In what is news to precisely no one: women’s work is never done

Peeling potatoes for the Turkey Supper

Me in the midst of peeling 20 pounds of potatoes late at night, after a long day’s work, in the cramped Manse kitchen. (Photo by Raymond Brassard)

More than once here at Meanwhile, at the Manse I’ve paid tribute to my mum, Lorna Sedgwick, for somehow surviving the Manse years of my childhood. Now that I am living through the Manse years of my adulthood (having moved back to this great old house in Queensborough a while back), I think I have a much better appreciation of what was involved in raising four small children, working full-time as a high-school teacher, keeping a big old house in reasonable order, preparing three meals a day for an ungrateful lot (and this when she hated cooking), and last but certainly not least, fulfilling all the demands that were placed on a midcentury minister’s wife – including having company to dinner pretty much every single Sunday.

And all this without a dishwasher! Or many other of the conveniences we all take for granted today. (Mind you, Raymond and I still don’t have a dishwasher at the Manse.)

My mother told me not long ago that quite often on Friday afternoons, when she would arrive home at the Manse after a week of teaching, she would just sit in the car in the driveway for a while, too exhausted to immediately face the job of cooking supper for the family. Too exhausted to even face the family.

Now, my workload is not nearly as heavy as my mum’s was. For one thing, there are zero small children to raise, though there are three cats. For another, my husband does an immense amount of work around the house, including cooking meals more than half the time. That said, my paid job (co-ordinating and teaching in the journalism program at Loyalist College in Belleville) is probably more demanding and time-consuming than my mum’s job was. And I have a daily commute of almost an hour each way, whereas Mum only had the less-than-15-minute drive to Madoc and back, to teach at Centre Hastings Secondary School. And even though I don’t have minister’s wife duties, I do have quite a bit of work in my role as secretary at St. Andrew’s United Church. And then there is Meanwhile, at the Manse to produce!

Let’s just say that I sometimes feel, as I’m sure my mother felt a hundred thousand or so times back in those Manse days of my childhood, that I am really tired of being tired.

But who doesn’t feel that way these days? Every working person I know is putting in more hours than workers did even a generation ago. Nine to five? What the heck is that? And we’ve all got so much going on outside of work as well. The other day I was talking to a businesswoman in Madoc who works full time six, and often seven, days a week. How does she do it?

While I fully realize that many, many men (like my husband) work every bit as hard as their wives do, I’ve been thinking a lot about “women’s work” over the past two or three weeks. You won’t be surprised to know that these thoughts have been prompted by being at the Manse, and by thinking about my mum and the women of her generation, and the generations before that.

These reflections kind of got started on a recent Friday night, when, after a very long and trying week at work, I had to spend several hours in the Manse’s ridiculously small and poorly laid out kitchen/pantry doing prep work for a meal to be served to guests the next day. They are guests whom we always enjoy having over, and the meal was not at all a fancy one; but because Raymond and I had out-of-the-house stuff to do most of the following day, I had to get things ready Friday night – when, let me tell you, I was ready to drop from exhaustion. Here I am whipping the cream for the world’s greatest retro dessert at about 10 o’clock at night, feeling more than a little sorry for myself:

late-night-whipping-cream-in-the-manse-kitchen

As I whipped, I kept thinking about my mum, and all those long-ago evenings in that very same kitchen when she, as exhausted as I was, would be using the hand-held mixer to prepare some dessert or jellied salad or other so as to lighten the load of same-day preparations for company. “How did she do it?” I kept wondering.

(But you know, it paid off: the next day when dinner was a snap to get on the table because of all the advance work that I’d done, I felt pretty pleased with myself. That, however, was after a good night’s sleep.)

I got thinking along the same lines last week, on the night before the Turkey Supper at St. Andrew’s United Church that I told you all about in last week’s post. My assigned task, because I am utterly incapable of baking one of those homemade pies that St. Andrew’s and Queensborough are so famous for, was to peel and cut up (into small pieces, so they’d cook quickly) 20 pounds of potatoes. People, do you know how long it takes to peel and cut up 20 pounds of potatoes? I’ll tell you. It takes exactly an hour and a half – 45 minutes per 10-pound bag of potatoes. There was a time when leaning over the kitchen sink for an hour and a half would have caused my back no problems whatsoever. But as a woman of a certain age, I can definitively say: this is not that time. And this hour-and-a-half mission happened, of course, after another very long day at work and another long commute home. You can see me hard at work on the potato front in the photo at the top of this post, and here’s another view where my peeling hands are just a blur!

peeling-potatoes-2

But I hasten to add that I wasn’t really feeling sorry for myself on potato-peeling night. Instead I was thinking about all the other women of St. Andrew’s United Church and the wider Queensborough community who, that night and over the past several days, had worked way more than my measly hour and a half to prepare food and make everything ready for the Turkey Supper. And then there was the day to come, when many of the same women would be working all day long doing prep work and setup, then serving up the food at a furious pace during the 2½ hours of the supper, and then working late into the night to clean everything up. And people, I hope I’m not giving away any secrets if I say that most of those women are older than I am – some by quite a bit.

They are amazing. Absolutely amazing.

Every year I vow that I will take lots of photos of our Turkey Supper, and every year I fail to fulfill that mission. Why? Because I’m so busy running around helping out! There’s just no time to stop and take photos. And most especially not this year, when – thanks in part to you excellent people – we had what was probably the biggest crowd in the long, long history of St. Andrew’s Turkey Suppers.

Cars parked all through Queensborough for the Turkey Supper

“The cars were parked all over Queensborough!” one visitor to our Turkey Supper told me, completely accurately. I am pretty sure it was the biggest turnout in the history of the St. Andrew’s Turkey Supper.


Turkey Supper 2016

A view of the newly renovated hall at St. Andrew’s packed with people who were there for our famous Turkey Supper.


Turkey Supper 2016 2

Another shot of the Turkey Supper diners, featuring Raymond (in the checked shirt) who, with our minister, Norm Long, never stopped pouring coffee and tea.

I hope my photos give you some sense of how busy we were. Thanks to ticket sales and donations, our church has received a wonderful financial boost that will help its work a lot in the coming year. But oh, how I wish I had photos or video of Lorraine mashing the potatoes and keeping a steady stream of warm and delicious food coming out of the oven; of Ann Lee making sure all the trays on the buffet table were always filled; of Joan and Stephanie and Barb and Wanda and Lorna and Doris tirelessly washing and drying the plates, cutlery and glasses over and over and over as they kept being used over and over and over; of Netta and Debbie and Susanna racing to clear tables and install new place settings in time for the next round of diners! How I wish I could show you Eilene, making pot after pot of coffee and tea; of Joan, filling bowl after bowl of salads; of Lois, cutting and serving up dozens and dozens of pies; of Sandra, keeping track of when there were spaces at the table and summoning expectant diners to fill them; and especially of Betty, overseeing the whole shebang, as she has done for so many years, and doing a fantastic job. And how I wish I could show you the bustle – exhausted bustle, but bustle nonetheless – as everyone worked to clean everything up afterwards – on empty stomachs, because the crowds were so huge that there was no turkey dinner left to feed these hard-working volunteers!

Pictures failed me. And really, so do words.

Except this: thanks to the work of these women, of women like my mother, who have spent the majority of the days of their lives working until they were ready to drop – we have been fed, and cared for. The world is a much better place for “women’s work.”

13 thoughts on “In what is news to precisely no one: women’s work is never done

  1. Hello…….did you ever see the article about you that was in the ontario farmer newspaper ? IF not, let me know and I will send it to you.

    CAROL

    >

    • Hi Carol – how kind of you to think of that! No, I didn’t see the article, though I heard about it through my mum, to whom a farmer friend showed it. I hope I didn’t say anything goofy in it … (If I did, my mum was too nice to say so.)

  2. You didn’t need the photos–I can picture every vivid image you’re describing. Just one question, though: Is that wafer cake really as delicious as described? I like the ingredients separately, but I can’t get a handle on the finished texture…mushy? Cakey? Probably helps enormously that you used actual whipped cream!

    • Nancy, I just cannot tell you how great that chocolate wafer-and-whipped-cream cake is. Every time I serve it, people are blown away by how delicious is is. And it looks so fancy, but is so simple to make. I’ll never forget the time I served it to Raymond’s daughter, a trained pastry chef who makes and sells fabulous desserts in her shop in the Eastern Townships. She adored it! I was so proud of myself. And so thankful that I’d learned about that dessert from my grandmother Keay. The finished texture is, I’d say, basically cakey but cake with a ton of super-soft icing (i.e. whipped cream with a nice dollop of vanilla added in) all over it and between all the thin layers. And yes, absolutely one should use real cream and not (as the recipe on the bottom of the box now urges, though I know it didn’t back in my grandmother’s say) the dreaded Cool Whip.

      • I can second and third everything Katherine says about that dessert. A friend and I had it recently with Katherine and Raymond, and since then my friend has served it to enthusiastic kith and kin twice (that I know of; I was present on one of those occasions) to universal raves. And yes, real cream. ALWAYS use real cream in your life; our days are much too short for anything less. 😉

  3. Sounds like a busy day.
    Regards
    Gerry of Belleville.
    P.S.
    Exciting days for hockey fans . . . Glad to hear that the legal dispute between the city and the arena renovators has been resolved.

  4. Reading your blog makes me wish even more that we could have been there, however, with Don having cataract surgery that day it was not possible, hopefully next year. I think we tend to forget how much work these things are and perhaps that is good. I know I made chili sauce this year and I said I am either getting slower or it is my age, maybe a little of both, , it seemed to take forever to prepare things and also made me a bit sad as it reminded me of the years we would pick up a bushel of tomatoes at the market, go to Queensborough and Bobbie and I would spend the day making chili sauce and canning the tomatoes but they sure taste god come winter..

    • Barbara, I hope and trust that Don’s surgery went well, and I look forward to seeing you both at next year’s Turkey Supper! (Or the 2017 Ham Supper, which will be Wednesday, April 26.) You’ve got me thinking about chili sauce: I used to make it in the fall too, and have got away from that in recent years. I really should give it a whirl again, though I expect that, like you, I might find it’s more work than it used to be. But you’re absolutely right: it tastes so good in the middle of winter. I am 100-per-cent certain that you and Bobbie used to have a ball making up a big batch – wish I could have been there!

  5. Hi Katherine: You must have been exhausted after all of that work (preparing AND helping at the dinner), especially after long days at work AND commuting two hours per day. When you used to do daily blog articles, I wondered then how you managed to put out such interesting, well-written stories for us, on top of everything else that you worked on for the day. As for the supper, it sounds like such a dedicated team of workers, helping to put together the supper at the church hall (which looks very nice with the new decorating scheme, BTW.) Obviously, the event is always very popular, what with the cars lined up so far, to attest to the attendance of the visitors, but it was a bit sad reading that none of the hard-working volunteers were able to enjoy their own plate of delicious food.

    And I am absolutely positive that you could make a wonderful pie, just like those in the photos you’ve provided. Maybe you could ask one of the amazing bakers in Queensborough to get together with you when you try your hand at pie-making. The first attempts at making pastry can be a bit frustrating, but once you get the knack, you’ll be pleased with your results. All the best to you & Raymond for a nice Thanksgiving.

    • Thank you for your kind words, Sash! It’s always a joy to hear from you. And I appreciate your encouragement about pie-making. I’ve already had some discussions with my neighbour Ruth, who makes amazing pies, about a lesson or two. By the way, I was especially tickled to get this comment because I was just thinking of you very recently: remember how you urged me (when I was complaining about the baguette situation in Ontario) to try making French bread at home, using Julia Child’s recipe? Well, Raymond has decided to do that! He bought the baguette pans yesterday in Sherbrooke, Que. I’ll keep the world posted on how it all turns out!

      • Hi Katherine,

        Thank you; that’s so nice of you to say that. I’m sure you’ll soon be making pies that are just as nice as any of the others that have graced the tables at the Queensborough suppers. I think the one thing that frustrated me was making pie crust. My grandmothers and mother could do it so easily, and it always turned out perfectly. They made it, rolled it, baked it — none of this “chill for 60 minutes” stuff that Martha Stewart and others recommend. But, I find that I really do have to chill the dough before I roll it; otherwise, the richness causes it to break up easily. So, it can be a bit of a “live and learn” experience. Have fun making your baguettes, too. Julia said that one of the most satisfying parts of learning to cook was when she was able to make bread. I’m sure you’ll be a pro in no time!

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