Traveling Marla: “Frontier Wife?”
Last night at a dinner with my husband, his co-worker and his boss, the conversation turned to a discussion about wives. As the only female at the table it was, to say the least, awkward. But readers, you know my personality. I gave courtesy laughs, waiting for an opportunity to change the subject, or to gain some insight into that alien mind: the male.
But then something worse (and maybe better) happened. Instead of some general discussion on male/female, husband/wife, it became about one wife: me.
I don’t remember how or when the transfer took place but suddenly we were talking about how Kurt refers to me as “Frontier Wife” and boasts about having given me a maul for a housewarming gift, and how much work he has me do outside the house. “I love your independence.” This is what he told me when we were dating, and what he reminded me of recently when I complained about having to take my car to the mechanic.
As most of my readers know, I’m not fond of what I consider domestic duties. So maybe I embrace this notion of “frontiering” because outdoor activities are not something I see as duties but as a way of providing for myself (that independent streak again).
Since we moved into our few acres in the woods of western Pennsylvania, I’ve chopped wood. It never occurred to me to refuse the maul or not chop wood. It seemed like that was the thing to do when you live in a house in the country. I saw it as an adventure and did my best not to let my OCD turn the enjoyment into neurotic wood-stacking hell.
Since Kurt was living out of state when we first bought our house, I also spent that autumn cleaning out the gutters, mowing the lawn, sweeping the driveway of leaves and snow (our hilly, gravel driveway must be swept, not shoveled), and setting up our new house.
Kurt returned to a job within an hour of the house and we spent the next couple years trying to be goat farmers (FAIL!) and making improvements to the house. One of those improvements was digging a trench with my in-laws. I begged for an excavator, but Kurt said no. When the guys at work asked him why he never bought machinery for work he was doing at the house, he would always just point to each of his biceps and say “Meet Briggs…and Stratton.”
Now as they asked just how his wife was supposed to dig a ditch by hand that was to be 22″ deep and 16″ wide, he said because he married (this time indicating my biceps) “Komat…and Su.” Well, they all apparently enjoyed this and got a chuckle out of the regular texted photos I sent of me attempting to keep up with the other two people he brought in to dig the ditch: his parents. I couldn’t keep up with my 65-year-old in-laws to save my life. They worked like machines in that ditch. I would make excuses after a few hours like “I’m thirsty” or “I need to text Kurt a progress report.”
I thought they might use my excuses for a break as a reason to take one themselves, but no. Their motto is, simply, “You don’t stop, and you never, ever sit down.” Because once you stop, once you sit, you’ll be done. There is logic to this straightforward approach to work, although I didn’t really appreciate it at the time. I was also terrible at being assertive with my in-laws. I had my instructions of 22″ deep and 16″ wide from Kurt, but as his parents plowed through, we ended up with a ditch 3 feet deep and almost 20 inches wide. I toiled in misery, stealthily texting Kurt to occasionally call his dad so I could have a break without seeming like I was that weak.
I was that weak.
As the years progressed and I began traveling with Kurt to various jobs, I got away from all the exterior housework. I made jam at various places we lived to still feel tied to the land we were on, but I let slip any remaining ability to do all the “Frontier Wife” work that Kurt was so in love with.
But if you’ve been reading my blog you know that this year I began working with a trainer at the gym, focused primarily on weights and strengthening myself. I could feel the changes occurring in my body, and Kurt could see the progress as well. So he was particularly excited for a 3-day weekend at home recently, where he could put me through the old routines and add a few new ones. As you can see by the photos in today’s blog, I now include more heavy lifting and hauling among my curriculum vitae of spousal duties.
Let’s be clear. I would have died as a frontier wife. My poor vision and reproductive issues alone would have seen to that. And if I were picked up right now and plopped down two centuries earlier, even with my glasses and relatively decent health, I wouldn’t make a good survivalist. I think the only thing that might save me would be the learned skills of foraging from my friend Gina, and even then I would probably only last if it were summertime.
But thankfully I’m still here in the 21st, and Kurt had a blast with the work I was able to do. I couldn’t decide whether I was going to laugh or punch him as he joked about looking at the log hauling as preparation for my imaginary Shark Wrangler adventure. After about 20 minutes of me standing at the top of the hill hauling up logs, him saving the biggest ones for last and just giggling as I pulled them up, he stood staring at me hauling up one of the last big pieces of oak before saying proudly, “That…is hot.”
I went with laughter.
I still suck at the usual areas of domestic bliss. Let’s not pretend I’m an ideal wife. I grew up mostly with a single mother, and didn’t really get a strong imprint of male/female roles. I hate cleaning and I only have people over to force myself to do so. I’d rather go out to eat than cook.
But strangely I love making jam, and regardless of how much I’m doing during the day, I love rushing home to get a little bit gussied and greet Kurt at the end of a long day, and…
I wouldn’t do that for any man, and if you would have asked me growing up or in my twenties, I would have told you I would never do that in my life. I’m not very fond of assumed male/female roles, and when I listen to chauvinistic men, I imagine how many ways I would hate being married to them. But Kurt is not that kind of man. He’s better: raised by two people who love and respect each other and work their asses off. So yeah, I will do it for Kurt, for unconditional love, which is what I have.
I know that some women prefer to stay domestically inside, leaving the exterior of house and home to the husband. Others prefer working completely outside the home, making a good wage and outsourcing domesticity. Am I that rare or strange to enjoy multiple roles as a writer, an outdoorswoman, a jam-maker, “occasional” slob, and wife who enjoys…?
And the possibly more important question is, does it matter? Kurt loves it. I love it. It works.
But somehow, when I was describing the roles at dinner, I stumbled across the analogy that I’m like Kurt’s Leatherman, multi-functional. This comment went viral (well, at least at our table) and we were all in peals of laughter over it. But then as suddenly as the idea hit me that I was a leatherman, I began to wonder…am I a tool?
Ha. No. You’re only a tool if you’re merely functional. I’m loved. Unconditionally. I’m loved at least as much as Kurt loves his leatherman. Maybe even a little bit more. 😉
P.S. For more fitness blogs, just go to the category marked fitness and you’ll find them!