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Looking Back to 1960-Our Household Chores

My brothers often disappeared when chores had to be done

One thing I always loved about growing up in a large family is the division of chores. Well, not really. After all what kid likes chores? Shouldn’t every waking hour be devoted to games like tag, hide and seek and dodge ball? Playing on the Carpenter playground was all I wanted to do. Chores were an unwelcomed interruption of my day.

Still, things had to be done. There were six kids, and my mom worked, so the division of labor was essential for our home to run with some modicum of order.

Of course, my brothers got the fun jobs, like taking out the trash, and stuff like that.

My sister and I were relegated to doing the dishes, so we played a game as we rinsed the utensils, making the forks and knives pair off before they’d dive off the water faucet into the soapy water below. Spoons were neglected, kinda like the girl who was never asked to dance.

As time progressed, we eventually got a dishwasher, so the water dance was abbreviated into a quick rinse beneath the faucet. 

I always liked watering the side yard with the hose. There, I could daydream to my hearts content, until I noticed there was a big mud puddle from the water slopping into the dirt. Time to re-direct my aim into the other thirsty plants. 

Raking was also fun, although the mulberries from the backyard always got all over my shoes, and invariably, I’d forget to wipe my feet, trailing in a nice burgundy mess into the living room.  We also had a huge olive tree out front, so between both of these stains, I’m sure our living room ended up looking like the coat on one of those dogs in 101 Dalmatians.

Sometimes Teresa and I got to mow the lawn as well, which made me wonder where my brothers were with all these chore divisions. Did they repair pipes or replace the roof?  Did they rebuild the car? They were probably just being boys, with the rest of us females stuck at home doing all the dirty work.

Why don’t guys do their chores? You’d think it would make them better prepared to tackle the working world.  Instead, I think it makes them assume women will pick up the slack, their clothes, and the other messes they make.

My mom had a chart on the inside of one of the cupboards, delineating the tasks for each of us to perform. I think she placed a check mark if the task was completed. I seem to remember that many of my brothers' checks were absent on this sheet.

It seems boys were always given more latitude when it came to participating in domestic duties.

My sister Lynn cooked upon occasion, but she wasn’t very good at it, from the hamburger tartare we were served one evening.  But, I attribute that to her being a teenager and wanting a bit of a social life, not to her lack of cooking skills. Actually she’s a pretty good cook.

Chores are bores, but hey, somebody’s gotta do them.  My mom was tired from being on her feet all day, and although I resented the childhood labor, in retrospect, I was glad I was able to help.

teresa mcgrath December 27, 2011 at 04:16 PM
great column mary...lynn's taretare, that's so funny and quaint...i think brother jack was busy walking away from chasing an errant baseball, when he hit it into the gully, and failed to wash the dishes too...i recall you and i weeding between the irises, which was challenging, as it was hot, and the dirt was rock hard...i personally loved the acanthus mollis with it's tall purple and white spiky blooms, and huge dark green leaves...weeding around them was preferable....the boys would use the carpet sweeper at times, especially when one of them was nervous...hal would frantically sweep back and forth the same spot til the thin green rug was clean...hal was so sweet....jack would do some yardwork, and all of them fixed cars...they did do dishes too....nobody was allowed to do laundry, as we all did it wrong...mom appreciated any help we could do and the older kids would supervise us, and probaby ordered us to do their chores. mary was correct, it was a gender assigned list to some degree, as it was still the '50's, and women's lib/feminist thought hadn't progressed to popular status yet....in the '90's at a family gathering, i announced that all the men had to clean up after an easter meal....it happened once...the women prepared the meal, so some logic would prevail right?....hahaha
Mary McGrath December 27, 2011 at 04:22 PM
I think in most families, the kitchen is usually the domain of most women, although I hope things have improved over the years. But still, when we were at Mom's place in the desert, the women usually congregated in the kitchen, while the guys grouped outside to enjoy the fruits of our labor. If there was too much drinking, fights would always erupt. That was fun.....
teresa mcgrath December 27, 2011 at 04:53 PM
unfortunately...hopefully as generations pass on it will be more equal....gotta love the fights
Jack McGrath December 27, 2011 at 05:18 PM
My younger sister, Mary has a selective memory about the chores we all performed at our house in Studio City. The three boys, Hal, Jim, and myself had been doing chores for a minimum of seven years before Mary and Teresa were born. My sister Lynn and I were given the fun task of changing the diapers of the new twin sisters. At seven years of age, this was not a task I looked forward to. Sometimes we even had to put them in the bath tub, which was better than changing diapers. With age come some seniority. Like a union shop, the new worksers got to do the grunt work, like the dishes. I was given the important task of painting the house and putting on a new roof- at age 10. The McGrath boys kept the roof on the house. The girls stayed in the kitchen.
teresa mcgrath December 27, 2011 at 05:22 PM
good one jack...mary and i were the rank and file....jack, so antiquated, hahhaha...hope you become barefoot and pregnant while hanging out in the kitchen, hahaha...glad you clarified what you did...love ya bro
Mary McGrath December 27, 2011 at 05:27 PM
Yeah, I sure don't remember that prenatal stuff! Thanks for the memories Jack! Personally, I wouldn't want to tackle putting on a roof, or diapers!
Andy Steiner December 27, 2011 at 11:39 PM
Taking out the garbage. I think probably every yute got saddled with that chore. I honestly didn't mind. With luck, some kids along the block might be outside and I could jump into a quick game of hide and seek. Or maybe that really cute redhead from next door wants to practice making out in the laundry room.
Mary McGrath December 28, 2011 at 01:16 AM
Always nice to have your nostalgic take on things Andy. Thanks for stopping by......
teresa mcgrath December 28, 2011 at 03:18 PM
hhahha....chores vs hide and seek....no brainer!
Mary McGrath January 02, 2012 at 02:20 PM
For additional commentary, here's a fun link from people who grew up in the SF Valley. https://www.facebook.com/groups/GROWINGUPINSFV/269204166468356/

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