What is a namesake? Webster’s dictionary will tell you it is when one person is named after another. When my mother gave birth to me, her seventh child, she named me after her mother, Susan Dorsey. Growing up, everyone called me Susie, just as my grandmother’s family and friends called her. I would cherish other similarities between my us, but our lives have so little in common other than our names. She was born in 1885 in a small town straddling the border of Maine and Canada. She was 69 when I was born in 1954 in a small town that was a short bus ride to New York City. Looking at where we each called home, what we called work, and who we called friends serves to show not only how far women have come over the years, but, in some instances, what we have regrettably left behind in our wake.
My grandmother lived her life in a two-story farm house with a wide wrap-around porch. A wood stove in the kitchen heated the room and cooked the meals. She used a hand operated wring-washer on the porch to wash the dirty clothes and a clothesline to dry them. She and her husband kept their money in a safe in the dining room as they did not trust banks. My grandmother taught the small town’s children in a one-room schoolhouse till she married. Then, she became a farmer’s wife, which was a full-time job. She cooked breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the crew of forty men working on her husband’s farm. A twenty-five gallon ceramic bin held the weekly delivery of flour. My grandmother had a helper in the kitchen, a young girl from Canada, who learned English from my grandmother while they worked side-by side in the kitchen. The farm was quiet on Sundays, which was when my grandmother went to church where she would, as I am sure every farmer’s wife did, pray fervently for good weather. She saw the other farmer’s wives at the service, and afterwards they would drink coffee and chat. One evening each week, she went to her sewing circle, where the farmer’s wives would sew and pass the time together.
In my life, I have called seventeen different houses home. Although some were better than others, each had a kitchen with apliances for easy preparation of meals. I digitally set the temperature for my house to any degree that feels comfortable in summer or winter. I have never hung clothes out to dry! I have a computer in my home-office for all my banking. Wherever I lived, I have worked as an ESL teacher,part-time while my children were young and full-time at a college since my youngest son was ten years old. This son is now thirty, and my husband is now retired from the United States Navy. We have flipped roles, as I I wave good-bye to him every morning when I leave for work and he, quite contentedly, looks after things at home. I also go to church on Sunday mornings, just like my grandmother, where I have my good friends, most of whom are also retired navy families. While farmers’ wives have the weather on their mind, my military friends and I pray fervently for peace. After the service, we chat over a cup of coffee, too. However, due to the seventeen places I have called home, I have a another group of friends who are scattered all over the world. We send each other emails, but sometimes I wish they lived next door to me again.
My life differs greatly from my grandmother’s. Her home would be unmanageable for me, as I would struggle to even light a wood stove! The hours she worked every day in her kitchen were far longer and more physically demanding than the eight hour day expected of me as a professor. I hardly know anyone in my life today who has the same set of friends they had twenty or thirty years ago. This is hardly possible in today’s transient world. But I do see one similarity between my grandmother and her namesake. We were both ESL teachers: she in her kitchen, and me in my classroom.