Early in my marriage, my husband was a vegetarian who didn’t eat eggs. It’s not that he had any moral quandaries against them, he just didn’t like them.
I put up with that for about five seconds. Beef, chicken, pork, I could all jettison, but eggs? Sans allergies or moral objections? Ain’t nobody got time for that.
So I just started serving my grandmother’s scrambled eggs: a touch of cream, a dab of mustard, cayenne, and mozzarella.
My husband eats eggs now, in all forms.
There are many differences between my husband and I. We are two different people from different parts of the country with completely different upbringings. Our religions, lexicons, and educations are different. Our marriage has bridged a wide cultural gulf.
We young West Texas women—especially young Native women—come out of the chute with our own arsenals. We don’t have access to a lot of the fancier products found in urban markets: no organic handmade soap, no exquisite eye cream, no miracle stain remover.
There’s no such thing as easy-heat hors d'oeuvres or “catering” unless you exclusively mean someone who has a smoker big enough to barbecue a pig.
Good doctors are so few and far between that “Oh, she’s already gone to Midland” (a more sizable city 90 miles away) is often the response when inquiring about a well-off pregnant woman in her eighth month.
And of course, this is exaggerated with the ball-and-chain of poverty, a gift of jewelry from European settlers to Native cultures that still chokes off our own agency hundreds of years later.
So as a young woman, you build your personal toolbox, stocked with solutions passed down from the women in your family.
You know a ground-up aspirin and warm water will get sweat stains out of clothes. You use Vaseline for dry skin. You covet your old-fashioned mercury thermometer, distrustful of digital ones. You know how to sooth digestion, treat sunburns, and bring down a fever.
These days, people call this “folk wisdom” (or even “backward"), although until I moved up North and married Luke, I just called it “life.”
Luke is from a sensible, urban Episcopal family steeped in the esteemed tradition of medicine—meaning essentially, just duct tape your arm back on and get back out there, son.
In his own words, “My [physician] father was a paddle-your-own-canoe son-of-a-bitch.” And so when we married, my bag of tricks didn’t truck much weight with him.
“Eat this peppermint,” I’d say when he was feeling sick to his stomach.
I’d pounce on him with a spoonful of peanut butter for hiccups, tea and honey for a cough.
I’d make him things to eat while he watched football: quiche, cookies, spinach dip; a hovering Italian caricature silently willing “mangia, mangia; you’re too thin!”
He’d wave me off, just like he announced within the first week of dating, “I don’t eat eggs.”
Two separate things were happening here, and it took me years to understand them:
Luke, an orphan, was not used to being “cared for.”
- Luke, an orphan, was not used to being “cared for.”
- I was uncomfortable navigating the cognitive dissonance between the words “feminist” and “care-giver,” and was trying to feel out all the little corners and curves around the box of “wife.”
I come from a family of women who don’t let the fact that they want to stab you with a fork get in the way of making you take this aspirin for your own good—take it right now! I may hate you in this moment, but you’re also my responsibility!
“You know how I am; I fuss,” I’ll sigh to a mutual friend, "fuss" being the four-letter F-word that stands in for a damn Thanksgiving cornucopia of paradigm shifts. (And if that image doesn’t weigh heavy with irony for a Native woman, nothing does.)
We forget that the image of a (white, male) doctor clad in a lab coat is a post-modern invention; the further you go back, the more the wisdom and practice of healing rested firmly in the domain of women: wives, mothers, sisters, daughters.
Until, that is, it was discovered it could be watered down, syphoned into colorful glass bottles, and sold for profit from the side of a man’s cart.
I even forget that, and have a hard time reconciling that gendered history with my own feminism: it’s okay to fuss, as long as you’re not fussing over a grown-ass man. Then, you’re just giving up your own power and energy for no good reason.
It’s a thin, dangerous line to walk, the practical magic inherited from our “less-liberated” mothers. Knowing these sorts of things is proof that you don’t have anything better to do with your time; you should be reading your Audre Lorde or Mary Daly instead.
And, indeed, a lot of this knowledge was given to me with the underlying idea that it would make me a better care-giver—not for myself, but for my husband and future children. My own mother had four different remedies for relieving my father’s migraines, and exactly zero for relieving menstrual cramps.
It’s not a big stretch to wonder if I was using the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house; if by allowing all this care-giving knowledge to take up space in my brain and heart—or worse, by being proud of it—I was not being complicit in my own oppression.
Then this past weekend, Luke was chainsawing a deadfall in our backyard and managed to infect himself with poison ivy in spite of his long-sleeved sweater. It was an ugly, painful rash that extended up both his arms.
“You ought to let me put a chamomile poultice on that,” I said. “It’ll bring down the swelling. Do you want me to run you an oatmeal bath?”
“Sure,” he said with a wince as he examined his blisters. “Those sound great. Whatever you think is best.”
My, how times have changed from “I don’t eat eggs and you can’t make me.”
So I meditated, as I ground oats in our food processor, as I tied them with cheesecloth and ran them under the bath faucet, as I brewed tea, as I sat next to him in the bathroom.
Knowledge is power, period. All knowledge. Trying to discard the accumulated practical wealth — the best kind of inheritance — of the women before me was a disservice to them. It shouldn’t be hoarded only for my daughter, or shrouded in gynocentric mysticism. And it shouldn’t be treated as A Responsibility, but as A Gift Given Freely.
In short: it needn’t be simply replaced by feminist academic theory; it should be tempered by it — the way my mother taught me how to temper an egg.
Haley B. Elkins is a freelance writer and Texan transplant currently holding down the fort in the Midwest. She's been published on xoJane, The Good Men Project, Rue89, and The Frisky, and recently appeared on UP with Chris Hayes to discuss gun culture in America. Her writing can be followed at HaleyElkins.com.
This article originally appeared on xoJane.