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Measuring Worth

It was suggested to me, perhaps by mistake, that an associate’s time was worth more than mine. She said that the hours she spent doing a particular project were more valuable than hours I spent doing what I do.

Value, of course, depends on the measuring stick. If wealth accumulation is the measuring stick, she wins, hands down. If helping people experience daily happiness for years to come is the measure, I win.

I’ve spent untold hours roaming the ancient cemeteries of Dennis. There is an obvious disparity between the men, women and children who, over hundreds of years, have been laid to rest in these solemn pastures.

Pick an ancient cemetery – any cemetery – and you’ll see the sorry truth of life and death just a few generations before ours.

Read the town history books, kept safe in the Town Hall vaults and accessible for perusal with gloved hands, and you’ll read all about the men who shaped this peninsula. They went to sea, they were farmers, whalers, ship-builders, ministers, fishermen, and so on. They were the movers and the shakers, or so it is written.

The cemeteries show a different story. The real story.

It is common to see the grave of one man flanked by one, two or more women who were laid to rest alongside the infants, children, and teens they bore who all died in the process of trying to grow to adulthood. Women’s graves often note that they died in childbirth and an adjacent tiny stone marks the remains of the infant who died with them.

These women rarely made the history books.

They were too busy doing women’s work to make a name for themselves.

But the men in the history books depended on them. Someone had to keep the home fires burning, three meals a day on the table and a steady production of heirs and farmhands to replace those who died.

In going through my late mother’s papers, I found this quote she had used in a sermon she wrote with a quilting theme. She introduces it thus: “Anonymous: Aunt Jane of Kentucky, ca 1900:”

“I’ve been a hard worker all my life, but most all my work has been the kind that “perishes with the usin” as the Bible says. That’s the discouragin’ thing about a woman’s work…if a woman was to see all the dishes that she had to wash before she died, piled up before her in one pile, she’d lie down and die right then and there. I’ve always had the name o’bein a good housekeeper, but when I’m dead and gone there ain’t anybody goin’ to think o’ the floors I’ve swept, and the tables I’ve scrubbed, and the old clothes I’ve patched, and the stockins’ I’ve darned…But when one of my grandchildren or great grandchildren sees one o’these quilts, they’ll think about Aunt Jane, and wherever I am then, I’ll know I ain’t forgotten.”

Someone must have brought home the bacon for Aunt Jane. Still, she provided a great job description for any woman of that era who tended the home and could cook that bacon, so someone could make a living and maybe even make a name for himself.

So I ask…whose time is worth more? Who is more important? Aunt Jane or her husband? My work or my friend’s work? And who dares be the judge?

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