One of our foxes asked, “What would your livelihood have been if you lived in the Old West?”
Assuming that the 19th century me is like my present day self, my thought is that I would probably do exactly what I’ve done so far: teach and write.
Since my ancestors were on the opposite side of the world while the pioneers tamed the American West, it’s difficult to imagine me in a hoop skirt and bonnet, but I’ll try. Assuming that I had similar interests, I imagine I’d do the same as I’ve done most of my life: teach children. Yup, I’d be your typical school marm. Well, maybe not so typical. While I try to follow the rules, I tend to think out of the box from time to time. I picture myself wearing the obligatory long sleeves and floor-length skirt, but wearing something totally unexpected underneath (no, I won’t go into details).
Of course, teachers back then were single. Married women were not hired as teachers. On the off-chance that despite my unorthodox ways I managed to snag the interest of a cowboy, rancher, or every day nice guy, I guess I’d become a housewife, but I can’t imagine I’d be a very good one. Keeping a clean and organized house, planning and preparing healthy meals out of things grown or bartered, and fending off wildlife are not things I’d relish or take on without a great deal of complaint. And pioneer families were large. I’m fortunate that the two young ladies who grew up in this house managed to make it to adulthood safely, because I was not the most observant of mothers, as my youngest pointed out to me in one conversation we had when she was about eight years old:
Daughter: Mom, you don’t listen to me.
Me: Yes, I do.
Daughter: I just described the giant pig with a bazooka, guarding the house. You said, “That’s nice.”
Me: Um, well, it would be nice to have someone guarding the house.
I didn’t start writing until after I’d retired from teaching, and I suppose given the demands on women, I’d have a difficult time getting through my “must do” list each day. There would never be enough time for the “want to do” list, unless I neglected some things and I had a very understanding husband – like the one I have now. I’m not sure I’d write the kind of stories I write now, because I wouldn’t be able to do the research on other places and time periods unless I had access to a huge library. But maybe I would write essays and poetry. Or maybe I’d write about the people and places around me.
Aside from teaching and writing, I suppose that my hobbies might also provide me with an income, provided I lived in or near a larger city. While most women did their own sewing and mending, women in elite social circles hired seamstresses, so that would be a possibility. And my musical training might also provide me with a decent living, either giving lessons or performing.
I guess my conclusion is that if I had been born a century and a half earlier, I would probably get along okay. The American West was rough, but for people with drive and determination, the opportunities were great.
What do you think your role in the Old West would be?