I now know why all the historical accounts of the migration west always contained stories about women who were widowed along the way or became widows shortly after arriving in the west. Those stories seemed so sad, to read about how these families left the east together, full of hope and promises to come, and those hopes and promises were dashed along the way, buried beneath the long dusty trail or crushed onto the rocks of the coast once they arrived here. I always got a little misty when I read those stories.
But now I know how quite a few of those widows got to be widows: they got sick and tired of being bossed around on the frontier, day in and day out, and they saw no way out except to knock off their husbands.
Look at it from their point of view, which admittedly, is very hard for us modern women: these women were lonely. They were isolated, out in the middle of nowhere, with only their husbands and children to talk to for days, sometimes weeks and months, on end. The very nature of farming, i.e., having lots of land to work, creates the scenario. You had lots of land to farm. If you were close to your neighbor, that meant that you didn’t have much land. And we all know that the general thinking is: the more land we have, the better. That is certainly one idea that was true in those days and still holds true today.
Not only were women of old isolated, but they were also exhausted. They bore children, hauled water, arose before the family to start the fire (after hauling in the wood for it), and cooked the breakfast. They washed everything by hand. How many of us in this day and age have wrung out jeans and sheets by hand? Those clothes get very heavy when they are wet. Now haul those heavy water-laden clothes out to hang them up, and then haul some back in to do it again later when they fall off the clothesline into the dirt or mud. Not to mention having to haul the water and heat it first. And chase the kids around, making sure that they don’t kill themselves or get killed by animals or farm implements. Most of them did all this while either pregnant or recovering from a pregnancy, with no rest in sight. They cooked from scratch in the heat of the house in July, and in the freezing temperatures in the winter. They cleaned, gardened for their family’s food and then canned it in the crushing heat of summer.
Now I ask you, after all that, would you be settling down easily at night? And what would you do when your husband came in one night and announced that this valley is getting just too darn crowded and we needed to move further west and start all over again? I have to say that I think that I would be getting out the ammunition for the shotgun at that point. If he really liked his feet where they were, I’d advise him to stop that talk or find a bed out in the barn. That’s what I would be thinking. I would be willing to bet money that that is exactly what happened more than once out on the frontier.
I have to admit to near-murderous thoughts when my man came in recently and glowed about how much fun this farming stuff is, when in reality, it is pioneering that we are doing, not just plain farming. I have had to bite my tongue in order to remain civil, or keep my hands from around his throat. I have gotten up and left the room in order keep from flinging dishes. It’s hardest when he sees how upset I am and he follows me around, asking if there is anything he can do to make things better for me. You mean aside from digging your grave right now so that I don’t have to do it by myself, I want to shout! But how can you stay mad at a man that is having so much fun that sunbeams practically come out of his eyeballs when he’s farming? It’s hard to stay mad at him, until he wants me to haul another tree out of his way, or I trudge out to the port-a-potty once more, in the dark, wondering what animal I will be stepping on out there. It’s times like those that I want to trip him when he walks by.
I keep telling him that I will support him in this endeavor and be right there by his side, but if, God forbid, the worst does happen and the tractor takes him out or some other unfortunate accident occurs, I will be packing up, lock, stock, and suitcase, and hightailing it back to my hometown. He is always aghast when I say this, and I explain that yes, even though he has put so much time and effort into this farm, it would indeed be on the auction block faster than his ghost could find me. But just to make sure that there is no confusion in his afterlife, I told him right where to find me to haunt me.
I picture this same conversation taking place a hundred years ago. And those stories of women getting on a train as soon as they could get on one leaving town are now so much easier to understand. Who would want to do all the things that I have just been talking about by themselves?
I have the benefit of modern technology to make my life so much easier than it was over a hundred years ago, and let me tell you how fast I would still be leaving town if my man were not going to be doing this project with me. You would see my dust as I swept out, and then you’d see a wispy ghost, chasing my dust. That would be my man, trying to catch up with me. Fortunately, he knows where to look if he can’t keep up.
Copyright © 2011, Maura White. All rights reserved.