We’d been living on the farm for a few years and still didn’t have indoor plumbing. This wasn’t a big problem as far as I was concerned, being an outdoor, non-squeamish type of girl child (at that pre-feminist time referred to as a “tomboy” because, you know, girls don’t climb fences, or god forbid, pee in the woods)!
Frankly, I do sometimes wonder what it was like for my mother to deal with diapers and toilet training without indoor plumbing, not to mention doing the laundry. Knowing her upbringing and that she had internalized the messages about being a “good” (i.e. submissive) wife, it’s doubtful she complained much–at least not out loud.
After all, my mother’s mother, Grandma Ila Thomas Collins, had presided over all domestic chores on the family farm, initially without electricity, flush toilets or running water. Grandma Ila was a kind, loving and tolerant woman, but she definitely had her standards when it came to housekeeping.
My mother once told me that her mother ironed the bedsheets. For me, the idea of ironing bedsheets belongs in the triple-OCD category, and is not something that my laissez-faire self would even consider. It would be difficult enough with modern fabric and a fancy steam iron, but my grandmother did it with a cast iron that had to be heated up on the woodstove–even in the summertime!
So my mother was primed to go along with my father’s desire to be a farmer and to live the “good life” in the country. But after a couple years on the farm, enough was enough. She was pregnant at the time with a third child and at that time women usually remained in the hospital many days after giving birth. According to family legend, my mother made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that she would not be returning to the farm unless indoor plumbing was part of the deal.
Somehow my father and our hired man managed to install a “bathroom.” Knowing my father I am sure it happened the night before my mother and new brother were scheduled to come home. The bathroom (flush toilet and small sink) was stuffed into a corner of my parents’ bedroom and the wall studs were in place. As far as I can remember, the walls were never finished, and a shower was eventually installed in the basement.
This must have satisfied my mother because she came home. I remember well when our car pulled up in front of the house and my brother, Warren, opened the passenger side front door. Our new brother, Steve, lay wrapped up in a blanket on the front seat next to our mother. “Oh, isn’t he cute,” Warren said. I don’t think I said anything and don’t have any recollection of whether I was glad to have another brother, or just happy to have my mother back home. Time has a way of blurring memories and re-framing them over the years with other events.
I do know that during our childhood years there were many conflicts and struggles among the three of us. Despite Warren’s initial positive comment, we were not always kind and considerate, and sometimes were downright mean. It wouldn’t be quite accurate to say that we didn’t love each other, but we often acted as if we didn’t like or care about each other very much.
While I will always feel sadness over the time we wasted in conflict, life doesn’t give us “do-overs,” but instead provides numerous “do-betters.” During our adult years, my brothers and I have come to realize that children can only respond and interact in ways that fit into whatever paradigm they live in. My brothers and I have developed a level of understanding about where we came from, have forgiven each other for the hurts and love each other very much. I will always be glad that my mother made that deal, won the bargain and brought home my little brother.
©Martha Hurwitz, 6/17/20