My several years of reading mysteries seemed to have dulled my enthusiasm, and Monday I found myself wandering rather aimlessly through the public library for alternative reading.  I eventually ran across Sixpence in Her Shoe, by Phyllis McGinley, and rediscovered what was undoubtedly a large influence in my attitude to homemaking and housekeeping.

She begins:

This is a book by, for, and about the American housewife….And it is the rewards as well as the challenges and difficulties of creating a home that I discuss here….When I speak of housekeeping I do not, of necessity, refer to housework.  This is no manual on how to polish brass or clean ovens or have the whitest wash on the block.  Being a housewife may or may not entail all these tasks; it has, at times, for me.  But tasks is what they are, nothing more.  They do not touch the heart of the matter.

For McGinley, the heart of the matter was the home as the core of society.  She was writing in 1960, before Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique kicked off the second wave of the feminist movement, but at a time when American women were criticized for being in the workforce, for being educated and staying out of the workforce, for not adequately supporting or even emasculating their husbands, for smothering their children, and a variety of other, often conflicting, faults.

I was nine.  My mother, and almost every other woman I knew, was a mother and a homemaker, and had a job.  My mother was a teacher.  Johnnie Keith next door had two boys, a husband who was a manager at the Farm Bureau and ran cattle on a farm out in the county, and she kept the books for the monthly cattle auction, which kept her at work after midnight on that Saturday night.  Fannie Reed across the street was the buyer for the department store her husband managed, and glamorously went to New York City on buying trips twice a year.  Never mind that the top end blouses at Morrison’s were Bobbie Brooks, a brand now sold mostly at Wal-Mart.  Other mothers ran or worked in local stores, as well as teaching school or nursing, and many worked at the state mental hospital or the sweater factory.  My great-aunt Iona worked in the family jewelry store, and her sister Eunice was a dressmaker.

So I didn’t have much experience with McGinley’s world, which was homemakers in the suburbs and small towns of New York and Connecticut, graduates of the Seven Sisters or other liberal arts colleges, married to husbands who commuted into the city by train, to jobs in finance, advertising, or law.  But I did see the point of the importance of the home as well as the office – and like most of my generations, wanted to “have it all.”  Unlike the girls who grew up in those commuter towns and subdivisions, I had the example of women who were doing it all.  And I found a husband who had had the same; not only a mother who worked,  but a father who worked in town, and was as involved at home (as mine was) as our mothers were in the world outside the home.

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