The Planted Row: Women make everything work
On Sunday the world celebrated International Women’s Day.
The day makes me think of my grandmother. She was born a month before the 19th Amendment was adopted as part of the U.S. Constitution in 1920. So, she came into this world in a time when not all women were guaranteed the right to vote in this country.
She graduated from high school, something not all women her age in rural Mississippi achieved. She told me that she didn’t attend college because her strict father didn’t believe in higher education for women.
When I say strict, I mean strict. For example, my grandmother’s older sister became a teacher in a nearby town after she graduated from high school. Word got back to my great-grandfather that she had been seen on a date with a young man, so he drove to the town and forced her to quit her job and move back home.
I’m not quite certain how my grandmother managed to find the time to fall in love with my grandfather with her dad keeping such a close eye on her. She wasn’t allowed to go anywhere with him or visit with him outside of school. When she told me that she hadn’t met her future in-laws until her wedding day, I asked her how that could possibly be. “Stan,” she replied, “I’ve already told you I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere with a boy.”
On her wedding day, she moved in with my grandfather and his large family. This act alone should qualify her for sainthood. You see, when you get more than one of us Wises together, we become insufferable. We tease each other and everyone around us incessantly.
When I asked her what it was like to move in with a strange family, my grandmother replied dryly, “I couldn’t get two sentences out of my mouth before they would make some kind of joke out of it.”
That was the start of her lifetime of work, love, and care for her farm family. While my grandfather farmed and worked other jobs on the side, my grandmother ran their country store, raised their six children, tended the huge garden that was needed to feed them and did the cooking and cleaning for eight people in a time when cooking and cleaning took a lot more effort than it does now. She canned food throughout much of the summer so the family could eat through the winter. She was also the chief nurse when anyone in the family became ill. And in the days before we got a cotton picker, every autumn would find her crawling through the fields, dragging a cotton sack and picking the crop by hand alongside the rest of the family.
Quite simply, the farm would not have survived without her planning, leadership and labor. Many people in our small community considered my grandfather to be a very successful farmer, but it is just as true that he had a very successful farm wife. Though the course of her life had been largely determined by her husband’s decisions, my grandmother was the glue that made it all work.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed more and more how much the women around me are doing hard work that goes unrecognized and underappreciated.
Men, take a moment to look at your life, and I bet you’ll find at least one woman either in your family or at your job who is doing something you don’t want to do. Take this opportunity to thank her.
And maybe even offer to help.