Men and Women and Children

 Two boys, seemingly about twelve years old, run into the bar/restaurant. There’s an ice cream freezer against the wall, about three feet tall and six feet wide with a sliding glass top. They open it without asking anyone and each take an ice cream bar. The man who is running the place—who had taken my order when I arrived—is unfazed. He comes over, drying a glass, examines what they have taken. They run back outside.

    My guess is that one was his son and the other a friend. They ran in, as boys do in almost every home, opening the fridge and taking food for themselves and their friends. They don’t ask: it’s their home. But of course, this was a business. It was, however, a business in a tiny village (pop. 250) in Spain, a stop along the Camino. Half the customers were pilgrims, the other half local folk. It is the only restaurant in town. For the boys I saw, it was something we don’t often find in the U.S.: a business that was also their home. 

    The old customs persist. That restaurant had opened for dinner at 7 p.m. It would remain open likely until 11. Evening family life would be tethered there, for the owner and his family. 


    Earlier that day a different bar had been open. As I was enjoying my sandwich, a toddler came wandering in by himself. The place was cool, mostly empty (there were women at tables outdoors). The woman who had served me was standing at the door with an eye on the child. Later, when I left, I saw him in her arms.


    Before starting the Camino I had been reading some Mary Harrington. She provocatively describes herself as a reactionary feminist, primarily because she judges progress to be a mixed bag. Progress brings good things for us, but it also brings negatives, some of which, she argues, we unwisely discount. We should not believe that progress inevitably takes us to a better world for men, women, and children. 

    I had been struck by her account of the pre-industrial family which, simplifying greatly, I understand to be somewhat as follows. Before the industrial revolution, men and women worked together, with labors divided to accommodate women’s special role in bringing children into the world. Thus women tended to do work in home, spinning, craftwork, sewing, and all the rest. This work, although done in the home, was not home-centered: it contributed to the larger economy of their community. It was work women could do with children around; they could, for instance, stop working when needed to nurse a child or attend to its other needs. But with the industrial revolution, these labors formerly done at home shifted to factories, creating excruciating choices for women, for instance, whether to give your children opium.

    With Harrington on my mind I was all the gladder to see those boys, that toddler, that mother, that father. They are in the world of 2024, with cars and cell phones and credit cards. But they are not in 2024 the way I normally am. They seem to be closer to some older ways that “progress” has largely suppressed. In a piece soon to appear in the Living Church Covenant blog, I write about the layers of time that we live in, layers that one can feel on the Camino. They open you up to different ways of accommodating progress. Now in this little village, in a couple of simple, everyday ways, those layers had been peeled back for me.


    Out & About: Once I emerge from the Camino I am to preach on May 26, Trinity Sunday, at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Dallas. And the next Good Books& Good Talk seminar will be at St. Matthew’s on June 2, on Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro.


The Rev. Canon Victor Lee Austin. Ph.D., is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Friendship: The Heart of Being Human" and "A Post-Covid Catechesis.: