For one reason or another, the last thing many women want is to end up like their mothers. A curious pronouncement. For what could be more admirable than devoting a sizable portion of one's life to the comfort, care, and feeding of those closest to you?
Like many other women confronted by the realities of domestic life, a friend of ours vowed long ago never, ever to be caught wearing an apron or a cotton housedress. Neither was she going to waste time putting drawers in order, labeling Mason jars, and thinning out the daisies in the backyard. And for years the only labels she applied were the ones on her file folders. The only weeding out she did was of magazine back issues. She was proud of the fact that she had gotten past 40 without ever having used a toothbrush to get at hard-to-clean places.
Recently, she tells us, her own mother - now in her 70s - surprised her with the news that she had once sworn never to end up as her mother had: standing over a wood-burning stove, stirring a pot with one hand, and balancing the latest baby on her hip with the other.
What it seems our friend's mother had in mind over 50 years ago was to become a Spanish dancer. (Ballroom dancing a la Irene and Vernon Castle hadn't been enough for her. She had wanted to specialize.)
But being a Spanish dancer was not the sort of thing responsible daughters ended up doing during the depression years. Our friend's mother left high school and went to work filling boxes in a Chicago candy factory. And, as it later turned out, she just happened to go to that particular dance on that Saturday night, and met that guy. A few months later she was married and standing over her own stove - a white-enameled giant. She had come up in the world.
Our friend reports that for most of her own marriage she has managed to avoid some of the more common pitfalls of domestic life, e.g., kiddie car pools and baby-sitting the neighbor's children. Until something happened not too long ago. She had walked into a room, saw a wrinkled throw rug in front of her, and straightened it with a whack of her heel. She stopped dead in her tracks. Her mother used to do that. Endlessly. She couldn't walk into a room - anybody's room - without straightening a wrinkled throw rug. Was this the first sign of that dreaded affliction known as Fussy-ness? If so, what would be next? Plumping up sofa pillows? Smoothing wrinkled bedspreads? Straightening draperies that had been ruffled by a breeze?
She found out soon enough.
First came the business with the neighbor's curtains across the street. One panel in a garage window hung normally. The other alongside it had caught on some object and was curled into a loose ball. She tried, unsuccessfully, to avoid the bothersome sight for months, deplored it in the daylight hours, and gratefully welcomed the night when darkness blotted out the unsymmetrical display. Relief came during spring cleanup when the curtains were washed and rehung - evenly this time.
The people with the slightly askew curtains also had uneven bushes lining their front lawn. A few lone spikes of the prickly hedge had pushed upward and left their less determined companions below.
Back across the street, our friend seriously considered taking some shears on more than one dark night to dispatch the offending branches. But she resisted the temptation and suffered in silence until the owners (altogether, a pleasant family) eased her distress some weeks later when they gave the bushes a trim.
In supermarkets our friend found herself restacking rolls of paper toweling and toilet tissue that had fallen from shelves. She would pick up canned goods and cracker boxes in crude attempts to restore order to demolished display pyramids.
In department stores she was drawn uncontrollably to clothing racks where pieces had fallen to the floor. Unthinkingly, she'd pick up the garments and place them back on their hangers.
Her daughter, now at a major crossroads in her own life, insists that this will not happen to her. She has made a thorough study of where the women in the family went wrong. She intends to use foresight and caution in mapping out the next decades of her life.
Knowing our friend as we do, she is most likely smiling at the familiar words and working hard to keep from breaking out into a full-fledged smirk.