Sometimes there’s a silver lining in dark things. For me it’s the skills learned and honed in adversity. Some of them are excellent to have yet it still feels bittersweet to acknowledge them, as I know the great price, the opportunity cost, that they came at. The life of 24/7 domesticity that is the Quiverfull experience for girls and women gets you pretty good at making meals from scratch and being resourceful about it, as you’re often cooking big batches from cheap ingredients in a kitchen that isn’t fully stocked. When you have a ton of kids in a small house, cleaning and washing dishes happens constantly and everything is still a mess. I don’t know of any Quiverfull families who have clean houses, really. My childhood home was downright filthy, sheets going unwashed, floors unvacuumed, bathrooms unscrubbed. Still, I washed a lot of dishes and did a lot of laundry and cooked a lot of food and found a way to make a lot of things that I needed from other things I had on hand since there generally wasn’t any money to buy new things. I soon learned that if you’re repairing clothes or crafting whenever you sit down it means you might get to sit down longer and not have your down time be called “lazy.” So today I know how to sew and do macrame and make candles and weave pot holders and French braid hair. Being able to read a book and crochet at the same time is something I have the bragging rights to, should I so choose to display them (and I typically don’t, as that’s a rather solitary set of activities), but all those skills are ones I’ve kept and still use, some more than others. For example, I made myself a set of fingerless gloves out of blue wool last week, just in time for the first snow.
Right now, at this moment, I’m making stock from the bones of the Thanksgiving turkey and my whole apartment smells like rosemary and sage and chicken broth. I’m also taking breaks in between writing this to switch out loads of laundry. But I find I have such mixed emotions about all these things.
For instance, I hate doing laundry. Sure, nobody probably finds it fun, but I find it irrationally insulting. Or maybe the better way to say it is that being told “this is woman’s work, you are a woman, do the laundry and act like you like it” is the absolute best way to get someone like me (and probably lots of other people) to develop a pretty poor attitude and a strong sense of resentment towards doing laundry and perhaps even the fact that laundry exists to demean us with. So yeah, irrational perhaps, but understandable.
You develop associations with things. It’s human. And if it’s traumatic, an aversion can persist, often long after the danger or humiliation is over. Which is why anyone folding a belt in half or swinging a stick in front of me bothers me, causes an involuntary adrenaline rush, an unnecessary jolt of hypervigilance that takes a while to calm down from. Even though I’ve long since left that world behind, the belt-spankings and sexist drudgery, the laundry, and the programming – the shame and anger and sense of thankless misery that it conjures up for me, is still there. It’s in my muscle memory. I start folding a towel and suddenly I’m transported back to all these other times when I folded towels. Many of those times are crappy to remember. I’ve talked with others and it seems that a lot of the post-Quiverfull work us former Quiverfull daughters have to do is reprogramming our domestic associations. Meantime, it leaves us something of a paradox.
We are damn good at domestic stuff, adept at a lot of old-fashioned things that today only grandmothers and hipsters seem to know, and most of us hate how we learned it and hate that we had to do it and so we do it as little as possible and then suddenly we find a situation where somebody we like needs a button sewn on and a hem taken in or wants to can all these pears or says they’d love homemade challah bread French toast for breakfast. And then we say “oh, that’s easy, you just ___________” and we do it for them, show them how. And they are surprised and happy and just a little bit jealous and make us feel like that was the coolest party trick we just did.
And that’s what most of those skills I learned serve as for me – party tricks, hidden talents, a little something extra. I’ve crocheted hats for friends and significant others and saw the happiness and surprise in their eyes. I’ve taken a multi-tool out of my clutch and repaired the costume jewelry of an acquaintance whose necklace broke in the middle of a girls night out. I’ve cooked Cajun food for lots and lots of people. Just recently, I had a Halloween housewarming get-together at my new place, where I made red beans and rice and my boyfriend braised bratwurst and peppers in beer. “How many people came?” my coworker later asked me. “Oh, not too many,” I replied. “About 20 or 25.” “Uh, that’s a lot,” she said. And I guess it is. But if you get my immediate family plus significant others plus a couple friends together, it’s about the same number. Cooking for crowds is my default setting, not an overwhelming, abnormal, or scary thing. It takes an extra lot, like maybe 50 people or so, to feel like a lot to me.
So when my boyfriend’s Mom asked if I wanted to cook the turkey for Thanksgiving, I said yes, and also offered to bring cornbread dressing and cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie and said that I could make the giblet gravy. The only thing I was nervous about was whether they’d like Cajun spices (most people do, but some don’t) and I got my boyfriend to buy a high quality meat thermometer because I didn’t want to leave the doneness of the bird to guesstimation and chance in front of his whole extended family.
As it is, the bird turned out great, using a slight Cajun-twist to the Alton Brown turkey-triangle method, minus the brining, and because everyone had seconds, there was barely enough left over to make a gumbo, which is what I’m doing today. People were happy and me, I felt a bit like Betty Crocker herself.
So yes, I can do the domestic thing, and I’m learning to love and appreciate it on a certain level, but my Betty Crocker moves are still a party trick, a thing I choose to pull out when I feel like it, not a requirement or a piece of my identity, and they don’t have much bearing on the ins and outs of who and what I am. And I plan to keep it that way.
As I carefully reprogram my domestic associations, one thing I realize it’s important to do is stay away from entitled jackasses and their supposed needs. They can set you back. The “it’s your job to do stuff in the kitchen and I don’t even have to say thank you for all your hard work” mentality is not acceptable no matter how many bible verses or evo-psych nonsense “studies” that said entitled jackass decides to muster in his favor. I am not programmed to serve dinner to anybody and it’s an ungrateful shitty attitude to act like I am and it’ll be fine if I never see that kind of nonsense again in my life. And, at any rate, since there are still too many of those sorts of people running around out in the world, I have a new rule now.
I’ve instituted a no jerks policy for any and all of my domestic activities. They don’t get any of my hats, candles, throw pillows, cookies, or interior decorating skills. Seriously, I may have had to hone these talents for jerks and use them for the benefit of jerks in the past but now they’re mine and I’m keeping them and they’re not available for ingrates.
And my holiday turkey gumbo? Assholes ain’t gettin’ none. No soup for you. Only nice people need apply.