Housekeeping

The yard is so dry and the dust is so deep, that when Bear comes in, and lays down on the hardwood floor (cooler than the rug which is covered with rug protection devices), she leaves little dunes behind. Seriously. “This is not to be born!” I thought and bought a fancy mop with which to wash the hardwood floor. I haven’t used it. It’s impossible to keep up with the dunes and the vacuum and dry mop are the best tools at this point.

I’m not a clean freak by any means, but I think better when things around me are in what I consider orderly. I think I can thank my mom for that. “You can go outside and play when you finish your chores.” I had chores in the summer, particularly dusting and carpet-sweeping the living room, on Thursdays ironing. Smart mom!

For the grand re-opening of the Rio Grande County Museum, I bought a copy of Godey’s Lady’s Book. I’ve always wanted one, and on eBay I found one from 1841 which is in the narrow parameter of the years my thesis looks at. It wasn’t expensive. Looking at the photos brought back to me all the hours I spent in the Denver Public Library thumbing through huge bound volumes of the magazine as I worked on my thesis.

Reading some of the poetry reminded me of my first Godey’s project as an undergraduate, a project that gave me some immense gifts, one was it made me a better writer. Two, it taught me something major about teaching which is, “Give sincere students second chances.” Sarah Hale, the editor of Godey’s, was the subject of my final paper for my senior seminar. This was one of the earliest women’s studies classes — there wasn’t even really women’s studies in 1974. I spent hours in the basement of the Norlin Library at the University of Colorado reading microfilms. It was primary research such as I had never done before. That was the third thing I learned; the actual writings of the people living in a time are more interesting and maybe more accurate than latter-day historical commentary.

I typed my paper on erasable typing paper (I was not then the god of typing I am today ha ha) and turned it in. Mrs. Guralnick wrote, “Your research is, needless to say, very fine. Your writing, however, is awkward in many places and difficult to follow.” I don’t remember the grade, but I think it was passing, barely. I was heart broken. I ripped up the paper and cried. It had been a labor of love and and and and…

At some point (class was still going on) I taped the paper back together (with masking tape, all I had) and went to her office. Kind of embarrassing because my emotional storm was obvious from the tape on the back of my pages. Bless my teacher; she didn’t laugh. We talked. She did the unheard of (in those days) and offered me the chance to revise it. We talked about writing, my writing. Every student I had for the 38 years in which I taught writing had the same chance.

Godey’s was the largest selling magazine in the US for more than half a century. The editor — Mrs. Hale — was an amazing woman. The magazine prided itself on being the ONLY magazine for women edited by women. You can see a copy here if you’re interested. Godey’s Lady’s Book January 1851

11 thoughts on “Housekeeping

  1. I love that you had the courage to go back to the instructor and discuss your writing. Far too few students do that. I have a reprint and several frames pages from the original. They are in oval wooden frames. They were my great grandmothers, then when my grandmother moved in with us they migrated to the living room. When my mother downsized from the big home to an apartment, I got them. For years they were in my bedroom. Then I married and they slid to the den. After children and another move they hung in the main bath. Since the big remodel, they are in my hope chest. Some day they’ll make a reappearance. Until them I hold them as special…

    • I don’t have any of the fashion plates any more. I left them behind when I moved here. You are right; they are special. To people on the frontier they represented a settled world. There are house plans in most of the magazines and once in a while I see a house that was made from Godey’s plans. There’s one here in Monte Vista that I’m pretty sure is a Godey’s house.

  2. Bless that teacher for giving you a second chance. What a gift to you and your future students. I wish my college English professor had been like that. Fascinating magazine, wow! Sara Hale was a real pioneer for women in many ways. She was born in New Hampshire, so her name is a familiar one around here.

    • The second chance just didn’t happen back then. She gave me a HUGE gift that day. Sarah Hale is one of my heroes. When I finished the research for that senior paper, and walked out of the library, knowing I had all I needed, I feel bereft like I’d said goodbye to a wonderful, inspiring friend. ❤️

        • I “met” her when I was 6 or 7 and my dad brought home an old book from the university of Denver where he taught/worked. He put it on my lap. It was Poet’s Offering, one of the anthologies of poetry Sarah Hale put together back in the day. It was beautiful. I loved the engravings and it became one my treasures. I gave it to a Chinese professor back in the early 80s. An engraving of Sarah Hale was in the front. YEARS (1974) later when I had to do a senior project for my seminar on women’s lit, I was in the library at the university at the University of Colorado. A book fell off the shelf and opened. There was the same engraving. The book was “The Lady of Godey’s.” I checked it out and decided it was fate and that she would be the subject of my senior paper. It felt like my dad was there helping me find a good subject.

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