Let Us Now Praise Working Fools

In the beginning, I learned to call it “helping.” Helping wasn’t a burden, a demand, or an imposition. Helping was something people did naturally, and being allowed to help around the house was considered a perfectly acceptable way for children to enter the mysterious world of grown-ups.

Trailing behind my mother with a dust cloth, or venturing into the yard to carry bundles of sticks for my father garnered smiles of approval. I enjoyed approval, and so I looked for opportunities: cutting flowers to make the house pretty, or picking up my toys. I collected windfall apples in a bucket; pulled low-hanging cherries from trees;  set the table and dried the silverware; folded the wash cloths; put newspapers in their box. Continue reading


As settlers and pioneers, Suffragettes, union organizers and war workers, women always have played critical roles in American history.

On the other hand, I don’t recall hearing the word “feminism” until I was well into my college years.  Betty Friedan (The Feminine Mystique, 1963), Helen Gurley Brown (the somewhat improbable editor of Cosmopolitan magazine) and Shulamith Firestone (The Dialectic of Sex, 1970) may have been more accessible than philosophers like Simone de Beauvoir (The Second Sex, 1949) and slightly less frenetic than boundary-pusher Germaine Greer (The Female Eunuch, 1970), but my friends and I never found their books on our mothers’ bookshelves.

That’s not to say there wasn’t change simmering in the land, even before Friedan and those who came after her began stirring the pot. In fact, it was a pot-stirrer of a different sort who began changing the routines of daily life in our neighborhood through, of all things, a cookbook.  Murmur the word “oddments” around women of a certain age, and at least some will come to attention like a hound who’s just caught the scent of a good rabbit. “Peg Bracken!” they’ll say. “Why, I haven’t thought of her in ages.” Continue reading

Working Fools?

In the beginning, the word we used was “helping”.  Helping wasn’t a burden, a demand or an imposition. It wasn’t a curse or a condemnation, something to be avoided at all cost or valued beyond all reason.  Helping was something people did naturally, and it was the best way for a child to enter the mysterious and utterly appealing world of grown-ups.

Helpers garnered smiles of approval as they trailed behind Mother with a dust cloth or ventured into the yard to carry bundles of sticks for Daddy. Helpers cut flowers that made the house pretty and picked up their toys.  Helpers collected windfall apples in a bucket or pulled low-hanging cherries from the trees. Helpers set the table and dried the silverware, folded the wash cloths and put newspapers in their box. If a neighbor who’d been called away was worried about her thirsty geraniums, a good helper knew to borrow a bucket and carry water to the flowers.

Helping, I thought, was fun. Continue reading