The gringa would like to know what people are really talking about when they refer to the good ol’ days. So many times, when referencing our founding fathers, they speak as if they imagine a happier time where romance was abloom and life was cruelty-free. Where the heck do people get this idea? Certainly not from REAL history.
Take, for instance, George Washington. He’s a hero, right? Father of the country, right? Surely he was raised by parents who instilled the best values by example, right? Nope. His life as a child, like the lives of most children and women in early America, was a living hell. That’s what happens when rich men rule a society, allowing no rights and protections for those who are considered weaker and less valuable.
The saddest part about this type of man-on-top hierarchy is how kicks and blows are delivered down the ladder. The way things usually went in a household in the “good ol’ days” was the man of the house was a tyrant toward his wife. She, in turn, took her repressed frustrations out on the kids, servants and slaves.
If you read the preferred history penned by historians toe-ing the patriot line, you will see George Washington’s mother, Mary Washington, depicted as a mythological grandmother to America. When you dig in to the personal letters that passed back and forth among multiple members of the Washington family, you recognize ol’ Mary for what she really was, a controlling matriarchal shrew. Poor George. No wonder he lost his teeth and needed wooden dentures at a young age. He probably spent many hours grinding his teeth and biting his tongue when mommy was around.
When dear, little Georgie was just a wee lad, about 15 (grown man by good ol’ day standards) he was eager to join the British Navy. Mumsie nixed the idea as far too dangerous for her boy. How embarrassing for George.
Decades later, while proving his mettle in the last months of the Revolutionary War, Mary just couldn’t help herself. Instead of behaving so as not to endanger her son with the distraction of her antics back home, she wrote a letter to the House of Delegates demanding some spending money. Despite the fact that George was physically on the battlefield, trying to do damage control after the Benedict Arnold betrayal and scandal, he had to high tail it back inside his tent, draft a hasty letter and order the Delegates not to give his drama-mama a single penny.
This letter was very telling. It wasn’t just that he said a firm “no” to her demands. He listed all the money-related things that had already been done for her, like the purchase of a new home. George even mentioned the vacant rental properties that he rented even though he didn’t need them just so she could have an income. In his exasperation he even drug into the mix his four siblings, all of which dear ol’ mum expected to part with their “last sixpence” for her own satisfaction.
If you thought that might check Mary to at least not cause a ruckus while George needed to devote attention to battle, you would be wrong. Later, in 1755, George joined the French in Pennsylvania. While fighting alongside General Edward Braddock, things took a turn for the worst and Braddock got killed in action. Instead of a letter of sympathy and encouragement from his mother, he got a note delivered from mom that informed George she was in great need of… wait for it… butter and a Dutch servant. Yeah, times were hard for Mary.
The gringa knows what she would have done. It would have been a very short note. Most likely beginning with the letter F and ending with the letter U. But George was a much better fellow than I. His response actually addressed his mother as “Honourd Madam”. What class. He politely reminded her that he was not even in the country and the Army supplies that he had at hand featured no butter or Dutch servants to spare. The gringa would think that such polite restraint would be enough but George goes on to impress. He actually apologized to dear, ol’, demanding mom for not stopping by for a visit the last time he was in the neighborhood of Williamsburg. The gringa can only imagine why he didn’t (eyeroll here).
So how might such a mother react when her son becomes elevated to such a position as the leader of a new country after a long, bloody war? Well, historians working from reports of witnesses construct a conversation that went something like this:
George: Mom, the nation has asked me to become president.
Mary: You do know I’m dying, right?
George: Well, let me get myself settled into my new office and I’ll be back as soon as I can.
Mary: You will never see me again. But it’s more important that you do your job than sit with your mother while she dies. So just go.
The gringa must admit, shamefaced, that, as a mom, I’ve had conversations right along that line with my own kids! Oy vey!
But George was not the only one who showed Mary Washington due regard. His cousin, Lawrence, was terrified of the old gal. He confided in a letter that he was “ten times more afraid [of Mary] than I ever was of my own parents.”
But why was Mary so controlling and demanding? Was she really just a mean, selfish hag or did she have good cause to turn out the way she did? Well, like the gringa said, to understand why women often gave their children a hard time in the “good ol’ days”, take a look at what the woman’s situation was with regard to her marriage. Mary was in a ticklish situation.
You see, back then the first-born son was the end-all of priorities for the man of the house. The same was true with George’s father, Augustine. George was the proverbial “overlooked” middle child. He was nothing special to dear ol’ dad. However, Mary was not Augustine’s first wife. For Mary, George was her first-born son, her everything, her security in old age.
When Augustine died Mary was a very young 35 and George only 11. As a widow, Mary held title to the lands Augustine had held. If she re-married, according to his will she would have to surrender those titles to Augustine’s eldest son who was not her son and, most likely, no sympathetic step-son. Mary was not about to let her Georgie be subject to a step-father who would most likely see him as a threat or nuisance thus suffer abuse. So Mary remained a widow. How lonely that must that have been. It is very likely that, emotionally, George also became a surrogate husband of sorts.
And she ruled those properties to the best of her abilities for a woman living in a time when most ladies were denied an education. Few could do more than rudimentary reading, writing and arithmetic. So, Mary started out an underdog (orphaned at the age of 13) yet finished a strong, independent woman who gifted this nation its first president.
As for the good ol’ days? Well, if the father and grandmother of the country enjoyed any aspect of an easy life of luxury and leisure, it can only be because they were slaveowners. Not so sure why the good ol’ days often overlooks the fact that those “days” were during a time when human beings were shackled and tortured physically and mentally as objects of ownership and denied the most basic kindnesses of humanity and any sense of liberty or freedom. Nothing good about that.
Image Source: Washington Post
Video Source: Heritage Media LLC