Blackfoot Valley Dispatch - The Blackfoot Valley's News Source Since 1980

In Brazil a reminder of the toils of old fashioned motherhood


When I was in Brazil this last time I was reminded of what our mothers, grandmothers, and those before them must have gone through before running water and electricity. I don't know how they did it. Their work load was immense and never lessened.

The men had somewhat regular hours – either because of darkness or a need to rest the horses. The women worked from the time their feet hit the floor in the morning until they got the last child to sleep at night. Many of them still do.

They had to cook three full meals a day, and the food had to be on time. The men could be late for dinner or supper, but the meals themselves had to be ready at the proper time.

And then there were the children – often a large number of them in those days. 

There are six of us in my family – four of us born in less than four-and-a-half years. Being four children close in age, we never lacked ideas about how to spend our time, especially when we were unsupervised. We stayed busy.

One activity that we enjoyed when we were alone was melting wax. The local priest had given our father five or six gross of votive candles that weren't satisfactory, somehow. A few times when our mother was gone we brought a couple dozen up from the basement, heated up the stove, and melted wax in all our mother's pots and pans. It was great sport, and we only had a couple little fires occur when the wax got too hot. Then our already harried mother would come home to a kitchen and every utensils she owned covered in congealed wax. It must have taken hours and hours to clean up after us.

I think it was my sister's idea, but once when we were alone, we fired up the old washer and ran all the silverware and anything else we could find through the wringers. We did a pretty good job on the forks and spoons, but we couldn't get some of the larger things to go through the rollers, but we managed to bend quite a few.

I think our best day was when, while playing in the barn, one of us found a five gallon bucket full of something. It took a while, but we got it open and found we had a treasure of tar to work with. So, we decided to paint the barn.

We stayed busy all afternoon. It was hot and the tar was thin, so we were completely covered when our mother found us. She chased us all into the basement, made us take off our ruined clothes, then found some gasoline and a rag and started scrubbing. 

We all shrieked and bawled because the basement was cold, and the gasoline colder. And it stung when our mother got especially aggressive in her child cleaning. It took hours, and I don't know how the place didn't explode with all the fumes. I remember that we all had horrendous headaches when it was over. But the tar was worth the suffering.

All mothers put up with things like that, but coupled with the work of just keeping a house in those days, life must have been exhausting for them. It never let up.

Winters made things more difficult, yet. Being trapped in a house with a handful of children for a week when the weather is below zero, with a strong wind must have been insane. How much patience is there?

Our mother had a wooden spoon, but used it sparingly and only when things got completely out of control. I remember it coming out of the drawer only a couple times.

Many Brazilian women don't have running water or electricity, but they still have the same responsibilities. They wash clothes and dishes by hand in cold water, and have to have the meals on time. They never stop walking from the time they get up until everyone is asleep.

The Brazilians, in some ways have it easier than did our mothers. Since there are no winters, the children can spend their days outside and out of sight. There aren't near as many clothes to wash, because with a pair of shorts and flip flops, the kids are dressed for the day. The women don't have to hang clothes out while standing in two feet of snow and a wind. But, still, the responsibility never ends.

Although the physical demands are less, life still brings its share of angst and emotional turmoil. I'd rather have a kid covered in tar than one that spends entire days playing video games.


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