Friday, September 23, 2011

Myrtle Johnson Baird

My awesome woman of the day is my grandmother Baird and women of the 20th century.

I had two awesome grandmothers and will do my maternal grandmother another time.

Myrtle Johnson Baird was born in 1878, and died in 1964. She was born before women had the vote, and traveled to her first home as a married woman in covered wagon; before she died, she had gone across the country several times by air.

Myrtle bore 11 children, and raised 8. Two died in infancy, one as a young girl.  She lost another son at age 20, and her husband at 52.

She could catch and wring a chicken’s neck and have it plucked, dressed and in the pot, in the time some people take in the grocery store deciding on what could be microwaved for dinner.

Her first homes did not have electricity and several were rural without running water. Grandma kept a strict schedule all her life and I remember her telling us how on Monday (wash day) she would first fill the stove with wood, get it lighted, then have to pump the water from the well or cistern, heat it on the stove, fill the wash tub, and wash the clothes (with hand made soap).  Tuesday was Ironing, and this meant heating the flat iron on the stove, and ironing in the kitchen, which in summer must have been unbearably hot.  She baked on Wednesday, meaning she baked the family’s bread and any other baked goods for the week.  There were other specific chores for the days of the week, and she always kept a clean house but Saturday was a general house cleaning day, scrubbing mopping, dusting and polishing.

All of this was accomplished while bearing and taking care of her children.  There were very few years of her marriage she was not pregnant or nursing a baby. She never wore pants and always looked clean and well kept.  She was strict, and all of us, her children and grandchildren, jumped when she said ‘jump’.  Raising as many children as she did, meant she ran a tight ship!

Many of her homes were on farms and she helped with the farm chores in addition to everything else.

Most of her married life was during the dust bowl and the depression that hit rural areas before the cities. Times could be difficult at best. My grandfather was a building contractor as well as a farmer at various times in their lives, and when he had those kinds of jobs, they did better.  The contracting jobs meant they moved around the south and Midwest quite a bit, and some places were more up to date than others.  She had moving down to a science, and all her life could pack up and move with very little notice.

Grandma was tough and big hearted.  She was widowed when she still had 4 children at home, the youngest 5.  She had never done work outside the home and had to figure a way to support herself and the children.  To her shame, she went on ‘relief’ for the help it offered and the older children pitched in with what they could, but my grandfather died in 1929, jobs were hard to come by and became harder.  By 1933 when FDR put the New Deal in place there were better jobs available. My uncle Kenneth got a job with the CCC and he was able to send home enough money to make things much easier.  By World War II all her children were out of high school, in the military and/or married.

I knew her as a woman living with one of my uncles, and later on her own, who cooked amazing big meals, great angel food cake, was as sharp and witty as anyone I knew. She could tell and take a joke, she always knew what was going on in the world, was a political liberal, but could tolerate Republicans, could argue any subject forcefully and then change sides! She loved babies and after raising a family would go and help out any of her children when a new baby was born.  I occasionally brought dates over to visit, and they thought she was great.  One of the things that I found interesting, is that her children always said what a remarkable woman she was, how strong, and determined. But all of her sons in law and her adult grandchildren just said, “She was a Hell of a lot of fun!”