Womanly Arts

Cleaning out a storage room in our sugarhouse, my daughters found two large wooden shelves, intricately crafted from small pieces of wood hammered together. Who made these? the girls wanted to know. Decades ago, their grandmother scavenged slender strips of wood from a mill, and created these shelves, and also an entire ceiling in a kitchen she remade.

The girls washed dust from the shelves and set them to dry in the sun. Later, a friend of mine stopped by and asked about the shelves again. She ran her thumb over the wood still smoothly polished after decades and said, Nice work.

Without thinking, I began a list of my mother’s skills: besides her handiness with a hammer, my mother redid an old farmhouse; she sewed quilts, knitted aran sweaters, opened a children’s store in the ’70s, cooked about a million meals, planned extensive cross-country camping trips. An R.N., she dressed in my childhood evenings in a white uniform and nylons and drove off in the dark to a hospital, returning at breakfast with stories, and, one Fourth of July, an orange kitten who had been abandoned by the side of the road.

There’s a story from Elizabeth Gilbert about her aunt, who cut up her prized clothes and resewed them into baby outfits. It’s the same old story of women chopping up the finer parts of themselves and handing those gems right over their children. Unacknowledged and, doubtlessly, unthanked. The raw truth is that gender is not a label, that the pulsing lives of mother and father are inherently different, in a way that’s neither good nor ill: simply different.

In my own all-female household right now, one morning I found a word from a magnet set we had used on the refrigerator. I must have vacuumed the piece and then emptied the dusty bag on my woodstove ash heap. The word was woman. I pulled the word from the dirt, shined it up with my spit, and laid it on the center of my kitchen table.

The cold ugly fact is that marriage does not benefit women as much as it benefits men. From studies, married men perform dazzingly better in life, live longer, accumulate more, excel at careers, report to be happier, less likely to die from a violent death, suffer less from alcoholism, drug abuse, and depression than a single man…The reverse is not true. In fact, every fact is reverse, single women fare much better than married women. On average, married women take a 7% pay cut. All of this adds up to what Sociologists called the “Marriage Benefit Imbalance”…It is important to pause here and inspect why so women long for it (marriage) so deeply.

– Elizabeth Gilbert, Committed


By Brett Ann Stanciu

Brett Ann Stanciu lives with her two daughters in Hardwick, Vermont. Her creative nonfiction book, Unstitched: My Journey to Understand Opioid Addiction and How People and Communities Can Heal, will be published by Steerforth Press in September 2021. Her novel about rural life in Vermont, Hidden View, was published in 2015.


  1. Your mother reminds me of my own. She was also an R.N. and selfless. The quote was almost painful to read, laden with truth.

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