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Friday, January 15, 2010

Martha Ballard's "Tiring" Day...

Digging about in some of the not yet unpacked and put away things from our move, I found my old, dog eared, stained covered copy of "A Midwife's Tale" The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on her Diary, 1785~1812. The book is written by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich who studied Martha's original diary in context with other documents from her time and place to get a look at what life was like for women back then. I have had a copy or two of this book for years, having found them all in thrift stores. I gave some away and have always kept at least one. I really have re-read it in 'snatches' many times.

Its a book I have mentioned here on my blog before because the reality of Martha Ballard's life had such a huge impact on mine. From her I learned of my personal laziness and habit of being quite a whiner as well! Her troubles and daily work load always made me feel as if I were being challenged from the grave so to speak to live in a way that I could feel a little less of ashamed of myself. She kind of put the spurs to my soul I guess. I in no way can say that I've ever had a life near so tough as hers, nor have I ever put in days that I think measure up to hers. I've known some women who I think could be compared in some ways too her, but I not really me.

Here is a feel for Martha's life in her own words--this is something she wrote at the end of what I suppose even she considered a 'tough week'.

Cloudy. I was at Mr. Matthews. His wife was delivered at 6 hour morning of a fine daughter after severe illness. Her first Child. I received 9/. Made a present of 1/6 to the infant. I returned home and find my house up in arms. How long God will preserve my strength to perform as I have done of late only He knows. May I trust in him at all times and do good and hee will fulfill his promis according to My Day. May he giv me strength and my I Conduct accordingly.

When Martha wrote this short entry--actually a little longer than many of her diary entries--she was a little past 60 years old and it was January 15th in Maine. In the two weeks since that month had begun, she had a particularly busy time in her midwife practice. When Martha attended a birth she had to leave whatever she had been doing in her own house and travel generally by horseback to whatever home she was needed in. She would not just tend to the woman who was in labor, she would also see to that woman's chores and in her spare time often she did her knitting while waiting for a birth to be done.

In the first two weeks of January 1796, Martha began the month by doing laundry and washing her kitchen--both chores that were by far harder than they are for us today, entailing heating up water and lots of weight bearing and physical tasks, some of which were outside in Main in January--which I'm pretty sure was cold. She begins the diary with a side note of a child having just died. Martha tended a great many death scenes of neighbors as well as births.

Martha left her laundering and deep cleaning of the kitchen on January 6th to go tend to a woman was ill and alone as her husband was gone. When this woman was feeling a bit better and she had finished caring for her and her house, Martha returned again to tend to her own house. She did her baking and cleaning--again chores much more difficult than they are for us today--and about 7 in the evening was called away to tend a woman in labor. The baby was stillborn and Martha did what she could to leave the place in good order and the mother "as Comfortable as Can be expected."
She returned home early in the morning and was called to see a sick child then took breakfast at her daughter and son-in-law's house on the way home.

Returning home it was back to her own chores again. Her husband was away on a surveying job and she busied herself with house work including washing the west room--which means she was in the process of some sort of deep cleaning and had gotten to that room now. She also delivered 21 yards of wool cloth from her loom to be made into men's clothes. I'm not sure from her diary if that was to be clothing for her family or if she had sold or bartered this wool to a customer. She did often have younger women help her with some of the weaving and with cleaning at times too. This evening she had a house guest, it doesn't say if this guest helped her at all.

The next day Martha was again in the midst of washing and had company, it happened to be her son Johnathon--who if you read her diary you will find had an ill temper. (Unfortunately later in her old age this son ended up being the one she'd have to rely on the most since his home and large family were on Martha and her husband's land--and they would be the inheritors. He of course stayed true to his nature and didn't exactly make old age more delightful for his parents! )Often when he visited there was some sort of uproar--which I'm sure must have been very hard on Martha. She also had a Mr. Livermore, his wife and cousin and a Mrs. Holdman for tea. At evening she remarks, "I laid my Washing aside when my Company Came and finisht it after they went away Except rinsing" She also mentions for the 2nd day in a row that she feels somewhat fatagud [fatigued]. (no duh!)

The next day it snowed and she was called early to tend another sick woman and did that woman's housework as well. Martha at that time began to feel unwell with a headache. She helped at a birth that evening at yet another woman's home, the labor lasting all night. She had just gone out in snow twice that day to tend to others!

The next day the woman who had visited her earlier in the week came to visit again--perhaps to help her as she was not feeling well? At 3 am however Martha, sick or not, left to go tend a woman who was in labor and delivered her baby at about 5. She brought a house guest home with her after this birth, called on her daughter's families to see how they were and finally got home to finish her washing and do her other work!

We're still not at the January 15th entry! It is now January 10th. In the next 5 days Martha was unable to go to tend to a burned child as she was herself feeling just too unwell and exhausted, someone else had to be found. She did manage to care for yet another house guest however. It was a frequent thing for her to have guests sleep in home and feed them, and also to sometimes spend the night in the home of others. In a frontier type community such as hers whenever someone left home there was a chance they'd not be back that day. Hospitality was a 'must' for survival.

On the 11th, the next day, Martha had 5 young women to her house. I'm not sure but based on much of her diary I think they must have come to weave on Martha's loom. I don't know how much Martha supervised that activity, I do know she probably got a portion of whatever cloth was made if someone used her loom.

On the 12th Martha had a man come to her home to get wood--most likely he was getting it in some sort of barter transaction. Martha did most her buying and selling by barter. She had a neighbor and her child over for the night, her husband came home from his surveying trip and she did her housework-and felt 'fatagud'.

The 13th, Martha actually had a day off. She was 'at home' and she paid a gal called Bulah to do some of her washing. Mr Town spent the night. So even on her day off she had company.

The 14th it snowed and off Martha was again to tend a birth that lasted all night.

And so now again I have to say this is what Martha wrote in her diary on January 15th, 1796, at the age of about 61--a little over 200 years ago.
Cloudy. I was at Mr Matthews. His wife was delivered at 6 hour morning of a fine daughter after a severe illness [labor]. ....

I returned home to find my house up in arms....


I know that when she was able to, Martha would try to pace herself the way I do, and most of us probably do. Not to wear herself out. But in her life--it was often impossible to say no. She did say no once in the 2 week period I just described- but how many many more times she showed up and did for others I haven't even counted. It makes my head spin to even imagine a life like hers. By nature I'm really an introvert. It may not appear that way to some folk who have spent time with me--because I do my best to be outgoing when I'm in company, but truly I crave time alone. I would just about flip to be so tired and have folks in my house all the time like Martha did! I know my nerves would be shot and I'd have at least a headache too! I mean--no wonder she would say she felt fatigued or ill!

I see Martha as an example of a nearly selfless woman--and yet I know she was also like the rest of us--a sinner and sometimes short tempered or falling short in one way or another. She certainly had a far harder life than I do--which is one reason I have kept the book and refer to again now and then. It absolutely KILLS any temptation I may have to be pitying myself when I read a portion from her life.

I generally feel somewhat repentant when I read what her life was like. I think-- well now-- its not all so bad as that. And then I do what Martha would do--I lean on God to get through whatever it is that is trying me, and I don't feel very deserving of his help at those times as I know what an utter wimp I am compared to this pioneering woman.

Well anyhow, I had this book in hand this morning as I've been finally getting to some boxes in my bedroom now that Hubby's office mess is contained elsewhere. Today I hope to empty the shelves on that wicker bookcase thing and use it as a bookcase. I have quite a few books that need a home, including this one. I also plan to put the rest of the fabrics and threads I have away in a drawer I just got emptied. A little more progress is made!

I have errands today, which I wish I didn't. I have to go pick up an RX and I have to go pick up some sausage casings--hopefully. The stores are of course not in the same areas! I have been to pick up both these items before and they were not ready. That's one of those little temptations isn't it?

Oh... I also need to mail Ruby's box! I've got a little felted piece nearly finished for my daughter in law, I just need to put some stitching on it--but my daughter has borrowed my sewing machine until Sunday--I'm not sure if I should just hand decorate it or send it later, I'd hoped to put it in Ruby's box. I guess that means two trips to the post office doesn't it? Or Ruby may have to wait. :(

I've also got to start some more seeds today, half a month's gone by!

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