When I was growing up, everybody – and I do mean everybody – worked at some kind of job … that is every able-bodied man, woman, girl and boy. If we had a well body and a sound mind, and we weren’t too old or ill, we worked.
For the most part, though, any member of the family who was big enough to stand up (without having to lean on a walking cane) usually had something to do. From an early age, parents taught their little ones how to pick up their socks and shoes, or how to iron and how to hang their clothes up.
I knew some children who never went to the field to work as we did, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t work, because they did. And of course, depending on what had to be done at home or around the house, some youngsters worked more than others. Obviously, there are some chores that the very young can’t possibly do, but according to each one’s age and ability, they had to do something.
For instance, when we were old enough, we had to at least bring in firewood even if we didn’t have to help chop it. Usually, parents didn’t let young children chop wood, because it is too dangerous. Only those people who know how to handle an axe cut wood. Otherwise, if you don’t know what you’re doing, you could end up cutting off a few toes or a foot or at least slicing it open.
I was never bothered much about housework. It’s like this. It has to be done, and the good thing is that there’s not always a timeline like when you’re working in the fields. The dishes can wait until later or even the next day, but when you’re on outside jobs, they have to be done then and there and usually the same day.
It’s probably fair to say that country children work more than those in the city, because there’s just more to be done. This was especially true in the 1950s and ’60s. Some of us had to tote water, cut the lawn, rake leaves, wash dishes, wash clothes by hand or with a rub-board, iron, sweep the house and porch and just keep the living place half-way presentable.
There wasn’t any particular household chore that I didn’t really care for. It was better being home than toiling in the fields, so I did whatever had to be done, because I knew that one day, I would have my own place, and as the old saying goes, “practice makes perfect.”
Our neighbor up the road had chicken houses, and their teenage daughters worked in those houses. So, while they didn’t go to the fields and work as we did, they worked in their family business, which to me was hard, back-breaking labor.
One thing I never did at home, or at my grandmother’s, is cook. Neither my mother nor my grandmother insisted that we girls learn to cook. However, we did have to wash dishes and make up our own bed. When I look back on it, I realize my lack of desire to cook cheated me out of a grand opportunity to become a master chef. My grandmother was a great cook, and unfortunately, I failed to pick up some timeless and much-needed cooking tips from her. To this day, I still regret that I never learned to become a good cook.
The chores that girls did at home were lessons that we would later apply when we were grown and married with children. We’d know how to be good homemakers.
What the boys did in the yard, tinkering with their bicycles and wagons and so forth, were also lessons for them for when they would be grown, married men. They would need to know how to be handy around the house (and car) and how to use a saw, an axe and other household tools.
Doing household chores instilled in us a sense of responsibility, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s a good thing.