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WOMEN'S WORK: A Memoir/Ron Johnson A man's work is from sun to sun, But a woman's work is never done. WHEN I WAS almost twelve years old, my mother went to work outside our home, a regular day job. Our family had to have the money since my father had been laid off, but I was stUl surprised; for until then she had spent all day, every day, caring for me and my younger brothers. She was a housewife fuU time. Like many women of her generation—she was born in 1924—the only occasion she got out of the house for any period of time was to go to the hospital to give birth. For these occasions—I had three younger brothers—I had been left with my father's parents for a week at a time. That was back in the 1950s, when doctors were wise enough to give women like my mother a few days to be waited on, to catch their breath, before sending them back home. Although now I cannot recall much about my mother being away, I can remember particularly well the day she brought home my youngest brother. I was eight years old, and as she stood beside the car in the bright August sunshine with him in her arms, the blue blanket wrapped around him, I was curious to see what she had come home with. She was proud. I could tell that from the way she stood, kind of straight—although I now wonder if the post-delivery stitches had something to do with that, for she had been sitting in the car on the ride home for half an hour, and it probably felt good to stand. When she pulled back the blanket, I was surprised at how much hair this one had. "I'll have to cut it right away," she said, "it's down in his eyes." Fine, baby fine, black hair—quite a shock of it. And he was all wrinkled, like a prune. Dark brown eyes, almost black. He looked Uke a tough kid. Richard. He looked very different from my brother who had been brought home a year and a haU before; that one, Steve, was blue-eyed, as bald as they come, and didn't cry much, unless my brother Lester or I pinched him when my mother was out of the room. As this new one squinted in the sun, I decided I was kind of proud of him, too. In addition to these birthing occasions, before my two last brothers were born, my mother was in the hospital for a few days after a miscarriage , to have her uterus scraped. As far as I can remember, that was The Missouri Review · 227 it for her being away from home overnight. One time she had yeUow jaundice, a severe case, the whites of her eyes, and then finaUy even her skin turning a muddy yeUow; but she had not gone into the hospital for that. As a matter of course, we did not go into the hospital unless it was Ufe or death. I now realize this jaundice qualified, but at the time it did not seem all that serious. My mother was twenty-seven the year her fourth and last child, Richard, was born, and she was quite content to be a housewife. But the winter before my twelfth birthday, a few years later, turned out to be a hard one. The grain door factory where my father worked had no orders, so something had to be done. He had been laid off before Thanksgiving, and we had exhausted our unemployment benefits. One of the crops in the Cowlitz County area of southwestern Washington state is mint, which grows in big fields, where it competes with weeds. During early spring, crews of a dozen workers—women —are hired to hoe out the weeds. Back then, the jobs were posted at the Employment Office; my father had seen the notice when he had dropped by to check out the board. Over twenty years before, as a fourteen-year-old boy, my father had worked the same fields during harvest...


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