My laughter was spontaneous when Lynne Rossetto Kasper closed her recent “Splendid Table” program with a quote from Erma Bombeck: “No self-respecting mother would run out of intimidations on the eve of a major holiday.” It bubbled up from that self-recognition that prompts the deepest amusement—and a little embarrassment. As I thought further about the truism, my head filled with questions.
Why do women behave this way? Could the frustration that results in intimidations arise from tension over the extra work that holidays entail? Why do we shop for special food? Why do we decorate the house, the windows, the table? Why do we plan, clean and cook? Is it expected of us? Or are we the ones who add extra chores to already full workloads?
Asking these questions led me back to an observation I made when decorating my tree this year. One of my favorite teddy-bear ornaments, among the one hundred and seven that adorn the tree, is an angel with a cock-eyed halo, flopped over one ear. For more than a decade I had assumed that her untidiness was indicative of her general disposition, a carelessness about her appearance. This year as I hung her on the branch I wondered if she was truly careless, or merely overworked. Perhaps she is so busy hanging stars that there is no time to attend to her own appearance. Another woman, burdened by the holiday.
Then I heard Erma’s joke about women’s tactics to manage the holiday burden and wondered how far back traditions relied on women for implementation. Mental pictures from literature written in the 1800’s occupied my imagination: Mrs. March maintaining the holiday hearth for her Little Women and Mrs. Cratchit, making the best of a meager situation for Tiny Tim’s family in The Christmas Carol. Before recorded history, fictional or factual, in the time of hunters and gatherers, women remained at the hearth while the men were away and were responsible for organizing the household. Perhaps the habit of preparations is now ingrained in our genes.
The theme of this blog is how women are connected to one another, but my reflections on Erma Bombeck’s quote made me realize that it is women who also preserve the connections within families—perhaps the principal reason we are so concerned about maintaining the holidays. It is also women who safeguard connections within communities and within faith traditions. Women are the resin that binds the tree of life. Our connections extend beyond other women into the world—a world we envision at peace, for the sake of our children, even of we do sometimes employ intimidations to keep them in line!