While learning anything, never be afraid of committing mistakes. Commit as many mistakes as you like since every unsuccessful attempt teaches you a new lesson and eventually leads you to a great triumph.#AKWords My Mother Never Worked - By Bonnie Smith-Yackel (Narration)

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My Mother Never Worked - By Bonnie Smith-Yackel (Narration)

Bonnie Smith-Yackel Image Source - Google

Her narrative essay is a personal experience of the author, Binnie Smith-Yackel, who recalls the telephone conversation with a Social Security (SS) woman that the author had shortly after her mother's death. She is recounting this conversation to the lawyer who was helping her to settle her mother's estate. This essay makes a broader statement about how society values "women's work".

According to federal law, only those workers are entitled to Social Security benefits who contribute a percentage of their wages to a fund that they may draw benefits from if they become unemployed due to disability. This is the fund that an employee can receive a monthly income, and it also provides a modest death benefit to survivors. No woman can be benefitted from this if she has never been a wage earner. However, she can be eligible for SS benefits only through the earnings of her deceased husband as per the federal rule. Thus, the author was told by the SS woman on the phone that she would not be eligible for the death benefit because her mother, Martha Smith, was not a wage earner though the author tried to defend that she worked harder throughout her entire life than you or a hundred men like you in response to the lawyer "Well, that's right. Your mother didn't work, you know."

This essay has been written from the first-person point of view. It opens with a conversation with an SS woman. Hopefully, the author talks to the SS woman that she would get a death-benefit check after her mother's death. The voice from the other end asks what her name was and how old she was, and then the SS woman tries to look up her record there leaving her on hold for an extended period of time.

Till then, the author begins to recollect some of the faint memories of her mother who dies at the age of almost 75, and the tedious stage of life that she had endured. The author has disclosed one thing her mother had kept love letters safely tied with ribbons. These love letters were sent to and by her father who was a soldier. He, showing his love for her, tried to persuade her mother to marry him but her mother dreaded marriage. Her mother is afraid of her married life because she feels sick when she pictures herself as a married woman with half a dozen or more kids to look after, and this makes her weep. However, they - her mother and her father - married in February 1921 and began farming. They had altogether nine children, five daughters and three sons alive, from 1922 to 1941. Out of nine, she lost her sixth child at the age of six months only in 1936.

They had no capital initially. They were renting farms besides working their own fields. They had to gain it slowly by working from dawn until midnight every day. Her mother learned to set hens, raised chickens, feed pigs, and milk cows, and plant and harvest a garden. In 1930, her parents earned money and bought their own farm, and soon after in March, they moved all their livestock and belongings there.

Her mother walked the fields day after day. She also raised five hundred baby chicks and spaded up, planted, hoed, and harvested a half-acre garden. But the next summer, she could not make any cash as their hogs died of cholera.  In the next year, the drought-hit. Consequently, her mother and father lumbered from the well to the chickens, the calf pasture, the barn, and the garden. Due to the scorching heat of the sun, the crops shrivelled and died. The drought even made their life painful and forced them to work harder. Her father hunted rabbits daily, and her mother stewed, fried, canned them, and wished to taste hamburgers once more. She plucked each bird that her father's shotgun brought and kept the breast feathers carefully for making pillows.

To sustain the life of each other, even in winter her mother sewed night after night by begging cast-off clothing from relatives. She remade those cast-off clothes to fit her four daughters and son. Every morning and evening used to begin with milking cows, feeding pigs and calves, caring for chickens, picking eggs, cooking meals, washing dishes, scrubbing floors, and tending and loving her children.

After losing her sixth child in 1936, she had her fifth daughter in 1937, and at that time her mother was forty-two years old. In 1941, she gave birth to her eighth child - her third son. Although there came a sort of prosperity in her life, her day continued as usual; she still sewed, made pillows using feathers she had plucked, and quilts every year. She still used to go to the fields to help with the haying when there used to be a threat of rain.

In 1959, her last child graduated from high school. A year later, she sold cows and raised chickens and ducks, and every year she made a new quilt - now for her married child or for a grandchild. She never felt any difference in her daily routine throughout her life. In 1969, she was paralysed due to a car accident; just a year later, she lost her husband. She became alone and that made her struggle to sustain further life. And after five years of her husband's death, she also died at the age of seventy-five.

As she is recalling her mother's struggle, the woman from the SS office says that she has found her mother's records as Martha Ruth Smith married to Ben F. Smith. The woman further says that she was getting a widow's pension; so she is not entitled to a $225 death benefit. When the author questions "Why?", the voice on the telephone explains patiently: "Well, you see - your mother never worked."


1. What kind of work did Martha Smith do while her children were growing up? List some of the chores she performed.

Martha worked on the farm raising livestock, tending to crops, carried water, did laundry by hand, sewed clothing for her children, cooked, and did daily chores. These were the tasks that she had always been in throughout her entire life span.

2. Why aren’t Martha Smith’s survivors entitled to a death benefit when their mother dies?

Martha Smith’s survivors are not entitled to a death benefit when their mother dies because she was not a "wage earner" and didn't work for any employer; therefore, her family does not get any sort of death benefit through social security.

3. How does the government define work?

The government defines "work" as a job that an employee does to earn a worker’s paycheck by working under the employer.

Purpose and Audience

1. What point is the writer trying to make? Why do you suppose her thesis is never explicitly stated?

The author is trying to make the point that one can work just as hard independently as one might in the type of career that the government recognizes as "work". She sees the lack of death benefit after her mother's death as a failure, on the government's part, to recognize how hard her mother worked throughout her life.

The thesis of this essay has not been explicitly mentioned; instead, it can be inferred after reading the complete essay. The inception of this essay is with a phone conversation that takes place between the author and social security woman. In this conversation, the author tries to claim a death-benefit check following the death of her mother. She also remembers all the strenuous jobs that she performed throughout her life, but at last, the author was told that would not get a death-benefit check because she never worked.

2. This essay appeared in Ms. magazine and other publications whose audiences are sympathetic to feminist goals. Could it have appeared in a magazine whose audience had a more traditional view of gender roles? Explain.

The author has raised the problem related to gender inequality towards females and this is a more common problem for them as well. Although Martha works hard, she suffers a lack of social security benefits which is an issue that other groups, like people with disabilities or those who work non-traditional types of jobs, may suffer from. For such kinds of jobs, they are not entitled to social security benefits. Despite this article expressing feminist ideals, this article also more or less invites others to come up with their own viewpoints. On the other hand, how can one argue that the author’s mother was not a hard worker? On the basis of the reality that this article has presented, it can be said that this article could be relevant enough for publication with more traditional views of gender roles.

3. Smith-Yackel mentions relatively little about her father in this essay. How can you account for this?

Of course, the author has not spent much time talking about her father since this is not the main issue in this essay. The main concerned topics are the amount of work that her mother did, and how the government did not understand her hard job as “work”. Although it has been mentioned that there is a loving relationship between her father and mother, giving much space to her father would have been unnecessary because it would not have been appropriate and meaningful to the thesis that this essay moves on.

4. This essay was first published in 1975. Do you think it is dated, or do you think the issues it raises are still relevant today?

It does not matter that it dated past, i.e. 1975, the issues discussed in the article are still relevant today. In this contemporary society as well, women’s work is not valued and thus, their work frequently undergoes a hot discussion. Where many are involved in a discussion about paid parental leave for both mothers and fathers, pay inequality, and the devaluation of work that is considered traditionally feminine.

Style and Structure

1. Is the essay’s title effective? If so, why? If not, what alternate title can you suggest?

Of course, the title of this essay “My Mother Never Worked”, is an effective one because it strongly appeals to the readership to rethink the idea they already have of what kind of job is viewed as “work”. The author has made her appeal stronger by highlighting her own case.

2. Smith-Yackel could have outlined her mother’s life without framing it with the telephone conversation. Why do you think she includes this frame?

Top of FormThe telephone conversation has been mentioned two times in the essay: one at the beginning and another at the end of the essay. In the beginning, the readers can easily understand the emotion the author must have been feeling after losing her mother with the technical and cold nature of navigating administrative systems like the Social Security Office. And at the end, the author was told on the phone that legally her mother never worked regardless of the work that her mother did throughout her entire life.

3. What strategies does Smith-Yackel use to indicate the passing of time in her narrative?

To indicate the passing of time, the author has chronologically mentioned every detail by noting the years in which significant events occurred, such as the birth of a child, moving to a new home or plot of land, or a tragedy – the death of her parents.

4. This narrative piles details one on top of another almost like a list. Why does the writer include so many details?

The reason to pile details one on top of another is to highlight all the labour her mother did. This list lets the readership realize the condition her mother she passed through, and this is appropriate for the essay's thesis: the author's mother likely spent most of her life feeling overwhelmed.

5. In paragraphs 20 and 21, what is accomplished by the repetition of the word still?

This repetition helps to emphasize how Martha Smith persevered and continued working no matter the circumstances.

Vocabulary Projects

1. Define each of the following words as it is used in this selection.

scrounge (13) : gather
shuck (13)    : to remove the husk/pod of a grain
shock (13)    : to bundle corn into stacks 
husk (13)      : to remove corn from its husk
rutted (13)    : uneven; covered in dents/tracks from wear
reclaimed (14) : to restore to condition appropriate for learning
flax (16)          : a type of crop cultivated for its seeds and fibres
fodder (16)      : food, especially dry hay or straw, for cattle or other livestock
intricate (20)   : detailed
sustenance (21) : source/means of nourishment or livelihood

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