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- After Ben went off to work every morning, I would sit down and cry. Sometimes it seemed to me that I rushed into this decision of marrying him and leaving everything behind. Several times I tried to find a job in town, but there was none with hours suitable with Ben's working schedule - which was a necessary condition, because I needed a car to get around here and there was no way we could afford a second car at the time. There were times when I was angry with myself and with Ben for cutting off my path to interesting education and career so early. Is it possible, I asked myself, that I am going to spend my entire life here, in this boring, ugly, neglected place?
It was all made worse by the fact that I knew absolutely nothing about housework. Most of the meals in my parents' house were take-out, and someone was always hired for spring cleaning. Shirts with loose buttons took up space in the closet because no one bothered to fix them. At eighteen, I moved out to live on a college campus, where I didn't have too many opportunities to hone my homemaking skills either. I scoffed at cooking and laundry. Why would such mundane tasks matter when I'm immersed in the heights of intellectual dispute?
But there you had me, eighteen years old, married and supposed to keep house - and quite a big farmhouse it was, even without all the extensions we later added to it - and without a clue of what I'm actually supposed to be doing. I couldn't really clean and I really couldn't cook. I couldn't sew, or iron, I could hardly operate the washing machine to supply my husband with clean socks. I might have been a witty writer, but at homemaking, I was completely inept.
I have no idea how it all would have ended if Ben's older sister, Esther, hadn't come to rescue. Esther already had three little children and I'm sure it wasn't easy for her to find arrangements for them, but she came to visit us for several days - alone. To this day she claims she only did this to get acquainted with me, but I am certain Ben told her about our sad state of affairs. At any rate she showed no surprise upon finding our house and ourselves in the most miserable condition.
Esther acted as though nothing is amiss and we're just having a pleasant picnic, but at the same time, she put all her ingenuity into helping me. In the few days she was with us, she scrubbed the house top to bottom with me and sewed curtains for our living room. Together, we pulled weeds in the overgrown, neglected garden. One day, we went to town in Ben's car, and met him after work, our arms laden with pretty but inexpensive home accessories, house plants and seedlings for the garden. Then Esther took out an iron and together we ironed my tablecloths, sheets and pillowcases, which were then left crisp and fresh in the closet. She also helped me to rearrange the furniture so that the living room would be less cluttered and appeared more spacious.
To put it simply, at the end of Esther's visit my house finally looked like home, and I realized that I love it. I certainly wasn't prepared to let it slide back to its previous state.
Aunt Anne smiled, and for a few minutes, continued to eat her ice-cream in silence.
- Esther, who remains one of my most cherished friends to this day, has a gift of teaching people in an easy, natural way. What she taught me, by pure example, made a tremendous change in my life. Even after she left, she kept sending me simple recipes and sewing patterns for beginners. She gave me suggestions for a daily routine which would keep our house at least tolerably clean and neat, if not spotless, such as washing the dishes without waiting for them to accumulate in the sink, make the beds, keep up with laundry. For her it was as natural as breathing - for me, it was an unknown science.
As I pracised the basics of houskeeping, I started getting more and more ideas to make my home prettier and more inviting. For example, plant a rose bush near the entrance or sew curtains to match the furniture. Soon I was surprised and thrilled to find out that my days at home are filled with productivity and creativity, and that I get up and go to bed happy. I didn't think I'm wasting my time anymore. With the help of handbooks sent to me by Esther, I taught myself knitting, crochet and embroidery, and started making pretty things for my home and for gifts.
Ben was happy, too. I asked him several times whether he wouldn't rather have me working outside the home so we could pay off our loan on the house faster. However, he told me I shouldn't be under the illusion that I will be able to keep the same sort of peaceful, beautiful home once I'm away from it most hours of the day. It takes time, Becky. And once David was born, the feeling that I have plenty of time disappeared forever and hasn't returned to this day.
That was the beginning of my path as a wife and mother. And that is all I ever became, Becky - "just" a wife and mother. I didn't start a home business, I don't volunteer on a regular basis, I don't write for ladies' magazines. And every minute of my day is packed with action. We grew to love this place, too, despite being the only Jewish family in the area, which can get lonely sometimes. Even though we never thought of homeschooling when we got married, we realized we will have to do it if we want a Jewish education for our children. Now I love it, though - the freedom of home, for myself and my children, to pursue learning and various talents. This is definitely the life for us.
"Well, it might be a life for you, but it doesn't mean it's a life for me!" - I thought, but didn't dare to say it aloud. Aunt Anne, however, seemed to realize what I was thinking, because she leaned closer and said:
- Despite what you might think, Becky, I am not trying to model you into something you are not. I realize you must be feeling like a misfit in our family, perhaps angry and disappointed with a way of life that was unexpectedly forced on you. Think about it this way: you are not too far from adulthood and from making your own choices. In the meantime, why not try something different?