In my family I watched my grandmother juggle her many lives: part-time domestic or cook; full-time homemaker; block club secretary; church missionary, Sunday school teacher and trustee; wife; mother; and friend. She did all with pizzazz, I thought. She was the tower of strength that we all leaned on. But the day my sister witnessed her “breakdown,” I knew that the pressure from being all things to all people, particularly her husband, had worn her out. During a usual moment of historical pride about providing for his family and never having to go on welfare he mentioned being “the head” of the house. Like a mother scolding her child for the umpteenth time for the same offense, my grandmother uncharacteristically cursed my grandfather and told him she was the head. She was unapologetic, self-satisfied, for claiming her place, one she believed she walked in without the proper recognition.
But my sister and I were in shock. She called me right after she left their house. We talked about all the years my grandmother, then in their early 80s, had given service with a smile, submission with gladness, yet subversively had been hiding her true feelings. We reflected on the clues of her marital dissatisfaction: the whispered conversations about his ineptness, the hidden stash of money, and the short silent treatments when she was annoyed.
I believe my aunt and mother saw all these clues of her misery through the smiles and pledged to live domestic life differently. My aunt was vocal about her role as a wife. “I’m not doing like Mama. She worked herself to the bone and served Daddy. Unh, unh. Not me.” My mother’s actions said the same. She did not clean; my daddy cooked; and she was always involved outside the home, rallying for women. Her love for women really began as an undergraduate student.
Copyright 2006-2010 by Rhonda J. Smith