Thursday, January 3, 2008


I am a person who is tolerant of other religious views as long as no one rubs them in my face too much or tells me that I'm "going straight to Hell" because of my own. [A well-meaning girl in my high school used to hand out "Straight to Hell for Sinners" cards and I told her that was probably not the right way to go about converting people.]

There is nothing I like better than a good healthy debate, or rather a "discussion", on religion or anyone's personal philosophy. I try to put "Judge not, lest ye be judged," into regular practice. In general, I find the question of "what makes people tick" an intriguing concept. I will read spiritual or religious texts as much as I want to read something like Christopher Hitchens' God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisoned Everything. [If I am to understand the gist of the book without having yet read it, it deals with organized religion and its many disruptions in our world, instead of dwelling in the essential core of spirituality by removing religion from that realm.]
So it was in the spirit of amusement (his) and annoyance (mine) that my husband happened to point out this sign on our way home "from town"--somehow I had not noticed it before. [Perhaps an attempt at seasonal humor? I have a feeling it is not a joke.] It reads: Wives are to be subject to their husbands in everything. [Ephesians 5:24] I said, slow down, I want a picture! [Lately I've taken to bringing my camera everywhere I go because it is just so much darned fun to scrapbook everything...or to think about the blog potential of any image.] NOTE: Upon later research I learned that presidential candidate and former Baptist minister, Mike Huckabee, came out in support of this verse as mentioned in a recent Newsweek article, so perhaps the sign is a form of political support, as well as religious?

My husband and I have our moments, days and weeks, certainly, but we've always been a partnership and he would be the first to agree with that notion. Although I did "honor and obey" him by moving to Kentucky, I did finally concede that it was a great idea. And he has assured me if ever things did not work out, if I wasn't happy, that we would move back in a New York minute...whatever a New York minute is!

Some would argue that all men secretly want a Stepford Wife but I don't think so. My husband knows that if I were to transform into one that my batteries would likely expire fairly quickly or that I would need to be traded in, and fast (there is something to being high maintenance, whether flesh or robotic). We do the dance of compromise: he helped pick up the domestic slack (immensely) while I wrote The Pantry, or do any writing for that matter (and idle blogging--I say "idle" because apart from selling one article which came from a blog, it is not profitable). So now it is my turn to help him fulfill his dream of having a farm. When you meet each other half-way, sometimes it turns out to be the best way for all and that is what I am (slowly) realizing about our move. Besides, I am one of those "glass half full" kind of people: as much as I love a good sarcastic jostle, at my core I am an optimist, even, at times, a fatalist.

Some time if the sign man and his wife are in their yard, I think I will want to stop and chat with them about it. Or at least meet them first and then say, "Hey, that's an interesting sign--what does it mean to you specifically?" They look like kind, hard-working people who have a small farm. I haven't seen any children around but perhaps they have grown and moved on. My intention would not be to convert them to my way of thinking but to get a sense of what they're thinking. I believe they are from a branch of car-driving, but still conservative, Mennonites but I am not certain. Friends of ours further down the valley might know but that really doesn't matter.

We have come to understand how the Amish and more conservative sects of Mennonites have remained as they are in this modern world. It is simply because they turn away from it. They seem to acknowledge something that, on a core level, most of us do not or wish to: that cars, television and radio, computers, even telephone wires and electric cables, and certainly higher education, all connect us to the larger world. And that world can bring great change and even corruption. If we keep our wives--and our children--close to us and "at heel" then change is likely to happen less. Simplistic? Perhaps, but if you objectively examine how our culture has changed because of these modern inventions--and women working outside of the home with children raised by other people--you can better see how these changes might be a part of a vast and destructive socioeconomic cog.

There are elements of this turning away from the larger world that I find we are trying to garner for ourselves now in our own family. While I can respect the Amish and Mennonite orders because they truly practice what they preach, even admire them for their stoic ability to "turn away", I could not become a part of them. As a mother, I do see the logic of "keeping them on the farm" or working from home, at least one or both of us. No family needs a three-car garage for three cars, multiple gadgets and too much stuff for themselves and their kids. Usually, because we want these things as a culture, both members of the partnership have to work outside the home, and then be mortgaged or credit card maxed. If we should want to work for what we need, rather than needing to work for what we want, then we can also embrace this notion of paring down to essentials--in home, life, and our economies--more fully.

Wendell Berry, a Kentucky farmer-writer-poet, whose writings I admire, even pondered this concept in his essay, Feminism, the Body and the Machine. He wrote:

"I know that I am in dangerous territory, and so I had better be plain: what I have to say about marriage and household I mean to apply to men as much as to women. I do not believe that there is anything better to do than to make one's marriage and household, whether one is a man or a woman. I do not believe that 'employment outside the home' is as valuable or important or satisfying as employment at home, for either men or women. It is clear from my experience as a teacher, for example, that children need an ordinary association with both parents. They need to see their parents at work, they need, at first, to play at the work they see their parents doing, and then they need to work with their parents. [eg. Catherine's note: being raised on a farm fully embodies this concept.]

...My interest is not to quarrel with individuals, men or women, who work away from home, but rather to ask why we should consider this general working away from home to be a desirable state of things, either for people or for marriage, for our society or for our country.

...But for the sake of argument, let us supposed that whatever work my wife does, as a member of our marriage and household, she does both as a full economic partner and as her own boss, and let us supposed that the economy we have is adequate to our needs. Why, granting that supposition, should anyone assume that my wife would increase her freedom or dignity or satisfaction by becoming the employee of a boss, who would be in turn also a corporate underling and in no sense a partner?"

I'd like to think that my husband and I have the kind of partnership from the Wendell Berry School of Marriage. We both work at home and we both work in the home and our children were not raised in day care centers (but that's a whole other essay, isn't it?, and this is a BLOG after all!). Because my husband is a confirmed luddite, as is Berry who eschews the computer, I would gladly type his essays if he wrote them. And he will gladly take the kids off for the day or do the dishes or even make dinner on occasion, too. He's just that kind of guy. [And yet he is sometimes, perhaps, also the kind of guy who might agree with that porch sign, especially when I'm blogging and should be unpacking or making dinner or any number of things...but not really!]

In 1946 my grandparents did very much what we have done. They moved from the comfortable New Jersey suburbs to a farm in New Hampshire where they knew no one. We wanted to replicate that at their farm, where my mother grew up and where my brothers and I grew up for a time, too, but that location did not work out for a number of reasons. My grandparents were a true team, a highly educated pair who also wanted to provide a value structure for their children by trying to live off the land as much as possible with a sustenance farm. After their children had grown my Grandmother returned to teaching and Grandfather worked for a travel agency, while keeping their commercial greenhouse and vegetable stand. Theirs was an idealistic proposition, but it can and does work. Here we are surrounded by farm families and a supportive environment for that lifestyle. We will be home and farm-based. I'll keep you posted on our progress and our pitfalls.

[For further discourse, and a brilliant one, on these subjects, see Home Economics, Sustainability and the "Mommy Wars" by Sharon Astyk at EnergyBulletin.Net. Like Berry, she also argues that it is best for our economy--both of the global, domestic and household, even in a partnership with a spouse or significant other--to work from our home (or have at least one partner stay at home) and be with our children. She also brings up the validity of the energy-saving standpoint of all of this.]

I do have to admire the guts it takes for someone to put a sign like that about wives and husbands on their side porch, or car, or any where else. But you have to ponder its validity if it sits alongside the trash, an upright freezer, and a washing machine. Well, then again, maybe that's the point.


LBP said...

I agree with much of what you wrote. My husband and I have been "equal partners" in our 27 year marriage. There is MUCH compromise to a strong, stable marriage.

I do work out of the home. Unfortunately, I am the "bread winner" of the family and must work to support our family. My husband works outside the home for pretty much fulfillment and insurance!

We were very lucky that my in-laws live next door to us. They kept our son while we worked so he had the best of both worlds.

I really enjoy your blog! Very insightful.



Ladyfromthewoods said...


You think that's bad...remind me to tell you about the billboard that was erected next to the main highway between Somerset and the towns North of it! I'm not so sure that the sign in your picture isn't a leftover from that group (I believe they were a very outspoken religious group, not the "plain" regional folk.) They actually got into a bit of trouble for putting up one hand-painted sign that accused the devil of stealing the knowledge of a woman's "muscle down-there." I'm not kidding. You must remind me to tell you about it on our next Bunco night at Cat's!

BTW, it was great meeting you.