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Responsibilities

Food For Thought

Rosemary had a younger sister named Marlene, a stepfather who was one of the town policemen, and a new baby half-brother named Darrel. Their house was across the street and down the hill from ours, past a vacant lot. I often walked with her, past my house, around her house to the back door where we entered into the kitchen. Rosemary would go to the living room, where her mother seemed to always be seated at her sewing machine, while I waited in the kitchen. For some reason, I always imagined her mother sewing for someone else, as Mrs. March did in Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women.” I suppose it was because I imagined her as having been forced to sew and do ironing for others in order to support her daughters. This was not the case, however, as Rosemary’s step-dad was a big, pleasant man from the nearby Dutch community of Pella, and he provided well for his family. He was also one of my dad’s best friends and hunting companions and often helped out by milking our cows when Dad had to be away at milking time.
There were regular chores for Rosemary to tend to after school. Sometimes I helped her with them, or followed her around while she did them. In another year or two, she would be given the job of peeling potatoes every day after school. While we ate potatoes often at our house, never so consistently and never such a big pot full every day at suppertime. I asked her once how a family could possibly eat so many potatoes, and she replied her dad insisted on potatoes at every meal. Years later, when I studied art history and encountered Van Gogh’s painting “The Potato Eaters,” I imagined Rosemary’s dad as one of the characters in the painting.
I had my own responsibilities at home, but not so rigid and predictable as Rosemary’s. My chores varied with Mother’s whims, moods and current projects. I might be asked to carry out trash, feed the chickens or gather eggs, bring onions, tomatoes or cabbage from the garden, dust the dining room furniture, fold laundry, entertain my little sisters, go to the neighborhood grocery for lunch meat or a loaf or bread, wash windows, help Mother hang wallpaper, or to fetch a package of hamburger from the freezer in the basement. Sometimes there were no chores at all and I was free to read, spend time in my room drawing or working on one of several creative hobbies I enjoyed. I often went to the library or browsing in the dime store. One thing I did not do after the move to the acreage was play at Rosemary’s house as I had formerly done at Eleanor’s until her mother said it was time to go home for supper.
Two other girls walked home from school in the same direction as Rosemary and I. Anna Marie lived at the bottom of the hill past Rosemary’s house next door to the neighborhood grocery. I sometimes continued on past Rosemary’s to walk home with Anna Marie and stop at the store for a candy bar or popsicle which I was allowed to charge to Mother’s account. I shared my treat with Anna Marie as we sat on her front step and watched the traffic go by on the highway to the country club. Anna Marie never talked about herself and seemed very lonely. I was never invited into her house or met any of her family, and in my fantasies I imagined her as an orphan, living all alone in that little house by the highway. I sometimes daydreamed about my parents adopting her and making her one of my sisters. One day, she wasn’t at school and I never saw her again. I had to assume the family, if she had one, had moved– any other possible reasons for her disappearance seemed too mysterious or awful for me to consider.
Beverly lived down the hill, too, a couple blocks in the opposite direction from the country club. Her house was located on a large lot, rather than an acreage, but they had a small barn and several hutches of white rabbits which it was her responsibility to care for. Every time I walked home with her, she hurried inside to change her clothes and then headed straight for the hutches, where she cleaned the cages and filled the food bowls while I petted the smaller rabbits. I discovered they would, before long, be sold and then butchered for food, so I cuddled them and hoped they appreciated what little affection I gave them, and they wouldn’t know what was in store for them. My dad and Rosemary’s dad went rabbit hunting every fall and came home with large numbers of rabbits, many ending up in our freezer. When my mother browned and simmered them with onions, garlic and carrots, I considered them one of my favorite meals. But, Beverly’s tame white rabbits were a different matter.