I grew up and out on a four family-owned,
extended matriarchal farm.
Four interdependent 1940s through 1970s patriarchally managed businesses,
without substantial questions about who should wear pants,
yet with a surprising matriarchal cooperative understory.
The boxers outnumbered the panties,
but the panties had full nutritional care-giving and -receiving reign,
Monday through Friday,
9 to 5,
and what the boxers missed,
that’s the competitive market price of non-panties.
My maternal grandparents were farmer and wife
with three daughters.
These daughters, as adults,
lived, and two will die,
within a five to fifteen minute drive from each other,
an easy spring through fall bike ride for pre-teen cousins,
ten of us in all,
four all-American girls,
five made in USA boys,
and the fifth-born,
we never were entirely persuaded
one way or the other.
During the spring
each of the three sisters planted her garden,
large enough to produce tiers of canned corn,
rows of string beans,
and peaches and pears
self-picked in teams of two or three adult sisters
and their attendant underlings
infesting local orchards.
It was at canning time
our matriarchal cooperative came into its own.
And the making of preserves,
jams and jellies,
cherry and strawberry,
raspberry and blueberry.
I recall bushel baskets of sweetcorn
waiting to be husked
and cut off the cooled cobs;
huge harvesting pans
of peas waiting to be snapped open
then pulled out with our left thumbs,
except for my oldest sister,
princess Elder of all matriarchal cousins,
who is left-hand dominant.
Rows of tomatoes
lined up on our enclosed front porch
to finish sun-ripening on newspapers
spread thin across the painted cement floor
leaving only a center aisle
to walk in from outside
toward the sacred altar of our mass producing kitchen stove,
all four burners sacrificing red hot electricity.
The porch floor would fill
with alternating waves of peaches and pears
creeping toward their ripest time
while we pitted mahogany sweet cherries
and florescent red cherries
to drench in sugar
and smack our mouths with amazing jam.
So, there I was
the fifth-born ambiguity of ten cousins
living literally in the midst of a traditional
Monday through Friday
during summer vacations,
with some elements of patriarchal sharing
among my mother’s dad
and the three son-in-laws
sometimes even hot haymaking weeknights,
sharing combines and bailers and harvesting wagons,
forming hay bailing teams,
drivers and stackers,
unstackers and hay mount restackers,
and cookers of meals for the field workers.
All this economic nutritional production
was further enriched
by shared sister and cousin lunches
and lavish suppers
with sweetcorn on buttered and salted cobs,
sliced beefsteak tomatoes,
and strawberry-rhubarb pie for dessert,
a la vanilla-only mode
for those who preferred creamy
with their just desserts
during summer’s cooperative harvest.
but also hot rhapsodies of laughter
spreading echoes across the evening barn
to share with dairy cows
and satiated pigs
cooling in their cooperative mud
beside the algae-blooming pond.
This cooperative worked and played across all four sites,
and all three sisters
and my usually convivial cousins.
We peaked in summer
and dwindled down in winter
to monthly Sunday dinners
extending on through sleepy afternoons
of sabbath rest,
and maybe sledding,
to end in nocturnal benedictions
back at church,
to close these cooperative sabbath rituals
where we began
all of Sunday morning,
10 a.m. Sunday School
against greed and lechery,
dancing and provocative entertainments
in movie theaters
and pool halls,
and don’t even think about the bars
and devil-liquor stores.
I doubt these Sabbath admonishments
against competing with extended family health
were as influential
as was our cooperative structures,
our mutual enjoyment of nutritional outcomes
but also the harvesting process
Our matriarchal cooperative,
for the generation it lasted,
was 100% proof against unhealthy family disruptions.
that was then,
and this is now,
spread out and dissipated,
finding our new ways
toward extending families
of matriarchal and patriarchal cooperatives.