Fractured Facade


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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Frontier Women and Depression

What was once a short story planted in my mind has evolved into a novel on index cards planted all over my house. Scribbles on rectangular cards can be found in every compartment of my pocketbook, bedside table, coffee table, end table, kitchen counter, bedroom dressers, office desk, on the walls and closet door of my office, and on the cork board.

Many contain notes from: books and magazines I've read, on-line classes I've taken, movies and documentaries I've watched, exhibits and museums I've visited, personal appearances I've attended, libraries and court houses I've scoured. Most contain scenes from the novel playing in my head.

Wherever I wind up, and there are some days I'm just "led" to places, I feel as if I am spiritually directed to include whatever tidbit I observe when it flashes a light and whispers a sound, "this is why you're here today." The direction may have started one way, but over the years, yes, years of research I've undertaken, I no longer see a straight line from here to there. Rather, I see a huge oak tree with it's gnarly branches each telling a story. The vines wrap around the trunk, reaching and tangling itself through the branches. The strongest part of the tree, the strongest part of my novel, will be the women.

It wasn't going to be this way in the beginning. It just evolved into their stories. Isn't it way past due for the women who never had the opportunity to speak to tell their stories?

The other night I had the opportunity to attend a program at the Roanoke County library entitled, "In the Footsteps of Their Men. Women's Lives in Augusta County, VA 1738-1770." Augusta was a huge county which eventually split to form Botetout County in 1770, another huge county until it was divied up later on. Roanoke County, where I live and where my story takes place, has been part of both of those counties. So when I heard the lecture was to be given by former Explore Park re-enactor and historian, Ms. Bowers, I made my way there.

The early settlers to this region were German, English, Irish, Scots, Welsh, and Swiss. They may have come from different places for different reasons, but they all shared the same experience of leaving behind their friends and family. I believe the women had it much harder than the men. Besides having more rights than women, men found it easier to bond with other men, and forge friendships. They could go to a tavern and drink. They could hunt together, or, be part of a militia. If there were business or legal dealings, if would be the men who handled it. The women's "place" was at home. If there were children, they were her company. If she needed help with them, the support staff she might have had in Europe had disappeared. If she needed a friendly ear to hear her woes and worries, few were to be found. I wasn't surprised to hear many of the women suffered from depression. It was much harder for the women to make friends in their new land. How sad it must have been to those who had a full social life to find themselves in a valley of rocks and trees who couldn't speak back.

Even as the years passed by and more settlers came into the area moving closer to each other, there was still a barrier put up between the nationalities. The Germans might have had it a little easier because they settled in larger groups whereas a Scottish or English settler might have had just their immediate family. Over the years, that family may grow large enough to fill their lonely void, but then they put up a fence around their family, and newcomers are locked out. Her husband may get the opportunity to meet men, but often times the wife remains hidden in the home and fields. Sometimes they die before they even get to remember what it was like not to be lonely.

As a transplanted New Yorker who has had her own share of being unable to find friends here as easily as I can up in New York, I can sympathize with these early frontier women. I always have said that we were pioneers for uprooting away from all our loved ones, and I can't help but see the similarity to those women and myself. My husband has a slew of friends. It was very easy for him to bond, the same way the early settlers did -- over beer, in a shop, on a range, etc. For me, not so much. Even though I am a business owner, the few functions I have attended in a business capacity were fraught with segregation between the genders. That is something I could never tolerate, and had never experienced before moving to Southwest Virginia, but it's alive and well, right here, in this age. There are many other factors which exclude me from "fitting in" but that's irrelevant right now. My point is...I may get depressed once in a while, but at least in this time period there are social & technological options I have to alleviate my loneliness.

Think of those early frontier women and what options they had to alleviate, not only their loneliness, but their boredom...not many. If they were lucky, they had a spinning wheel or could quilt, but those are lonely hobbies, and actually in that era, necessities. And although their daily acitivies probably took up most of their hours, I'm sure the women wouldn't have minded a personal distraction/interaction once in a while.

Woman doing laundry

Cooking, sewing, cleaning, child care, do the laundry, baking, spinning, soap making, candle making, gardening, preserving, processing fibers, caring for livestock, all without modern conveniences and without having a social outlet I imagine would make any woman depressed.

2 comments:

  1. You might need to comment on religion and its role; I feel sure it served some sort of social function for the women to get together on occasion. I enjoyed reading your take on the local history and found it very interesting.

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  2. Yup...Religion comes later...and that's a whole other ball of wax :)

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