A while back, I read In Pieces by Sally Field. For the first two chapters, she dives deep into her family’s roots and the family dynamic into which she was born. She talks about growing up in a house full of women. At one point, she says (and I’m paraphrasing here) that men would come and go in her grandmother’s house and everyone including the house held their breath. Then, when the men left, there was a collective sigh of relief. It was almost as if they could go about their business now that the menfolk weren’t around. I found that observation profound and it got me thinking about the house full of women I was born into.
I was brought home from the hospital to house mostly full of women. Yes, my Grandpa and Uncle lived there but they were gone to work and school respectively for most of the day. My days were spent with my Grandmother, my two Aunts and at night, my Mother. When Grandaddy passed away and my Uncle moved out, it truly was just us hens. Like Field, if I think about it, I can remember the shift in dynamics when men came around. It was pronounced and different. I don’t necessarily remember breath holding but I recall the way everything revolved around the man. I’m sure a very small portion of that fawning was the fact that this person was typically a visitor. You always fawn over your visitor. That is a rule drilled into everyone’s head in the South. But, I think the fawning was more of a sign of the times – a time when men were the ones you tried to please and whose favor you sought.
Speaking of a sign of the times, Field talks heavily about her Grandmother and the unimaginable tragedies she suffered as a young woman. My own Grandmother endured many tragedies as a young woman as well. It’s interesting how most people back then buried their feelings and didn’t talk about personal tragedy or trauma. There was no time to dwell on foolishness like feelings. You drug yourself up off the ground and did your duty. Nowadays it’s perfectly acceptable to tackle feelings. From seeking a mental health professional to taking to your bed; any number of solutions are perfectly acceptable. But, but back then, not so much.
And, what of my Grandmother’s circle of women? My Grandmother was the youngest in a family of mostly male children. She had sisters but none with whom she was close. My Grandmother had three surviving girl children but was only close to one. I know my Grandmother had female friends. I heard her tell stories of how she and the neighbor women hung out while the children played on their street. I know they helped each other but did they talk? Did they use each other as a sounding board? I’ll never know.
It’s interesting to see how the company of women has changed over the generations. I didn’t have a built-in group of women in my household but I was lucky enough to have a very tight group of women I hung out with on almost a daily basis when my children were very small. We were as close as a family for a few years. We helped with each other’s children. We had girls nights and bitch sessions where we discussed everything from childrearing woes and victories to marital struggles. We talked about our feelings. And, yes there was a definite shift when the men were around but not as much of a shift as I remember when I was a child. We certainly weren’t trying to impress them. More often than not I remember the men congregating to themselves, usually around a bbq pit, and hiding from us (the women and children) as much as possible. Above all, I find it fascinating how no matter how many generations have passed we as women still try to find that group, that company of women that helps us raise our young. And, how influential that group of women is for the rest of our lives – influencing us when don’t even realize it.
P.S. Totally unrelated – I find it interesting how certain posts attract a bigger readership than others. Some of the posts that I think are my best are some of the least read. It’s a hoot. Honestly, it makes me think maybe I’m not as funny/ironic/whatever as some of my friends would have me believe. Or, maybe my topic just isn’t as fascinating to others as it is to me. Who knows. I sure as hell don’t.
Photo Credit: Free off a site called Pixels.