When I think of all the women who’ve made an impression on my life, who’ve touched me and who’ve shown me the way, the person I think of first of all is my aunt, Margaret Houseknecht.
My Aunt Peg influenced me more than probably everyone else combined because she was a part of my life from day 1. She stayed as a valuable part of my life until I was in my 30s when she died.
When I was a little girl, my folks used to take 2 week’s vacation each summer. For those 2 weeks, I stayed with my aunt and uncle at their very modest 100 acre farm in upstate New York. They owned about 20 milking cows, a bunch of chickens, a few pigs and a large number of barn cats.
As I grew older, I visited the farm as often as I could – way more than once a year. For me to be with my Aunt Peg was as fine as life could be. She was a happy, humble, hardworking housewife. Being a housewife wasn’t an esteemed position in the 60s world of feminism, but my aunt raised the bar on the value of a woman who was truly happy with her lot in life.
Her house was never clean, she wore the same dress for 3 days in a row and her kitchen was an overflowing jumble with the results of baking and cooking. But she showed me the value of finding joy daily, of acceptance, of tenderness and happiness and compassion for everyone she touched.
She knew the importance of taking a moment in the middle of a big task to relax with a cup of coffee, to sew new doll clothes for my Barbie or to play a game called Supermarket with me. She was never too busy to laugh or to listen to my stories about a new calf in the barn.
She knew the importance of educating by doing, rather than my lecturing. She taught me how to collect eggs, how to feed a baby pig rejected by his mother from a bottle, how to add food colouring to a jar of newly preserved pears for a special treat of red pears.
She taught me that being nice to people, both friends and strangers, was the only way to live your life and the best way to ensure a fulfilling day.
She taught me the joy of reading for myself when I outgrew bedtime stories. I read a series of books about the fictional adventures of a young nurse and a young stewardess that so influenced me that I was a flight attendant for 32 years.
Aunt Peg was very active in her small community, especially in events sponsored by her church. She contributed to every event – either something she had baked herself, or at least a dozen eggs for other cooks to use for an event.
She volunteered at lots of different venues, but Aunt Peg never called it volunteering, she simply knew where some help was needed and she gladly pitched in to offer what she could.
When harvesting started, many of the neighboring men would go from farm to farm with the one harvester they shared. It wasn’t unusual for my aunt to prepare daily lunch (as in a full hot meal) for over 20 ravenous men every day that they were harvesting; it might have been a week each year. My aunt didn’t sit down with the workers; she just served them.
As I look back at this incredible woman, what I see is her loving kindness for everyone she touched and her positive attitude for all the aspects of her life.
Does my aunt’s role upset my feminist mind? You bet. But then I temper my thoughts of equality with the knowledge of how pleased my aunt was to provide a good meal for these men, for anyone really. She was proud to serve them quality food – no beans – and to serve them lots of it!! She was proud to be a farm wife, end of sentence.
And really, what more can any of us ask in life than to be the best we can be with a positive outlook and a kind approach at whatever we’re being at the moment? Isn’t that leadership at its best?
©Marcia Barhydt, 2012