Thursday, February 19, 2009

20 February 1955 "My Walden"

My illness has lead me to spend my 'busy time' during the day, when I would have been ironing or baking or cleaning in reading. I, by chance, picked up Walden (Henry David Thoreau) and suddenly felt akin to him.

" I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours."

He, in the middle of the 19th century is faced with the ever and vastly changing modern world. Trains, Science, and Industrialization is changing the face of the world. He chooses to, in the words of Robert Frost, to take the 'road less travelled'.
I, on some level, have left that bustling modern world behind; only my Walden is the Home. The lapping shores of the pond is the rhythmic music of the laundry. The streams and valleys to traverse and contemplate in fields, are my rooms in my home. The dinning room, laid out quiet and waiting, the flowers set in their moment of peak bloom upon the freshly ironed linen, the plates solitary and quite awaiting the voices of guests. These are my birdsong. My open field. My quiet yet turbulent nature.
Am I living a modern Walden? Has the domesticity of the home become as fleeting and likely to disapear as the beauty and quiet of nature in the fastly changing industrial revolution of Thoroueas time? Walden was published almost exactly 100 years before my experiment (1854). What will be the Walden of 2055?

"This small lake was of most value as a neighbor in the intervals of a gentle rain-storm in August, when, both air and water being perfectly still, but the sky overcast, mid-afternoon had all the serenity of evening, and the wood thrush sang around, and was heard from shore to shore."

Though I have a small man made pond in my yard and I live walking distance to a salt marsh and but 2 miles from the seashore, my neighbor is not these waters, though they have often called and consoled me. My POND is my home. My neighbor, when there has been none, has become my house. Which, for my loving it, has started to become my Home.
I have felt a return embrace from my home. I have listened, quiet as the washer spins or the water whistles in the kettle, to its song. There has been a hush when I am alone and the house is quiet, save the movements of my dogs upon the little sofa in my sitting room, or the crick cracking of seeds from my parakeet. When I have stopped, sweated from the fury of the clean, in the midst of my kitchen, the heart of my home, I have seen it's glisten on the countertop, the shine of its floor as the calm of the water. The smile back from this neighbor, this friend, this child and parent rolled into one, this building: This HOME, has sated me.
Others may and will scoff at such a statement. They might say that the folded ironed linen is the shackles which bind me. That the broom and dust pan, the signs of my submission, but I say to that: these are not shackles but the bird song and fresh smell of Thoreua's nature. They are not a prison but a new kind of freedom of the home. The freedom Thoreau had in leaving his society, stepping outside of his present day norm of the vastly changing modern world into the open air is no different from my own. His separation from his now was not bondage but freedom. He made a choice to return to the 'old ways'.
I am sorry if I am waxing so poetic this post, but these days of contemplation have really got me to find a new level in my housewifery. I was not able to blindly dash through the house in some great struggle, "the war against the dust and the grease", which I had here-to-fore considered it. I was wrong. I am not in battle with my house, I am in sync with it! Having chopped at the forest and hacked at the ground I have stopped and listened to it. The quiet. The organic movement of it. There is dirt and animals and smells and sounds in this house. It has lived for my being in it and on its own. I am no longer attacking it daily with my sword of broom and vacuum, forcing it to wear the clothes I pick for it that day, but stopping and listening. It is funny how so often just stopping and doing nothing, the mere cessation of an act, often brings such clarity such realizations.
My illness and subsequent 'giving in' to what I had percieved as the enemey: my house and it's encroaching dirt, I have become to see as my ally. It has embraced me. When I allowed my eye to wander from the dust bunnies under the sofa and the crumbs on the kitchen floor to the window sill where the sun lay warm and dappled. The unpainted fence in the front was no longer taunting me for its not having been yet painted, but its beauty of weathered wood and the dance it was making with the dry crips brown embrace of the Clematis and Hydrangea. It held me and my dogs in a quiet embrace on the sofa as I read. It gave me the entertainment of the snow falling through its glass eyes and protected me from the wind and rain that followed, holding me in its bed and warmth of covers.
I urge any of you homemakers to take this advice: Just stop for a moment. Put down that broom, set aside that rag, turn off that tv and listen. Find a spot in your house and listen to it. Let go of the dust bunnies and the impending meals and piling laundry and listen. Can you hear that? It is the sound of your closest friend. The pal that is alwasy with you. Yes, sometimes it is a naughty child, hiding dust in all its crevices and that sock that you were sure had a mate in the laundry, but its rebellion is your voice too. You help to make and shape it, much as a mother does a child, and we love a child even when it is naughty. Even if your dwelling is not your own and if it is a one room flat, it is your home. It can be your home. The outter layer of your thoughts, hopes and dreams. Only, don't pin too much on it. Give it a break. The pair of you can rest and listen together. There is plenty of time to brush and spit polish it to be ready in its sunday best, but leave it off for now and sit and listen to your 'neighbor' your silent friend, your Home.

"Direct your eye right inward, and you'll find
A thousand regions in your mind
Yet undiscovered. Travel them, and be
Expert in home-cosmography."

In Walden there is a quote I think most pertinent to those who made up that time of the post war ear. We may yearn for it, wax nostalgic or hate and dispise it, whatever opinion we have of those in the mid twentieth century, we have to acknowledge that they took nothing and made something. They saw hope when hope had been lost. Their world, their youth and childhood, had been bleak, their families had been touched by death in so many ways. Wants and needs became like companions to them, as they were so often with them. This quote sums them up for me and also is the best advice for anyone living anywhere in ANY time:

"However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names."

And though the 1950s is so often painted as a time of conformity, you have to realize at the time it was not conformity. It was a break from the past. The ideas, the art, the architecture, even civil rights were all born out of this time. They had to work at it each day to change and make a new world. It was not perfect, but is anything of real beauty ever perfect? Is not the failings what we learn from and make a better way?

"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."

I think these famous words of Rober Frost are fitting here. I am sorry if this post contains no photos nor recipes nor specific facts, but I think these realizations are as true to 1955 as to 2009 and 2055.

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference"

I am not sure where this road is leading me, but I am glad that I have taken it. I am glad to be honored to meet those of you who I have along the way and I hope to meet more. Thank you for coming along on my journey.


  1. Beautiful -I feel the same. I am a full time homemaker with grown children. This is a wonderful answer to "What DO you do all day?!" People have no concept of "HOME" instead of "HOUSE" and there is a VAST difference. I grieve for the generations who are and will grow up without it. Keep it up-you may change some attitudes and lives.

  2. Well, if this is the type of post that comes out of not posting for a couple of days, then I'm glad you didn't post until now. :) That was a lovely post.

    It makes me sad when people think that we are looking at the past through rose colored glasses, and want so badly to "cure" us by pointing out all the bad! I don't know about any of you, but I'm not ignorant of the bad, but that's not my focus; that why I don't talk about it as much as the good. Just because I don't talk about the bad doesn't mean I'm ignorant in regards to it. There is good and bad in all times of life, and it's good to bring the good from the past into the future.

    I have a motto that I live by in my life..."Focus on the positive, deal with the negative." Focusing on the positives in life doesn't mean you're ignoring the negatives - that would be foolish and irresponsible. I spend as much time as is necessary on the "negative" things that need to be dealt with, I don't dwell on them. So, rose colored glasses aside, focusing on, and enjoying, the good things in life is a good thing. And what some see as ignorance is just the willingness of some to deal with (not ignore) negatives because the good far outweighs the negatives. But, maybe the "black" covered glasses that some people wear prevents them from seeing this? I hope not. I hope it's just that they haven't spoken with others enough to understand what it is they really think.

    As you can probably tell, I'm tired of people assuming that another person is ignorant and foolish because they assume that their NOT DWELLING on the negatives in life means that they're somehow ignorant of them, and, by golly, that needs to be "corrected" quickly...hmmm...interesting "logic".

    I hope that didn't come across as being harsh; it's more exasperation.

    Great, great post, 50sgal!

  3. I am a childless housewife, too, and I love being home. Your blog is wonderful and it's a great support to find more like-minded ladies. Homemaking is a career, just like any other. The woman who chooses it should be respected just as much as if she were a company CEO.

  4. Good post!! :)

    I had to take our car in this morning to have a flat tire repaired. I made an appointment online last night before bed, took Mr. Hairball to work this morning, and made my way across town to the car dealer. It ended up taking longer than expected as the tire ended up having to be replaced. They didn't have it in stock, so they had to call around to find someone in town who did, send someone over to buy it, and finally put it on the car. After that was all done, I took the car and did my shopping for the week.

    If I had been "doing something worthwhile" with my life instead of being home full time, today would have been much more complicated. Since I'm "throwing my life away" I can attend to such matters. ;)

    Have a good weekend!

  5. Wow! Your post brought a tear to my eye.

    As usual, I agree with PL and won't just repeat what she said.

    People look at My Honey and me as if we are a bit odd (and I can't say that we aren't). You see, long ago we embraced a scaled back simple life. We drive a pickup that will be considered vintage in another couple of years because it is doing just fine and we don't want to spend $20,000+ on a new one. I love cooking from scratch using my vintage cookbooks because there is a certain rhythm and joy to it.

    I LOVE that I have the opportunity to be a career woman AND a homemaker. My homemaking (and the rituals that go along with it)is the foundation that enables me to do what I do. As I was just now scrubbing my toilets, I got tickled thinking about how my graduate students probably would be shocked to learn that I actually do such a "chore." But it is all part of what makes my house my home.

    Thank you, 50s Gal for such a beautiful post.

  6. I love this post. I think it is really amazing how much has changed in your life in such a short time. This new "road less traveled" you are on is much less crowded, but you will still meet, here and there, new friends around a bend in the road who are going the same direction.

    I almost enjoy being really, really sick (hardly ever happens) b/c nowadays my life is unfortunately so full that I do not have much time to read and that is the only time I can lie around all day guiltfree and just read. I read many, many books as a kid and I miss those days. They gave me a very good foundation for living a LIFE in numberless ways. There is something so necessary about taking time for contemplation and letting one's mind slow down, absorb softly, and think and dream.

    PL - Ditto. People sometimes have thought that I was in la-la land b/c I have no TV and am careful not to absorb too much news. It was like there was a required daily amount of toxic news that everyone had to get. Whatever!

  7. I may have mentioned this before, but hubby and I also used to be considered 'eccentric' by our friends, as when we were first together we lived in a very remote summer area where the population goes down to almost nothing in the winter. We lived WITHOUT cars, tv AND computers. Any where we had to go including work had to be by bike and that included grocery stores. Our 'trips' into town seemed like a fun excursioin as we would go as far as our legs or bikes would take us. A fun day out was going to the local drug store to buy fountain pen refills and tobacco for my husbands pipe (when they still sold it on the shelves late 90s') the library and maybe a coffee. It was funny how quickly our life changed after two years of this we got a car again. I think the idea of living how you feel it is important for you at that moment is such a way to live without regret. Even if you are not doing some grand thing, in the moment it feels right and does make for nice memories. I remember when a walk on the beach in November, when the whole place belonged to only us and the cold waves beat the shore with treasures for combing, was a fun saturday night out. Not for everyone, but it was good on the pocketbook and bank account!

  8. PL said, "There is good and bad in all times of life, and it's good to bring the good from the past into the future."

    That is a profound thought. It does seem sometimes that people want to dismiss the good from the past by pointing out the bad. Maybe it's because the good was a higher standard than they want to attain?

  9. having experienced the worst bushfires in Australian history, but also the media beat up about said tragedy I long to hurl the idiotbox out the window, and stick to the printed word and enjoy the stillness

  10. What a lovely poetic view you have on your home, and it reminded me of how much I love my house. Hope you are feeling better.

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