blog description

Old women talk about old things: history, myth, magic and their
checkered pasts, about what changes and what does not.

Friday, November 29, 2013

To Grandmother's House We Go

 “Over the river and through the woods to Grandfather’s house we go. The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh through the white and drifted snow.”
When was the last time I sang that song? I can’t remember. I had to Google the rest of the words. The song ends with “Hurrah for the pumpkin pie,” in case you forgot as well.
Thanksgiving used to be so special. It was second only to Christmas on my list of favorite days of the year. The four of us would pile into our white station wagon and ride through the fields to my Grandparents’ house. With aunts, uncles and cousins there were never less than 12 people at the two large tables pushed together in the dining room of the 19th century house where my father was born. The home-cooked meal was delicious, and after dinner the men snored to the sound of a football game while the women cleaned up and we kids played games on the living room floor. Dessert was always pumpkin or minced meat pie. It was another world.
Thanksgiving was the teaser for Christmas, but there were no decorations out, no Christmas ads, no Black Friday appellations. There was Buck Monday. The hunting season would open, and the men would depart for the woods. At some point that became a shopping tradition for women on the day after Thanksgiving. The men were leaving so women were released from the obligations of taking care of their husbands and they could go shopping instead! Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? Well, it did in 1965. For many years the Monday after Thanksgiving weekend was a day off as well. Most of the boys would be hunting with their dads.
A bit more emphasis was placed on the original Thanksgiving as well. Or perhaps that is just my grade school memory. There were Indians and Pilgrims and that sense of Blessed Destiny. Today there is a slightly better sense of equality between the two cultures, but we are far from getting the story straight. And I don’t mean small pox and broken treaties. Research is still necessary for some of the facts.
When the first settlers stepped off the Mayflower and into their New World, they encountered a larger cultural difference than they realized in the native Wampanoag people – or the People of the Dawn. The women who might have served the pilgrims the “three sisters” – corn, squash and beans – were landholders. They were the heads of their families. They gave shelter to the men who married their daughters. And they were able to become sachems – the political leaders of their communities.
What might have happened if  Eleanor Billington, Elizabeth Hopkins, Mary Brewster, and Susanna Winslow had been permitted to sit down and eat with the Wampanoag women who might have decided to attend the Harvest Feast of 1621? If Weetamoo, Awashonks, Wunnatuckquannumou, and Askamaboo had regaled the four white women with their history and customs, how might our history have changed? Suppose Mary had told Weetamoo she should be helping to serve, and Weetamoo had said, “I’m the big Kahuna and you shouldn’t be waiting on those men.” And what if, upon hearing this, Elizabeth had proposed a toast: “Thanks be to God, we have arrived in a truly New World. Stephen, bring me a turkey leg.”
In 1965, my last name might have been my Grandmother’s maiden name. Dad might have taken me hunting that year, and my uncle might have joined my aunt to wash the dishes after our turkey dinner. Half the signers of the Declaration of Independence might have been women, so when I was learning about the Indians in 3rd grade, I might have also learned about our Foremothers. I might be a nuclear physicist instead of an English teacher!
On an educational website I found this interesting tidbit.
What were men and women's roles in the Wampanoag tribe?
Wampanoag men were hunters and sometimes went to war to protect their families. Wampanoag women were farmers and also did most of the child care and cooking. Both genders took part in storytelling, artwork and music, and traditional medicine. In the past, Wampanoag chiefs were always men, but today a Wampanoag woman can participate in government too.
Revisionist history is alive and well. Evidently 3rd grade children are still learning that Indian women were drudges, just like the Pilgrim women.
We have come a long way in 50 years. Many women work outside the home. A very few even make lots of money. Men are becoming nurses, and women can be Nurse Practitioners. Women are serving in the military, and my husband does the dishes. We just have to resist the temptation to be satisfied with where we are. The Daughters of the Dawn remind us that we have a long, long way to go – to Grandma’s house.

"Indians of Southern New England and Long Island, early period" Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 15. Ed.Bruce G. Trigger. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1978. 171f. Wikipedia. 27 November 2013.
“Wampanoag Indian Fact Sheet.” Native Languages of the Americas. 1998-2013. Web. 27 November 2013.


  1. Thank you for mentioning the Native people in your post. The Wampanoag sound very similar to the Virginia tribes that I've studied.

    1. Kim, I would love to get together and hear more about your research! Keep me in mind for when you have some "free time." LOL

  2. Just email me through FB whenever you want to chat!

  3. An excellent post, LJ! Thanks for adding more to Herstory with this blog about the Wampanoag and the status of women in this 'primitive' society.