Keeping home

Many of the women who have shared their stories with us – in oral histories or on the Narrative Stage – have talked about the work it takes to keep things running at home while their husbands are away.  Moms in fishing families become disciplinarians, supporters, financial planners, chefs, and spiritual counselors.  Many echoes of this statement have been heard on the stage: “Mom’s word was law.  The house was run by mom, the business was run by dad.  That’s how it felt.”

So home is an important place — a reminder of dad while he’s away, and a safe harbor while he’s home, and while mom might be in charge, the work of making the home and keeping it that way falls to everyone.  Creative projects bridge the divide between work at sea and home.  They’re a way that the men use their skills in the home, and a way for the women to pass the time, to tell stories, and to show their love for their husband and family.

Collecting also creates a bridge between those at home and those out at sea: a fisherman is thinking of his wife when he picks up a heart-shaped shell, and she thinks of him when she arranges it on a mantel.  Their family is constantly surrounded of reminders of their relationship to the sea.

Kirsten Bendiksen makes needlepoints, and her husband Reidar makes ship models.  Like many fishing families, they have photos of their fishing vessels on the wall where other families might have family photos.  Though there are plenty of those, too, including a small, loose photo of Kirsten pregnant and posed in front of one of Reidar’s boats, tucked into the frame of a large photo of the boat itself.  On their mantel, a needlepoint, a ship model, and the couple’s wedding photo all share the scene.

Click on a photo to see it close up, and to read the full caption.

Kirsten has explained on the Narrative Stage that keeping the home requires patience, flexibility, and a sense of humor.  This is one of our favorite stories, about the birth of her first son, Tor.

Deb Shrader can be captivating when she talks about her life as a fisherman’s wife.  It’s what she lives and breathes, even though she doesn’t come from a fishing family herself.  Like Kirsten and Reidar, Deb and her husband Ronnie share a love of collecting and displaying objects that remind them of each other, and of the sea, like the heart-shaped shells that Ronnie picks up from the boat and brings home.  “It seemed he’d just find them,” she said, “like little hearts in the sand just for me.”

Ronnie once said on the Narrative Stage, “It’s a hard job, and to find a good woman to stand by to you while you’re fishing, it means something when your wife is there for you from being out to sea for so long. It makes it all worth it.”

Click on an image to see it up close, and read the full caption.

Deb told the audience at the Narrative Stage in 2006 about how these shells are part of her family’s strong connection to the sea.

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