It’s Rag Time!

A few weeks ago, I underwent a woman’s surgery, the result of which was supposed to at best relieve me of all my womanly duties and at worst make my monthly contributions to womanhood minimal and virtually pain free. At this moment, I think I have excellent cause to NOT disburse any money to anyone involved in this process.

So, here I sit at 3 of the clock in the morning, wide awake. On the plus side, my mind has had ample time to wander. And of course it veers in the direction of the dead…

I got to thinking about how being a woman in America’s early years really worked. I should warn you- it is not a pretty sight and/or thought.

How does a handful of dirt or mulch feel? What about rabbit fur, sheep wool or cotton? Yep. They used all of tthat. Those things would be fashioned into something like what today’s pads look like and some women, who were good with herbs and plants would mix different things into the dirt or wood chips to detract from the smell of things and then when the need arose to change this makeshift monthly aid, they would just toss them into the back of the fire. Can you imagine what that made the room being heated smelled like? And what did they do if it was summer and no fire was needed? The  things that make me go hmm. I am not sure how these primitive pads were used, as the common under garments we know of  today were unheard of in young America back then.  I am certain that’s not the worst of it.

I don’t know where I came up with the notion, but I always believed that woman, well white woman anyway, took to their beds for the duration called to entertain their monthly friend. However, in the little research I did on the topic, I learned that women carried on as normal, entertaining and everything- some of them with their friend grabbing tightly to their legs and some with old rags bundled and held some how in their most womanly places. That sounds like so much fun, doesn’t it?

Oh, but it gets better. And by better, I mean worse. Much worse. If you were living a life of servitude or enslaved and you were the washer woman, you were responsible for washing these rags. And let me just remind you that there was no modern washing machine. And you generally had to wash these delicates repeatedly as it was modern superstition that using a rag that had not been cleaned allowed the devil to come into you.

I have said it before and I will say it again. I am so very thankful to have been born in the time that I have been. They would have had to let me take leave to my chambers, wherever they were for no less than 48 hours before my visitor arrived to 48 hours after he had left or killed me on the spot for my indignant attitude.

And then 1888 happened. Kotex happened upon the scene with their disposable products made from wood pulp or Cellucotton. (Wikipedia) You would think this to be a joyous and happy occasion for  women all across America. It wasn’t. Apparently, women carried on with their make shift beds for those overnight guests- if they allowed their guests to even rest in a bed at all. Truthfully, Kotex was to expensive and the average woman could not afford it.

Somewhere along the lines, a sanitary belt came into play, but from what I’ve read, you could take it or leave it. In the 1970s (thank the good Lord, above) maxi pads with adhesive strips came along. There was even a brief show of something called a menstrual cup (the name alone scared me so, I couldn’t even bare the thought of looking this little gem up). But things didn’t really evolve into what they are now until the mid to late 80s. Which, if you ask me is a scary thought. We could put men on the moon, but we couldn’t provide comfort to ladies and their private display of the essence of a woman? But anyway, I am glad someone got the good sense to make some changes when they did, because in the coming decade, I would begin entertaining. And we already know where I stand on that issue, don’t we?

I guess, maybe I will send those people some money after all. They didn’t really deliver on what they said, but they did give me a great reason and way for my brain to wander… Eh… The jury is still out on that one.

I hope you enjoyed reading my little commentary on this, a woman’s best friend. I would love to hear your thoughts, ideas and whatever else you would like to share! Leave me a comment and don’t forget to like and share!

 

For this one, I did have to do a little investigating. So here are all the sites I made my way to or through.

http://www.bustle.com/article/46404-i-wore-an-old-fashioned-sanitary-belt-for-my-entire-period-and-here-are-the-gory-details

en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/sanitary_napkin

http://www.femmeinternational.org/the-blog/the-history-of-the-sanitary-pad

 

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Broken Branches

Go outside and look around at all the trees and bushes you see. I guarantee that you will see some broken branches, some twigs that have snapped off and even some limbs that look like they might fall with the next storm or strong gust of wind…

The same is true for our family trees- they just might not be as obvious to spot, nor as easy to talk about. The broken branches in our trees come in all forms, much like those you see on physical trees. For me and my tree these broken branches are found in the form of mental illness.

Understand that by no means am I saying that the people in my family tree, who have dealt or are dealing with mental illness are broken. As you read further, you will see that they are, in fact, some of the strongest parts of my tree- the roots, even, metaphorically speaking.

I have to admit that this will be one of, if not the hardest thing I have ever written, because it is personal and it is extremely close to home and yet, I have to get it out. I am not the only one with broken branches…

You’ll remember I started my journey into genealogy as a way to occupy my mind, as I was (and continue) healing from a head injury. You may also recall that what sucked me into family history, for real, was Horace- who was struck by a train, while walking to visit his daughter in the hospital… Horace happens to also be the first (of what will be many) broken branches in my tree.

I was having a relatively good brain day and my Nana had come to visit. I was excited to show her all the work I had accomplished on our family tree and I had questions, too. My main question was about Horace. I wanted to know who he was visiting in the hospital. I wanted to know what kind of man he was (especially since the newspaper had called him ‘beloved colored man’ and she was the one to ask, because Horace was her grandfather).

“I don’t know” was the response I got as we sat on the couch together. I didn’t understand how she would not know what kind of man her grandfather was. Sure, he died two years before she was born, but my children know about their grandfather, my dad, who went into the light when I was still a mere child and we all know about my great aunt and uncles, Nana’s sister and brother, who went on the great migration years (maybe ions) ago… So, why would she not know about her own grandfather. It didn’t make any sense to me and so I began probing further. Sometimes, having had a head injury works to my advantage, because I am practically given carte blanche when it comes to being blunt and no one ever considers it rude, so on that day I pushed the envelope. “Nana. you always tell us about how much family is important and that we need to always know where we come from and you don’t even know where you came from. You have to know something. Otherwise, you are just being a hypocrite.” I didn’t see it then, but as I am remembering that day, I can clearly see the hurt that stung my Nana’s eyes- or maybe, that is just the way my brain is choosing to remember things and interjecting how I would have felt onto her. I’m honestly not sure…

“My mother never really knew her father. He went away when she was a young girl.” My Nana explained to me, with so much patience and love and I still didn’t understand. I remember asking her what she meant by that and that what she said next astonished me, but most of all I remember the shut down that happened almost immediately after the next words out of her mouth… “He was sick. Mentally. And when my mom was young he was in the state hospital.” Because even I could see that there would be no more discussing this, I let it go- but not before dashing to my room to write myself a quick note to quietly look into this further.

After doing some research into the matter, I came to understand that dear Horace was in the state hospital very shortly after the Civil War. I have also done enough digging to have enough information to reasonably believe that Horace’s parents were enslaved and that Horace, himself, was either bought as a slave by a BLACK woman named Sally (possibly his own aunt) and continued to be labeled ‘slave’ or was made free after Sally purchased him. At any rate, it is Sally who raised him. It is with Sally that he is listed on the Census until 1870, when he begins to be listed with his parents. That is a lot. Especially for a child. So, in my own mind, I concluded that Horace had every reason to be in a mental institution. I never questioned what happened to lead him there. I decided I would not look further into it.

This worked well, until I began discovering other broken branches. All in my grandmother’s line. They were everywhere. Distant cousins, close cousins (here I begin to use the term ‘cousins’ in a very loose fashion, as not to disclose the actual relationship between myself and any living relative, who suffers and struggles with mental illness currently). These broken branches were found so frequently- it was mind boggling. And it became obvious that mental illness can be inherited and passed down the line. I think the old people refer to this as generational curses and they couldn’t be more spot on.

I started to take a more in depth look at all this brokenness. It became easier to spot the possible moment of when the break occurred in the midst of all the documents, stories and information I had gathered. It was murky waters for sure. It was painful, because it made me look at my own life in a not so positive manner. It was depressing and it hurt. My head injury stems from one of these broken branches- a real life snapping point for this cousin and I just happened to be underneath of the falling pieces. I have never blamed this cousin for this breaking. I will never blame this cousin for the breaking. Sure, I’d had anger, but isn’t that to be expected? But, here I was getting angry all over again and this time, I wasn’t angry at the cousin. I was angry with the tree itself.

Having broken branches has become such a stigma, a great thing to be kept hidden and secret, that I wasn’t prepared for the falling pieces. And, I’m not just talking about this cousin. I had to look at my own life… My dad died when I was 12 and my behaviors and actions that followed were horrendous. I spiraled into a deep depression and hatred of self. I was locked in a mental hospital for two weeks. I had no idea why I was doing the things I had done or said. Some doctors said I was grieving and we all grieve differently, while others were quick to label me as bi polar and others still repeatedly said I was a bad apple. But, what if my family had shared the stories and the histories of all these broken branches? As I grew into young adulthood, I fell in love and got married, but I was so ashamed of my thoughts, I didn’t know how to talk to him or trust his love. At times, I couldn’t bring myself to even crawl out of bed and so there I stayed. The way my home looked at times was an embarrassment and I’m sure a thread of the discord we faced. Eventually, we divorced and went our separate ways, but after discovering all of the broken branches, I wonder if things might have been different- if I’d only known what I was up against, instead of allowing me to think I was an isolated incident, wrapped tightly into this bubble of space and shoved to the back of the closet.

I remembered another cousin who seemingly snapped and meta morphed into a completely different person and tried to beat her child and infant grandchild into nonexistence and then days later, when the child and grandchild were placed into a domestic safe house, she believed and acted as if she had done nothing wrong. Would that outcome have been different? Would there have been such a strain on the family relationship, if we had all known about the broken branches?

Even more recent than that, I have had to watch one cousin struggle with their broken branch, which resulted in a baby being born and taken. I have had to watch the fight against governmental powers that be to bring this baby home and out of a system designed for children who are abused, neglected or all around unwanted and all because not one person ever spoke up and said beware of the broken branches.

And that’s the point of this diatribe, isn’t it? No one ever spoke up. No one ever bothered to connect the dots that were sitting there, numbered and everything, for all to see- if  they had just bothered to look. Everyone was so quick to clean up the mess, that they forgot to post the highway sign, ‘Beware of Falling Branches’. If they had, at least we would have been looking up. Not so much ready to point a finger at the slightest change in wind, but ever ready to jump in and say, “you are not alone.” Those four words can make huge change and have tremendous impact. Yet, no one (not in my tree or yours) attempts to calm the storm before it has a chance to cause the broken branches. This alone, is why I believe those broken branches are some of the strongest in our trees, because they whether it without any help or comfort from others.

BUT. I am breaking the cycle. I am pulling back the shade. And I say to those broken branches, “you are not alone. We will get past this. You can talk to me and most importantly, you can count on me.”