Yesterday I felt terribly discouraged by the state of my house. There is a washtub of clean laundry upstairs that has been sitting in the bedroom for a week. There were dirty dishes in the sink. I seemed to get one meal’s worth washed just before the next meal was prepared. The floor needs a scrubbing. My husband had left bedding in the living room after napping on the couch. I had stopped at the local garage because the check engine light was on; it is now the oxygen sensor that needs replacing. I am still suffering from hives and eczema; as soon as one area clears up, another erupts. I felt overwhelmed, tired and sick. (And as I write this, I got two calls – one from the landlady saying that we can borrow their tiller if we can pick it up Sunday – good news – and the second from Immigration saying they are still trying to fill in the gaps in my file.) I am weary of the constant battle with my own body, the pain and irritation; I am tired of being the only one who can cook and clean. Then as I sat down to write, my husband told me he needed my help to repair the barn door hasp that pulled loose last night because its base wood has rotted.
I am trying to finish fourteen sunbonnets, or at least six of them, to be mailed tomorrow when I take him to the doctor.
I have four or five important letters to write, and I have only started one of them.
I have four aprons to sew, three of them for other people, and three different patterns to copy or draft.
I feel like Martha Ballard, midwife in Augusta, Maine from 1785-1812. Here is an excerpt from her diary: 15 January 1778, “I returned home (from delivering a baby) and find my house up in arms. How long God will preserve my strength as I have done of late he only knows.”
And that is exactly how I feel – as if my household is up in arms against me. Illness has sapped my strength and I am unable to subdue this unruly house, which is aided and abetted by a husband who does not see dust, dirty dishes and piles of laundry. I can understand that he does not see dust, with his low eyesight, but the dishes are visible to him, and instead of looking in a stack for clean clothes for his socks, he asks me for them.
As Laurel Thatcher Ulrich adds in her commentary on Martha’s diary entry: “Turn your back, and (the house) rippled into disorder. Chairs tipped. Candles slumped. Egg yolks hardened in cold skillets. Dust settled like snow. Only by constant effort could a woman conquer her possessions.”
Martha never quite settled this issue. She had daughters, but they married and moved. She had nieces, but they also went back to their families or formed new ones. She had a daughter-in-law nearby, but they did not get along well. She had hired girls, but they were more interested in visiting and walking out with the young men of the neighbourhood. Her husband, Ephraim, was a surveyor and millwright, and was often away from home. Her remaining sons worked in the mill, and seemed to have had the attitude that mama was their servant.
I don’t have family close at hand. My stepdaughter, sons and their helpmeets are a long way off. My sisters all live away. My mother is gone now. I am the mater familia. And I, like Martha Ballard, can’t seem to muster a squad to get the work done.
It will improve, I know. Warmer days and better health will eventually return. (I don’t expect the dear husband to change his ways though.) People here are too busy trying to make ends meet to spend time in aiding friends and neighbours in the ordinary, old-fashioned ways. I know that I will pay cash for plowing, for instance, rather than expecting a neighbour to come do it and reciprocating with my time and abilities.
As Martha wrote in her diary: A womans work is never Done as the Song says and happy shee whose strength holds out to the End of the rais.
(All quotes from A Midwife’s Tale: The life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812. Author, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, my copy is Vintage Books, June 1991.
And with no resolution or advice to give, I am ending here, because I have to go to the barn to find the new barrel clasps.