By Lorraine V. Murray | Published September 5, 2019
One photo shows a plump woman wearing a plain dress and gazing shyly into the camera. Another shows her on the beach, hiding partially behind her husband and dressed in a skirted bathing suit complete with long stockings.
This is my maternal grandmother, Rose Bibbo, a lady whom I never met, but greatly admire. She was born in East Harlem to parents from Italy and had seven sisters and one brother. After marrying my grandfather, Antonio, she gave birth to eight children herself, with six surviving.
She prepared multicourse, hearty meals for her husband and her three boys and three girls, plus relatives who lived with the family. She had a steady stream of dishes to clean in the days before dishwashers, clothing to wash and hang on lines to dry, beds to make and bread to bake. She also mixed pasta dough and cut out noodles by hand, every day of the week.
My grandfather worked as a plasterer in New York City, and helped put some of the decorative flourishes on rooms in the Empire State Building. He and my grandmother also ran a small grocery store near the brownstone on East 120th street where they lived.
Hard work came to these people naturally and they didn’t think they somehow deserved “me time” or “free time.” Working to feed, clothe and educate a family was the purpose of their lives.
Being able to provide their children with some extras like music lessons was the result of laboring more than 40 hours a week and living frugally.
My grandmother would have been baffled by recent surveys revealing that young people are less interested in having children, and even rate their jobs as more important than having a family. These folks consider hard work a major priority, but their earnings aren’t spent to raise children. Instead, their sights are set on treating themselves to luxuries and saving money for retirement.
Many of them might look at my grandmother’s life as a sea of drudgery, because her work was so repetitious. Furniture that is polished soon grows dusty again, clean floors soon need sweeping, and crisp, starched clothing doesn’t stay that way long.
This was definitely my attitude for a long time, back in the days when Simone de Beauvoir, who wrote “The Second Sex,” was my role model. She denigrated the work that mothers do in the home because the tasks are so repetitious and, from her perspective, don’t produce anything lasting.
Since de Beauvoir didn’t believe in God, she overlooked the important fact that caring for children means nurturing people with immortal souls—and no work could be more important.
As Alice von Hildebrand writes in “The Privilege of Being a Woman,” there will come a day when “all human accomplishments will be reduced to a pile of ashes. But every single child to whom a woman has given birth will last forever, for he has been given an immortal soul made to God’s image and likeness.”
Despite her busy schedule, my grandmother found time to make cookies, with the little hands of her children helping to shape the dough. True, the pleasure that came from eating the cookies later might only last a few minutes, but the love that prompted her to bake treats stayed with her children forever.
I hope someday to see her in heaven, where I suspect she’ll be wearing an apron and watching the pasta boiling in a big pot on the stove. After all, it makes sense that what we enjoy doing on earth will still give us happiness in heaven.
And her joy was caring for her family and doing the simple, repetitive tasks that had nothing to do with drudgery and everything to do with love.