Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Women pioneers' life: now and back then

When we arrived in New England at the end of a steamy summer, I wanted to make sure we had every possible aspect sorted out to face the cold winter. I was so excited: I had read so much about these places and its history and finally I was about to experience it first hand. We had our winter gear shipped from Europe to our new address, my husband also made sure I had all movie entertainment available whenever I needed it (I had all my TV series, movies, even cartoons that would keep me company in those long lonely, cold and stormy days). Besides having the apartment set up in proper order, we also started stocking up on supplies of stuff we needed for those crazy situations (aliens invasion, nuclear war, etc...just joking.. mainly for awful weather conditions that basically forbid you to get out of the house for a couple of days, if you are lucky).
We undertook this project very eagerly and with a high dose of adventure; we never had to do anything like this before and the excitement was running high. Preparation was the most fun, we wrote down a list of basic things we thought we needed in case of emergency to get us through a couple of days, no more. If worse came to worst, we thought, they would sent the National Guard to the rescue. So here it is:
1. some extra blankets
2. an inflatable mattress (don't ask me why, but we ended up using it many times)
3. a first aid kit and medications (make sure you keep your prescriptions with you and never run low on those!!), tissues and wipes
4. a torch (or even two) and batteries
5. candles (my favorites are bee wax, a bit pricy but totally natural, last longer and give more light, besides the smell that I like)
6. matches and lighters
7. a radio, make sure that before a storm you have all your electronics like cell phones and laptops recharged (in case of a power outage)
8. a stock of bottled water (we usually bought two of the 24 pack), milk, chocolate, canned food, fresh fruits (like apples, bananas and oranges that last longer), dried fruit.

Eventually we ended up needing all of the above! Needless to say that if the roof of your house gets blown away, you need more than the things listed. The area were we lived in was hit hard by a series of natural events: in one year only we went through 7 major snow storms, 2 hurricanes, 3 tornadoes and 1 earthquake. Even though we took weather alerts and warnings seriously, you can't be prepared for the unpredictability of the weather: tornadoes and hurricanes caused heavy damages to houses and people around us. But the apartment building where we lived was untouched by them; it was only snowed down heavily, which in most cases  means a power cut. However, we got lucky once again because the longest power outage we had, lasted about 6-7 hours. And that happened on Halloween: hard to forget! That is when our inflatable mattress came in handy as we hosted some friends whose apartment was affected by the power outage for a couple of days. I was happy I could provide a warm and safe shelter to my friends!
One thing though I learnt is that we could not rely on electronic entertainment alone, so we had to be more resourceful and turned to old-fashioned activities, which we enjoyed immensely. In one season we did seven jigsaw puzzles of 1000 pieces each.
If my expectations were met so far, as the weather went, what I didn't expect was the length of the winter season. Honestly, I quite enjoyed the white landscape and I had to make the best of my situation in the first year I was there. Hence, I turned to my old favorite hobbies to keep myself busy: baking, cooking, reading, going to the sport club for some laps and eventually I spent quite a lot of time doing jigsaws and watching some good oldies, which in that context were almost therapeutical.
I was thrilled because I was living an American adventure but soon my enthusiasm started to dwindle. I couldn't just stay home and play "wify", I needed to get out and stay among people, be productive, useful, in one word become part of the society. I didn't mind back then as I still don't mind now being a housewife but that is my choice, I could never stand for the imposition.
On one stormy afternoon, I began scrolling the list of movies and bumped by accident into "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" and I started watching it. I immediately felt a strong kinship with Milly, the female character. Probably because of the loneliness and the long winter I was witnessing from my window, I had to think of all those women who like Molly had to endure much more. Sitting in my warm and cozy living room, I felt projected back in time, but the wilderness outside was exactly the same. I was also leading my pioneer life, working alongside my husband, doing my woman’s chores: cleaning, scrubbing, washing, baking and cooking (thank God, no wood chopping and food hunting or gathering). The only activities I could do because my status didn't allow me to work. 
The story is told in a lighthearted way but it also entails some critical all time issues like the place and recognition of a woman within her family, her society and ultimately her country. Milly fights hard to gain her place and respect of people around her. I felt for this character who, with the prospect of a better future, rolls up her sleeves and works hard despite the hardships she faces and I felt I was doing the same. I was working for my family, despite a society and a country that had neither place nor recognition for me. 
Milly became my heroine, the epitome of all those women, silent protagonists, who have been the backbone of the American dream. Women who worked along their husbands struggling to provide for their families but content and grateful for what they had built. Milly is the spirit of pioneering which I embraced wholeheartedly. If America hadn't had an army of Milly Pontepee, there would be no American dream to sell today. But for us, foreigners, it is a different story.

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