Have you ever felt like an impostor ?
I felt like one when I typed ‘Newfoundland Housewife’ into Google search the other day, and my photo appeared ! How presumptuous of me, I thought, as I blushed.
I became a housewife only in retirement, and I do not have the skills and strength to do even a tenth of the work that rural housewives historically did.
My neighbour, Gertie, over a cup of tea, used to tell me what her days were like in the summers.
She would get up at 4:30 a.m. to make breakfast for her husband Edgar, a fisherman, who left for sea in his small wooden boat while it was just getting light.
Gertie knew, each day, that his work was so dangerous that there was a chance that he would not return.
Then Gertie looked after her five children. She cooked and cleaned, and baked homemade bread in her oven.
She was responsible for fetching water from the well, and making sure that there was ample wood for her cook stove. She maintained her vegetable garden and her chickens, and picked blueberries.
When Edgar arrived home with a load of fish, Gertie’s job was to help unload the boat.
She was responsible for splitting, cleaning, and salting the fish.
Then she would place the salted cod on wooden platforms, called Fish Flakes made of Spruce wood. This was called Making the Fish. Her older son Jacob helped her, but she knew that at age 12 , he would head out to sea with her husband.
The dried fish were then traded to merchants, who shipped them, for great profits, to markets in Europe and the Caribbean.
What a surprise I had this morning when I walked over to Gertie’s Fish Flake and found it covered with pale blue gauzy fabric !
This was done by artist Robyn Love. Robin found the names of all the Newfoundland housewives listed in the 1935 census, and lovingly embroidered them on the blue cloth, as a remembrance to the housewives of rural Newfoundland, whose labour was significant in the development of this part of Canada.
Like much of women’s work globally, the full extent of housewives’ contributions to society was never adequately recognized.
Thanks to Robyn for her generous work.
Gertie and Edgar were honest, simple villagers. Their work was challenging, but they knew the value of honest labour, and they slept soundly, with a clear conscience, at night.
God gives us all different tasks and assignments, but, regarding work, Paul gives good guidance in Colossians 3: 23 – Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.
Photo of Fish Flake by Sally