me to get my license.
Now that mom had her driver’s license she no longer wanted to stay home during the day, now she wanted to go shopping without dad, she wanted a Car. Well, dad bought her a used car and on the way home he stopped along the way to have a couple, three, four, you get the picture, drinks. Finally back in the car he proceeds to hit a utility pole and crumpled the right front fender. Mom was so mad she could have spit nails. We got a fender from the salvage yard and mom drove that car with the odd colored fender for several years, she never let my dad get behind the wheel of her car again.
A couple of years later, mom got the itch to work. She went out and got herself a job and quickly rose up to become the lead on the production line. The summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school I went to work at the same place. At work mom was my boss and at home I was her son. During this time mom became pregnant with my sister, I was seventeen and entering my senior year when she was born. Things sure changed at home after the birth, as soon as mom was able and willing to go back to work, she did. It was expected that my brothers and I would do our chores and step up and take care of the baby.
Mom worked at menial jobs, not they weren’t important (at least to her), the rest of her life until she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1987. We lost her in April 1989 at the age of 59. There are things that happen in my life today that reminds me of mom. They are not big things, just small things that cause me to pause and smile.
I married my wife, Kathleen, about four years after high school. We had dated our senior year and after, even when I went into the military we stayed in contact and dated when I came home on leave. After my tour in Viet Nam and now stationed in Germany we got married. I knew when we married that Kathy had a mental illness and a lot of it stemmed from her family life. We made it through the first three years with Kathy in and out of the hospital. We were being reassigned from Oakland, California to Boston, Massachusetts when we found that Kathy was pregnant, after our daughter was born Kathy came off all the meds she was taking. She stayed off the meds for many years taking care of us.
There were times she wanted to go out and work. I encouraged her to go out and find something she would like to do. Kathy was resourceful, she found a job at a day care center as a cook and later as a teacher’s helper working with children with mental and physical disabilities. She did this off and on for several years while going to school and getting her AA degree in Social Work. She did all this until I retired from the Army and we moved back to Oregon. Again she tried to find work, but without luck.
I went through the Carpenters Apprentice program, becoming a journeyman carpenter where I made good money and it came to a point where we felt that Kathy did not need to work outside the home. Shortly thereafter Kathy was back in the hospital and where she was correctly diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder.
Has this life of the military, hospital admissions, becoming a carpenter, 9/11, unemployment, working for a health insurance company and retirement, along with a diagnosis for Kathy of Parkinson’s disease been a strain or a hardship on us or our marriage? Well the short answer is yes and no.
After all these years, we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Our faith has been one our greatest strengths. Yes we are retired and we have one or two illnesses but we stay busy, doing some things together and others apart. She would go crazy with me hanging around every day. She took care of me all those years, now it is my turn to support and take care of her.
We know so many women who work outside the home. Some work in offices, some work in sales, others with advanced degrees work as teachers or in the software industry or are professionals, a couple are in the trades and even one who is an airline pilot. Looking at all these women you will find some that are married, some who are in relationships, some single and others who choose a different lifestyle. Some have children and others do not. What do all of these women have in common? They are happy, well-adjusted and productive assets to our community, our city, state, country and our world.