I was a rebel — sort of. Coming from a suburban Pennsylvania town in the 1960s, I was accustomed to people walking, driving or taking the bus to work. Then, as a young bride, I moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and discovered the streets there were chock-a-block full of bike riders.
So, I joined the parade. Pregnant, and without a helmet as was the practice in the day, I rode my Indian Princess bike back and forth to my first real job at the Thomas More Book Shop in the Square. Not many heads turned seeing a young woman obviously with child commuting by bike for which I was grateful. My parents would have been horrified if they knew.
There was a newsstand in the center of Harvard Square. It was tiny, cramped,and seemed antique to me, but people stopped there and appreciated that it sold not only magazines and newspapers from the U.S., but also foreign publications. Here, I saw the familiar Ladies Home Journal stacked next to The Guardian. At work, my eyes were opened as well. I was expected to read Publishers Weekly. All in all a very good thing, since I was a recent college graduate, a philosophy major, who had no interest in being a homemaker.
Boy, was I ever in for a shock. Becoming a mom at 22 took on a life all its own. Without even realizing it, I began to nest — painting bookcases, sewing curtains and baking cookies. But I still didn’t think of myself as a homemaker. I was the young mom who participated in a women’s consciousness raising group, organized a baby-sitting cooperative so I could get out of the house occasionally, and played the guitar, my long hair swinging. Again, homemaking snuck up on me. I learned to make a mouthwatering pot roast, iron shirts that could get me a job in a laundry, and decorate for the holidays.
Several years ago, I wrote a blog — Homemaker Living on the Streets of New York City. What caught my attention while visiting the Big Apple was passing by a homeless person on the sidewalk hidden under a beautiful blanket. I remember looking up and seeing his or her clothing and shoes carefully arranged on hangers, suspended from scaffolding that so frequently is in front of buildings being re-furbished in Manhattan. I observed and wrote: “She/he made this spot on a busy sidewalk, in the most populous city in the United States, a home. Some folks just have the knack.”
And last year at Halloween time, I walked under an overpass where many homeless people live and my spirits lifted. My heart opened. At each home, whether the space was defined by a cardboard construction, a circle of shopping carts or a group of sleeping bags, there rested a pumpkin. The season was being celebrated by these unique homemakers.
For so many years, I had missed the point. I was not a housewife, married to a house. I was a homemaker, creating a haven for my family. It was tenderness — expressed through soup-making, button-sewing, table-setting — and maybe carefully hung up clothes and a jack-o'-lantern on the front porch.
I’ve been thinking about Jesus’s earthly parents. We don’t know about their homemaking; however, it must have been present in that holy family. Perhaps they had chickens, goats and a garden. Mary surely cooked and cleaned. She might have placed wild flowers or greens in their home occasionally. Homemaking is not gender-specific — did Joseph feed the animals, tend the fire? Did his carpenter hands make the table where they gathered for family meals?
I’m smiling thinking of good words that bounce off home — homecoming, home-cooked, homeland. And saddened considering some painful words, too — homeless, (in our country of plenty), home-bound, (the old or ill unable to leave their home), and go back home, (said to immigrants).
We all have a part to play in this ever-evolving homemaking drama. Homemaking is never just about the home, the shelter itself. Homemaking is all about sheltering those within.
Is it possible that our earthly homemaking, if done with love and care, could be a taste of our hoped for home in heaven?
Judy Knotts is a parishioner of St. John Neumann Catholic Church, and former head of St. Gabriel's Catholic School and St. Michael's Catholic Academy. Her book, "You Are My Brother," is a collection of past American-Statesman faith columns.