I Have No Excuse


Post by community member:

I am busy. I have a husband, two children and animals who insist on eating at least three times a day while I have laundry to fold, diapers to change and a small business to run. Some days I wonder how I will get lunches packed and a decent home-cooked meal on the table in time for supper. Then, I think of my great-great grandmother, Mary.

Mary was born in 1849 and married at the age of 22. The following year, her first child was born and she continued to have children until the age of 46, when she welcomed her nineteenth baby into the world. Remarkably, all but two of these children lived to adulthood, meaning that she had as many as seventeen children under her roof at any one time.

Grandma Mary (seated) with several of her children and grandchildren

Sadly, I have heard very few stories about Grandma Mary but I enjoy trying to piece together what her daily life must have been like. She would get up well before dawn to start preparing a hearty breakfast for her husband and growing boys before sending them off to work in the fields. (I wonder how many of those mornings she was battling morning sickness!) Then the other children would wake up and she would get all of them fed and dressed while making sure that the tiniest ones had clean diapers and full tummies.

She had to already be planning what to serve for lunch and dinner because those men-folk were going to be hungry when they made their way back up to the house and she couldn’t feed a crowd like hers without being a masterful organizer. I picture her standing in the kitchen, peeling potatoes or rolling biscuits, while toddlers tugged at her skirts and her oldest daughters sat at the kitchen table shelling black-eyed peas. Something was almost continually on the stove or in the oven.

Keeping that oven hot was indeed a job in itself, and I’m sure it was quite unpleasant in the Texas summer. There was no iced tea to be had, either, because she had no freezer. She canned everything she could in the summer and lined the wooden shelves of their cellar with jars of fruits and vegetables to (hopefully) feed them throughout the winter.

She rendered her own lard, churned her own butter, and butchered her own chickens. She made sure that food was on the table three times a day and that there was plenty for everyone. But cooking was only one of her jobs.

Every day, the garden had to be weeded, watered and picked. Floors had to be swept. She had to make sure that the cow was milked, the dogs fed, the eggs collected, and that everyone had enough water to drink. Then she had to chase down that black-spotted piglet that had gotten out AGAIN and make time to mend a hand-me-down dress so it could be worn to church on Sunday. I can’t even begin to imagine Laundry Day.

Oh, what I could have learned from this woman. When I consider all she had to do, day in and day out, rain or shine, all while tending little ones and keeping older children occupied, it’s embarrassing that I ever consider myself busy at all, let alone too busy to cook for my family.

I have no excuse.

You can also find Kelly at Sowell Farm.

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  1. GrannyTrace says:

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful story about your Grandma Mary. Really enjoyed it.

  2. glenda says:

    Now that was the good ole days!

    I can’t imagine having that many children. I am sure by the time they could walk and talk each one had a job to do!

    I enjoyed remembering with you.

  3. Julie Hardie says:

    She reminds me of my bff. She has 12 children, keeps a very clean house, cooks all meals fresh and by hand…No frozen anything in her house that she did not freeze herself…She sews, gardens, crafts, plays with the younger kids, cans day in and day out, bakes goodies left and right…I see her posts daily and it makes me tired. But yet everyone says I have a busy life and they don’t know how I do it! Compared to her and your Great Great Grandmother, my life is slow and boring. God bless her! I don’t know how they did/do it!

  4. kellyb says:

    What a great post. It goes quite well with Suzanne’s “Happy Card Post”. I’m sure your grandmother would have been deliriously happy with an automatic washing machine or dishwasher. We just take that for granted. My day seems less busy now. Thank you.

  5. brookdale says:

    Thank you for reminding us that the “good old days” were probably not so good for those who lived them. I like to think that when I cook from scratch, use an old kitchen tool, or sew something, that I am connecting to my ancestors in a small way. They HAD to do it; we CHOOSE to do it.

  6. lisabetholson says:

    It seems we go through life with something on our milds about how we are so tired and worn out from the daily lives we live.
    I can rememeber my Grandmother doing all the things your Great Grandmother did only she only had 9 children and 7 lived to adulthood.
    What BLESSINGS they were and still are today in our memories.
    I often wonder what is going to happen to generations coming that don’t have animals, or farms to help them keep their prospectives in the simple living of caring for others and making simple life better for all of us. Even we farmers of today have it easier than our forefathers did by far. I dare think how I would get my cattle water without the truck with the water tank on the back to fill and drain for them daily and the grain that keeps them going and healthy through the hard winter months.
    THANK you for this post, you brought back memories of my Grandmother and Grandfather and all the hard work they taught me when I lived with them in my youngest years.

  7. KentuckyFarmGirl says:

    I love this post! Both of my grandmothers had 11 kids each and I sometimes think 2 are hard to handle! Thank you for sharing!

  8. Patrice says:

    Wow! Great post. Makes my day look easy!

  9. LauraP says:

    Thank you for this! I needed the reminder before venturing out into the frigid morning to milk — lucky me, I haven’t been up since 4 a.m. feeding babies and cooking for two dozen.

  10. CindyP says:

    What a wonderful post, Kelly, thank you!

    My life isn’t quite as busy as it could be, for which I am thankful for each time that automatic washing machine or dishwasher starts, or I take meat out of the freezer to thaw for the evening meal. With all of our conveniences today, you would think we could fit more into our day and have time left over 🙂 So NOT the case!

  11. Kathi N says:

    Good to remember. Having electricity and water that does not need to be hand-carried in is such a blessing, but it is so common that we don’t even think of it.

    When our water is shut off while they do maintenance or when our power is out because of a storm, THAT’S when I remember how lucky we are to have it.

  12. marymac says:

    Those were the good old days. when women stayed home to be wives and mothers, they didn’t have to leave the home to go out and work, like they do today. they were able to devote their time to all those duties and I bet they were happier than a lot of women today. Today many childrens memories of growing up will be day care and babysitters, not mamma rolling biscuits and taking care of them. I love this story, it hits home.

  13. meg says:

    Thank you for this post! I really enjoyed reading it this morning.

  14. meg says:

    I would like to share this, would that be alright?

  15. hershiesgirl says:

    THANK YOU for sharing this delightful glimpse into your grandmother’s daily life. I too, have no excuse!

  16. ShellyBell says:

    Julie Hardie: Wow – what a great friend to have. I think it’s so funny that some people think that huge families are such a curiosity.

    brookdale: You’re right – my great-grandfather (the one standing up on the left side of the porchin the photo) was the youngest son and he did not want to farm, even though his family would have given him land. He ran a store until the Depression, then was a blacksmith or did whatever he could to make money but never went back to farming.

    Thanks for all the comments – I hope your memories are happy ones!

  17. Ross says:

    Mother raised 8 children. I was number five. Housewives did not do it all by themselves. Children were taught as soom as they started walking to fetch and a four year old could hold a baby for feeding with a bottle. By the time I was four moth had me mating socks in pairs and pull one inside the other. When we were ten we hung laundry on the lines. We gathered the eggs, brought in fire wood for the ktchen stove. We often heard mother yell “one of you big kids see whats wrong with the baby”. Mother baked yeast bread two or three times a week. The kids had to clean up after supper and set the table before supper. Garden care was a family recreation. My brothers left home in the summer of ’51 and I inherited 6 Jersy milk cows. Morning milking was always separated, the cream was stored in the refrigerator and the skim was mixed with hog mash and fed to the pigs. We were expected to be ready to leave for school and catch the bus.

  18. ShellyBell says:

    Very true, Ross! I think mothers with lots of kids are the best ‘managers’ in the world.

  19. Ross says:

    We were typical kids and reluctant to work but mother had many fables that she told and dad had a more direct incentive, “when you finish that chore you can come in to supper.”

  20. Ross says:

    I have done remodeling work in many old farm houses and everyone has had strong shelves for canned foods. No child that grew up in a large family in a rural area left home without knowing the basics of cooking, canning, sewing, gardening and laundering clothes. They knew how to change a diaper and warm a bottle to feed a baby.

  21. Larissa says:

    Go Grandma, Go!

    I also marvel at the work the matriarchs in my family would have had to do. Great post!

  22. Judy says:

    Great post Kelly…really enjoyed reading about your great-great grandmother Mary.

  23. Elizabeth Stallions says:

    Hubbies Grandma had eight kids, they raised and grew all there own food, she cooked and canned, took care of the garden. I loved her very much and could listen to her for hours, she was always happy, never a cross word. All the kids helped, hubbies dad to this day does not like plum jam, or rabbit, they ate alot of it. Enjoyed your story very much, sometimes I think that we forget how busy are Grandparents were! and we need to be reminded, so I thank you for this post!

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