Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Helpful Instructions

I come from a Southern family. As relatives passed away over several decades, my parents' home became the repository of family belongings. When one aged aunt died in the 1960's, dishes from her dining room sideboard were shipped to our house. When another aunt died in the '80s, we received some end tables whose drawers were stuffed with things. When a second cousin died, scrapbooks and boxes of photographic slides arrived.

No one has had time to go through all of this stuff, so when my brothers and I visit Mom, we can open a drawer at random and paw through bits and pieces of family history. It has all become intermingled, so that one encounters an autograph book from 1889 that belonged to my Great Uncle George, photos of my great grandfather's funeral in 1915, followed by snapshots of my mother and her best friend together in 1940, and my own brothers' high school report cards from 1973.

One evening, fueled with a glass of Hiram Walker on the rocks, I found a small red-bound volume titled "What A Woman of Forty Five Ought To Know," authored in 1902 by Mrs. Emma F. Angell Drake, M.D. Although we only have this single volume, the back of the book indicates it's one of a series of turn-of-the-century sex-education manuals for both men and women, called the "Self and Sex" series.

In the flyleaf, written in pencil is the inscription : "To my beloved wife on her forty eighth birth day, with love and congratulations [illegible] - Husband."

I think this was a gift for my Great-grandmother from her husband. Is that sweet, or what?

Being that I'm a bit over 45, I figured I better catch up with Mrs. Drake to see if I've missed any crucial information. So I read the book. And I've decided to bring her helpful instructions to other needy women in the blogosphere.

So...pull up a chair. Pour yourself some Hirams. Let's peruse the lessons in Chapter I, "Knowledge of the Climacteric Necessary."

Mrs. Drake announces that we approach the age "that is large with importance for all our after years," and laments that many women are ignorant of the physical and mental changes yet to come to us, leaving us ill prepared. Hence her efforts here. She helpfully explains that the "climacteric" is another term for the "change of life" or "menopause."

She assures us, "The years which you are approaching have in them nothing to be feared. The Creator fitted you for child-bearing, and when this period has run its allotted course, He reconstructs your physical nature for another line of work."

What an enlightened view. I'm digging the thought of "another line of work." Although, truth be told, at the time My Son was born, I lived a kind of free-lance existence. I viewed motherhood as yet another one of the various things I did, including working in the theatre whenever I could, serving on my union's Executive Board, and gardening. Motherhood seemed...well...not exactly a committed profession so much as something I turned down other work for. I know others of you viewed it differently, but in any case, we are all poised on the brink where the Creator is going to give us some transitional career counseling.

Anyone's drink need freshening up?

Mrs. Drake goes on to emphasize the importance of our Life Career Change: "woman may emerge from the change stronger and wiser, and readier for earnest service, of the kind the world stands most in need...." Now you're talking. Ambassador? CEO? Hillary Clinton?

She reminds us how important our role as childbearers are, that "all your girlhood is shaped by the Creator, to fit you for motherhood. You come from childhood into womanhood with the desire for home and children in your heart, and all the way along until this is realized you are being fitted for it." I can guess that Mrs. Drake would probably not approve of my view of motherhood as a kind of high-demand volunteer committment.

Mrs. Drake closes Chapter I with the admonishment that it is the duty of every woman to "keep hold of herself, mentally, physically and spiritually," so that we can get through menopause successfully.

The world needs us, she claims; to do our "share of work in the world's physical and spiritual redemption."

Does a car come with this job? Because I am so hoping for a pink VW beetle convertible.

In future, this blog shall regularly meet for lessons from Mrs. Drake's good book.


Jason said...

Fascinating stuff. Please keep drinking and posting.

g said...

Wow, Jason, you were fast!! I am totally fascinated with this book that I found in my family's old dreser drawer, and am definitely going to post further about it!!!!

Stay tuned!

Vallen said...

Which is a good thing, because, as the Creator knows, I do need some guidance!!!

Mary Alice said...

I like that. Looking forward to the second lesson.

Tootsie Farklepants said...

Ooohhh I love digging through old family history stuff. And Mrs. Drake is a mighty wise woman.