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Louisa-Lawrence Co, KY

In God We Trust - Established 2008


Sept. 30, 2017

Growing up in Louisa; Homage to Women!

Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn

When I was growing up in the ‘big’ white house on the corner of Clay and Franklin I began to take notice of how families worked together to make life better and more fun. Years later when I returned on a visit, the house had shrunk to the size of a rather average house.

My family of six, three kids and three adult women froze in the winter because of the lack of insulation. The windows would ice up but as a kid, I thought the designs that Jack Frost had painted were beautiful.

Anyway, because of the lack of a male model in the household, I had to go elsewhere to see how to think and behave like a man. I’ve written articles before about my best friend’s dad, Eddie Boggs, who was my day to day example, and the school superintendent Bill Cheek, who I saw as a kind of ‘John Wayne,’ because of his authority and demeanor, and others about town that were surrogate fathers to me. I watched the actor characters in the movies and I watched all the men of the community at church, on the streets, and wherever I might see one doing ‘man’ things. The sum of those characters will explain a lot about who I am, today. Of course, I’m human so haven’t always been as true as I wish to the models.

My great-grandmother was a widow of a doctor, and had lost her income when he died. My mother took small jobs but those were low-paying and far between. There were years when she had no work. My great-aunt was a school teacher. She made very little money and what little she had wasn’t managed well. I’d find out later that most of her paychecks was borrowed against so we could eat. Those memories of my childhood were tough, but there was plenty of good things to remember. We had fun times and I thought we were close. After I left home, contact waned and I made a new life somewhere else. Still, during those years at home I saw changes in family life. I wondered if they were good for the nation, or families, or even women. I studied about the makeup of the traditional family and its function. If you think I’m analytical, you don’t know the half of it, but then, that’s me.    

Folks born during the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s came into a changing world. Of course, we didn’t know how much change we’d have to deal with, but it was a constant. Even the most basic things of which we felt confident were open to new paradigms of thinking. We didn’t wring our hands in panic, but rather accepted the changes without taking a lot of interest or making value judgements. My goal is to discuss a major ‘social’ change that has come to affect families. I have hope that I can broach the subject without creating divisions and ruffling the feathers of any who may have different opinions. Naturally, I have a personal opinion, and that will become evident. Nonetheless, I see and respect others who think the changes have not gone far enough.

It is suggested by some that slowly developing changes in the standard family makeup and traditional divisions of ‘work’ verses ‘careers’ came about because of the second world war and the subsequent entry of women into the workforce. I suspect it began decades earlier because there were rumblings of dissatisfaction.

Some women saw themselves repressed and ‘locked’ into a ‘man’s world.’ They perceived that their worth was discounted and they were little more than slaves. With this attitude they devalued the importance and accomplishments of their ancestors. Perhaps it began during the Elizabethan and Victorian eras. We know of the demonstrations on women’s suffrage, and the push for prohibition took us all into the breeding ground of new thought. Based on my reading of the book of Geneses, I’m thinking it started in the Garden of Eden.

Yes, it was during the war years when confidence grew in the worth of enlightened young women when they discovered they could be productive and successful ‘man’s world. ‘Rosie the Riveter’ showed us all! While some of America’s working women left industry upon war end and returned to home and hearth, many others stayed on, enjoying a newfound freedom from household drudgery. Alas, only a very few were promoted into management positions, or were paid ‘man’s wages.’ Couples found that a second income provided a higher standard of living, so only a few rocked the gravy boat. The years of my youth were destined to become a transitional period in family living. There were victories and losses, to be sure.

Some writers say that this change came about as an effect of war. No doubt war was a catalyst, but when the nation refocused from the battlefields, the arrival of many new ‘work-saving’ tools and appliances, brought a need for more family income and status. Couple that with women’s fight to gain recognition as an equal to man, we have what became a revolution. The results were good and bad for the family. After the war, the economy adjusted to families with two sources of income, so this effectively changed the economy. There became a rapid expansion of building and the means for families to achieve the American dream of owning their own home. Over time, the dreams have reached proportions well beyond the bungalow of earlier days.

Change was a bit sticky and slow, to be sure. The returning armies of veterans lined up to take new jobs, many of which were held by the lovely ladies. Industry figured out they had to balance their thinking. Should they hire men at higher salaries who were perceived to be stronger, when the girls could be paid less and nicely filled office jobs. After all, they were prettier, too. As a result, the economy waffled for a time seeking an equilibrium. Jobs after the war were not that plentiful since the high production of war materials had dropped off. In time, as sales of new products were made and the distribution of goods became easier, the large industrial centers grew. For us folks out in the sticks, we took whatever jobs we could to pay the bills. Because of this economic dilemma, the standard of living didn’t change just yet for everyone. It came in small bites as each successive generation adjusted their expectations.

Many families rejected the archaic idea of ladies remaining ‘just a housewife.’ That idea seemed insulting and had a negative connotation. This caused women who chose to be a homemaker to be apologetic, as if being a mother and a homemaker, was not fulfilling their highest potential, and was in conflict to the ‘Women’s Liberation’ movement. Staying at home was not seen as adding to the welfare of womanhood. As a result, this branding of a dutiful wife as a failure, is in itself degrading to women, including those who had fought so hard for new freedoms. The trend by women to look to careers instead of being ‘mother’ and ‘wife,’ has continued except for those few who choose to make a career of serving their families. I have heard it said that more would stay at home except for the demands of personal fulfillment, or the cost of living in these days. That circumstance was created when the double income became norm.

My personal experience is that a real homemaker is every bit as important as the ‘bread-winner’ in ways that really matter. I know that my wife is a bookkeeper, budget analysist, planner, care-giver to our children, teacher, disciplinarian, housekeeper, cook, seamstress, counselor, psychologist, medical and health advisor, first-responder, secretary, coach, and lover. Her salary isn’t monetary, but the net result of having a successful, growing family of well-grounded adult children and grandchildren. She is blessed, and she has blessed us all. Her handling of finances and wise investments, and her sacrifices made it not only possible, but beneficial to us all. Our family is thriving because she continues to bless us with her efforts and the sharing of her diverse skills and knowledge. I have no doubts she could hold down a job in industry, in retail, or in any endeavor of her choice. She could earn sufficient money to sustain herself and the rest of us, but the costs to her family would have been higher. I thank her for her sacrificial decision to stay home. It didn’t come without cost. Knowing that, I am confident the benefits we all enjoyed were greater because she was in the home.

Life is short, so our time should be used to make life better. Of course, there’s two opposing ideas on what is ‘better.’ I think it is more of a question of choosing which is important and which is critical to the generations who follow. It is more about ‘others,’ and less about ourselves. Even after saying that, people are different and will be more successful in doing what they want. The ultimate balance sheet is yet to be reconciled, and each will experience different results, I’m sure.

Now there’s no doubt that this writing may raise the hackles of those who have worked outside of the home. I’m sorry. What is right for your life, or what you could do, or wanted to do for your family should not be judged by me or anyone else. I must say that even when outside jobs are held, many of the tasks I described still had to be done. While the husband, partner, or whatever, may have helped carry the load, it would have been rare to have a true partnership. Wives who worked outside the home found that when they got home, their workday wasn’t over. That’s not my definition of freedom.

There are still strong social expectations by men and women about the husbands, or wive’s roles. A fringe may exist where a relative balance of duties is shared. Today, maybe because of men not pitching in, there are growing numbers of single parents out there. That compounds the problem and certainly does not set anyone free. Is that fair? Life isn’t always fair, and no pattern is right for everyone. That said, I think it is the children who pay when both parents, or the single parent is away from home. I have no doubt that feminist groups may object to being a homemaker, but when she can, I truly believe she performs a much higher service to her family than the income she makes, if she is a homemaker. I believe that the value of a homemaker is higher than the salaries brought home, and infinitely more fulfilling.

I know that things won’t go back to the ‘old ways,’ but my point is that everything that proclaims to be progressive, simply isn’t. We got some things right in the old days. Some of the changes made by women were done out of necessity. There’s no doubt there is a glass ceiling and women are treated unfairly. There’s no doubt in my mind that women are equal to men and can likely perform as well or better except in a few cases. Perhaps professional football would be a challenge, but who knows? There are those who would die proving me wrong. I know they can manage a business, be a great journalist, a politician, a mechanic, or doctor, if those are the family’s goals. The question isn’t could she, but should she?

All of us have benefitted from having good grandparents and parents, whose whole interest was in providing for us, and seeing that we achieve our best in adulthood. It was the family that was fulfilled in that effort. We should be grateful for those women who were homemakers, AND those who took jobs to help their families. We enjoy many things that have risen out the benefits of a diverse work-force, a willingness to break patterns, or to stand up for what they feel is right. I applaud both, but I know that had my wife not remained at home, our kids would have been the losers. My grandkids are being raised by wonderful homemaker moms and I’m proud of them. I applaud them for their love, hard work and nurture in this changing world.

Regardless of which school of thought, or the basis for believing one or the other, we are all blessed by the work of women both inside and outside the home. Remember, it is mom that first comes to mind during times of problems, or in celebrations. Moms are the root of our society. It is they that hold the future in their hands.  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.         


0 #2 Bernard 2017-10-02 20:43
Another great one Mike. I remember Mildred Hayes, wife of Kenneth Hayes who taught History at LHS in my day and I believe she was a teacher at the Elementary School, was a "Rosie the Riveter" during WW 2 while Mr. Hayes was in the Army. They were my neighbor on Maple Street for years when they moved from the corner of Madison St. across the street from the Christian Church. She worked at an airplane factory in Tennessee & would tell us all about it back in the day. Yep, the Ladies did a great job and still do. I know my Mom could do just about every thing, raising 6 children, while dad worked on the RR.
Keep them coming & as always, Thanks for the memories.
-1 #1 Diane 2017-10-02 13:05
I would add that while I agree that the best environment is for Mom to be at home during the child rearing ages, she should have a college degree first. Life can change at any time and force Mom to become the major breadwinner.

Out of necessity, I worked from the time I was eighteen until age fifty-nine. There were times when my wages were twice my husband's. When he first realized this, he was upset for about a week. Then he realized what a good thing he had and got over it.

Fortunately I could put my children into a good Christian school while battling the work force's attitude that as a woman I should be paid less than the men doing the same type of work, inside sales.

My ideal situation would be for Mom to be there for the children the majority of the time and work one or two days a week to keep her skills up-to-date in the work force.

Obviously my philosophy is to fly with the eagles but keep one foot on the ground.

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