I teach American government, so you can bet that if something newsworthy happens in politics, I’m going to hear about it from one of my students. Last week, after the Iowa Senate debate, I received this (now infamous) clip of the two candidates discussing farming and commodity prices. The challenger, Theresa Greenfield, knew the price of corn right away, but the incumbent, Joni Ernst, couldn’t remember the price of soy. It was one of those “gotcha” kind of questions that politicians are often asked. It’s the kind of question that may seem unfair.
But I love these kinds of questions. Do I know the price of corn? No — but I don’t live in Iowa. I do know the price of milk (and the difference between the price of organic and nonorganic milk) and eggs and bread and a bag of apples. And if politicians don’t know those prices, it makes me think: why is that?
Maybe Greenfield knew the price of corn because she grew up on a farm, or because it’s important to her platform. But when I saw that clip I thought, “of course she knows the price of corn. She knows the price of everything, I bet.” Because I know one other thing about Greenfield: when she was pregnant with her second child, her husband was killed in an accident at work. She became a young widow.
And I’m fairly sure that being a young widow shaped how she understands the world today. I know losing Shawn shaped me.
Even before I was widowed, I always knew price of the groceries I bought every week. I didn’t have to pinch every penny but I never strayed far from my budget. But there were lot of other expenses that Shawn oversaw during our marriage – the cost of mulch and new gutters and anything with the car, to name a few – and I just let him figure it out. We were a classic “divide and conquer” couple, and it was easier that I didn’t have to know the cost of all of our expenses.
But then he died. All of the sudden, I had to be in charge of everything – expenses, repairs, worries and the rest. I know a lot of single moms do this from the very start, but it was shocking to me when I faced this reality all of a sudden.
There was a steep learning curve, and sometimes I had to accept help. (Could I mulch my own yard? Sure. But it was really nice when a neighbor did it instead.) But for many of the other chores and expenses and worries, I just had to figure it out. Just like many other widows do.
I remember talking to an acquaintance about a year after Shawn died. She was complaining about how long it was taking her husband to automate some of their bills. “It’s easy to do,” I said to her, “and I’m happy to show you how. I know it can seem overwhelming, but it’s not hard.”
“I’m not going to do that!” she said, and then in a bit of tone-deafness looked at me and added, “that’s why I got married!”
It took great restraint not to say, “well hopefully your husband doesn’t die like mine did!”
But it made me realize how much I’d learned since Shawn died. Sure, I didn’t know everything…but all of a sudden, I had to know a lot more about our expenses and house maintenance and whether or not the rattle in the car was something I needed to worry about. I was really, really lucky to be able to pay for some help (since Shawn was no longer my handyman, I found one I could pay) but I also simply had to know more than I had in the past.
Like many other widows, I had to keep my family afloat all on my own. And that meant that I had to know things I had ignored before.
Maybe I didn’t need to know the price of corn, but that’s not really the point. I needed to know about all sorts of other things, and that made me realize how much I’d taken for granted before becoming a widow.
Listen, if you live in Iowa, I don’t know if you should vote for Greenfield. Maybe you don’t like her stance on some of the issues, or maybe you love something that Ernst has done for you. I’m not telling you how to vote.
I’m just saying that her personal story is one that cannot be ignored.
I know that Greenfield is probably most well known because she grew up on a farm and runs a small business. But when I look at her, I see a young widow holding a toddler and pregnant with her late husband’s baby. I see a widow who was held up by the people around her, and a government who gave her social security benefits. I see a widow who likely used those benefits as she calculated the price of milk and eggs and bread. I see someone who is aware of the world around her, and the struggles of others, because she’s lived those struggles herself.
I’m not saying anyone should vote for Greenfield just because she’s a widow.
And yet. There is a certain perspective that widows can bring to a discussion, especially if it’s about struggle, hardship, and making it through. So when I watched the clip where Greenfield was asked about commodity costs, I wasn’t surprised at her answer. She may not be perfect, but she’s lived through a horror other young widows have experienced. She knows what it’s like to face the unknown with a little kid on your hip and a future that has dissolved. She knows what it’s like to see disaster all around, and focus on the survival of your family.
She might not know everything. But she knows the price of corn.