I am convinced that my grandmother, Nellie Booker Demps, was Superwoman in disguise. She was the ultimate homemaker, in my opinion. Over the past few years, during breaks from researching and writing up my family history, I have tried to acquire various homemaking skills. I have worked my way through sewing, quilting, homemade interior decorating, crocheting, and this week I will take on the project of learning to make homemade bar soap. But I started out with the very basics of cooking, after I was married for three days and ran out of things to cook for my new husband. The result was me in tears in front of a slew of open cupboards. After he took me out to dinner, I decided to learn how to cook. It has been five years now, and I definitely feel confident in my cooking.
But I have the modern convenience of going to the grocery store to pick up bread, butter, milk, vegetables, etc. My grandparents owned a small house that they built themselves on a farm in Talladega, Alabama. They had milk cows that they had to milk morning and night. They grew vegetables. My grandmother churned her own butter. She gathered eggs from chickens and made her own cornbread. During the years that my grandfather was working in Detroit to make money to bring them up north, she had four young children (including a set of twins). I have the luxury of being able to work on all of these new skills without little ones "helping" me all day long. (At least, not yet!) I have a sewing machine to help along the process of quilting; she sewed hundreds of tiny triangles by hand into beautiful pieces of art. I recently made my own laundry detergent and thought it was so amazing, until I thought about my grandmother hand-washing the clothes of four children in a bucket with a washboard. I thought about how great it was that I made homemade gifts for Christmas, but then I thought about how all of my grandmother's gifts, at least for the early years of her marriage, must have been homemade.
So when I think of the term "homemaker," I think of my grandmother. She was literally making everything in her home: food from scratch, butter straight from the cow, vegetables in the garden, the quilts on the beds, the clothes her children wore to school. All of this work made her home a more comfortable place for her family to live. And not only did she put work into her homemaking, but she did it with love. I can only hope that in my attempts to learn some of the arts of homemaking, improving my talents and living more frugally, what I can really do is make a home that is filled with love.