Megan Mayhew Bergman begins her story “Housewifely Arts” with “I am my own housewife, my own breadwinner.” To that, add the line: “I am my own chimney sweep,” and why not? Sunday afternoon, in this balmy autumn, my teenage daughter props a ladder against the kitchen and asks her sister to hold it steady. I warn the kids this is a dirty job.
Our upper (and lower) windows are desperately in need of paint; sections of the roof are down to tar paper; the cedar is cracked and splintery. In short, work needs to be done. But it is ours, free and clear, and the children love their house.
While our house breathes through its myriad cracks, its real lungs are the chimney. With a long pole, my teenager shoves down the wire brush, over and over, while I descend to the basement and shovel out fallen chips of creosote. It’s foul-smelling, black work. In the living room, I clean out the wood stove, scrub the pipe free of soot, vacuum the vents and ready the hearth for winter. While it’s the kind of work I find tedious and filthy, my teenager attacks with gusto; in her room, the younger girl tugs her bunk bed from one end of her bedroom to the other, rearranging.
My girls: not housewives – house women.
I am my own housewife, my own breadwinner. I make lunches and change lightbulbs. I kiss bruises and kill copperheads from the backyard creek with a steel hoe. I change sheets and the oil in my car. I can make a piecrust and exterminate humpback crickets in the crawl space with a homemade glue board, though not at the same time. I like to compliment myself on these things, because there’s no one else around to do it.
– Megan Mayhew Bergman, Birds of a Lesser Paradise