I originally posted this on Facebook and the reaction to it I received was so strong that I’m reprinting it here, slightly edited. Lostbrook Road is the street in West Simsbury, CT where I spent the first eight years of my life. We lived in a small brown wooden house (#6). It had a gravel driveway and a small pond my father dug in the back yard in hopes of attracting birds, frogs, lizards, and other such creatures that he thought might interest small children. (It worked beautifully.) The house is still there, though it’s now blue and a later owner added a garage.
Yesterday, in a moment of weakness, I looked at what was trending on Facebook and clicked on “Bethenny Frankel.” I have never seen Ms. Frankel on TV (I don’t watch much TV before 3 a.m.), so I have no idea what she does exactly. But I do know from reading the Daily News that she was on a show called “Real Housewives of New York.”
I’ve never seen that show either, but I do consider myself an expert on real housewives. My mother was one for the first fourteen years of my life, and believe me, she had no time to be on a TV show. She cooked, she cleaned, she did the laundry, she shopped, she chased my brother and me around and kept us from killing each other. She made us go outside to play every day, unless there was a tropical storm or worse. She answered every question we had as honestly and completely as she could, and there were a lot of questions.
If we had friends over, she fed them. She made sure we ate everything on our plates, and that everything on our plates was worth eating. This wasn’t hard, because she was a master chef. She knew everything about spices and how they work together. My mother could cook in a variety of American regional culinary styles and make the cheapest cut of meat taste like the finest you could buy. Her pies were beyond anything I’ve ever eaten anywhere. (Her only culinary weakness was baking, apart from the pies, she never figured it out. She blamed the oven, though we had several.) She knew how to shop for maximum nutrition at minimal expense. She could can fruits and vegetables by hand, and even knew how to dress a freshly killed deer for freezing and storage. (Her father, who built guns from scratch in his basement, had been an avid deer hunter until the day he actually looked a doe in the eye.)
My mother taught us how to listen to music, and how to think critically, and how important morality is. She hated injustice with a passion and fought it wherever she saw it. Mom got us up for school and made us do our homework and got us to bed at a depressingly reasonable hour every night. (This may have something to do with why I went into music, where bedtimes are irregular and usually later.)
My mother shoveled snow and raked leaves. She kept a garden, could tell a bird from its song, and taught us the names of every wild flower in the woods. (I wish I could remember half of them.)
Our house was spotless. My mother got down on her hands and knees at least once a week and washed, by hand, every square inch of bare floor and tile. Scuff marks didn’t last 24 hours. Dirty dishes didn’t stay dirty for more than fifteen minutes after a meal was finished. There were complete place settings at every meal, and no condiment arrived at the table unless it had its own special plate and silverware.
My mother drove us to music lessons, to orchestra practice, to band practice, to the doctor, to the pool, to the library, to the museum, to everything that she could think of that might teach us something. She decorated the house like it was a museum, and rearranged the furniture monthly to keep things interesting. For all this work she got paid exactly nothing. My father worked and supported all of us, and he did things around the house too, but it was really all on her.
In addition to all of this, my mother took piano lessons, taught Sunday school, led a Great Books group and got a Master’s degree in philosophy. She also read five to ten difficult books a month, minimum. When she and my father decided I needed to go to private school, she took a job as a bookkeeper in a local music store to pay for it and became a part-time housewife. And NOTHING CHANGED. She still got everything done every day, just as she had when she was at home full-time. And she managed to stay married to my father for sixty-three years, so I know I don’t know the whole story!
My mother was a REAL woman and a REAL housewife. My mother wasn’t unique in this. There are millions of real housewives all over the world doing even more than she did, with a whole lot less, and without a man to help them. These reality show housewives…all you have to do is look at their nails and you know what the deal is. My mother was a beautiful woman but she didn’t cut her hair for thirty years. She only wore makeup if she and my father were going out, and if she needed anything done to her nails, she did it herself. I wish they’d find something else to call these people, because “Real Housewives” doesn’t work for me. I find it disrespectful in the extreme.