A few days ago I passed a pretty young woman knitting at one of Starbuck’s outside tables. Of course I just had to slow down and take a peek at her project (it’s a knitter’s thing, right?!). She was working on a beautiful grey cabled sweater for her friend, both visitors from Switzerland. I commented that I’m always pleased to see younger people who not only knit, twitter and blog about their knitting, but knit in public! That, I told her, young women did not do when I was young. She understood and said that attitude is changing in Switzerland as well.
When I was her age I would never have sat outside and knit — at least not when living in the San Francisco Bay Area. I might have well plastered “dweeb” or “undate-able’ on my forehead or – worse – be called “domestic.” THAT, to me, was the ultimate insult for those of us rooting for Billie Jean King to cream Bobby Riggs.
Not withstanding my disinclination, my mother endeavored mightily to “domesticate” me, well, at least the domesticated womanhood of a nice Norwegian farm girl circa 1954.
First on her list was securing me a potential husband. Apparently in the San Francisco Bay Area there were a number of Norwegian mothers doing the same thing for their sons. The young men my mother considered were always of unquestionable Norwegian roots but, far too frequently seemed to have either questionable IQs or absent personalities.
My mother was determined to show the other Norwegian mothers what a wonderful husmor (literally, house mother), I would be. On several occasions I came home to find her hosting a formal Norwegian coffee and entertaining the Norwegian mother of young man she had pegged as a “possibility.” On the couch would be a stack of various sweaters I had knit, doilies I crocheted or dresses I sewed – I am assuming as evidence of housewifely skills. (It was aways so embarrassing.)
“Ah, Karen,” my mother would say, waving vaguely toward the piano. “You remember Mrs. Bjørnland? Kai’s mom – you remember Kai, don’t you? You know – Kai – tall, blonde, blue eyed? Well, I was just telling Mrs. Bjørnland how well you play! Why don’t you sit down and play something by Grieg?”
With that, my mother and my prospective mother-in-law would turn toward the piano, coffee cups balanced on their knees, and wait expectantly. (I wasn’t trained classically but I guess my mother thought a tepid performance of “Anitra’s Dance” was better than my enthusiastic rendition of Elton John’s “Bennie & The Jets.”)
Eventually, once my mother narrowed down the number of prospective bridegrooms, she would invite them for dinner usually (but not always) one at a time. That was painful – for both the poor young men forced to dine with us and for me. I felt like a performing seal; I have no idea what the young men felt like. While some looked as bored and/or mortified as I felt, others seemed thrilled to be there.
My mother’s final attempt at domesticating me involved sending me to a husmorskole in Kvinesdal, Norway…. I refused even consider it. First, I would not go to a school whose purpose was, I argued, to create a good housewife. Second, I was (to her absolute horror), dating someone she did not approve of (not only an American but – gasp – not of Norwegian descent).
Knowing that upset my mother was, of course, reason enough then for me to stay in the U.S. 🙂