My Simple Abundance Cliché Collage. This was how I envisioned the perfect hostess to be as I became aware of all the work my Mom, Grandmothers and Aunties put into their home entertaining. These perceptions were fed by television and advertisements of the mid 1950s through 1960s.
The weather here in Brooklyn continues to be hot and humid. My mood is to continue, a little longer, with the easier and lighter readings suitable to a break. Autumn with it’s cool, crisp, clear skies and breezes still has to arrive and awaken us from the sleepy, dreamy pace of summer. For these reasons I’m continuing with the postings about my Staycation 2016 activities. Many of them focus on the Serrapede family history and also bring in some memories about Dad’s family, too. I think one memory that we all share, across all cultures, is that of the family coming together at a holiday to enjoy a home cooked meal at the house of one of our matriarchs. She could be our Mom, Grandmother, Auntie, Godmother, or even a beloved Cousin. Whoever she is she has created a celebration that in turn sustains us in future times when we need to recall that memory and the values it affirms.
One of the Simple Abundance collages I started in the Spring and completed over my Staycation is called a Cliché Collage. It is one of the first collages Sarah Ban Breathnach has the reader create. The Cliché Collages help me clear my mind of ideas I acquired from outside sources. After creating a Cliché Collage, it is easier for me to assemble the images I need that reflect more accurately my true feelings on the topic. . For this entertainment cliché collage I discovered one of the reasons why I found the idea of home entertainment so burdensome when I was a child and young adult.
As I looked at the Entertainment Cliché Collage, I realized how deeply the image of the perfect housewife and hostess of the 1950s and 1960s had impressed itself upon me. The hostess was supposed to clean her house until it looked like it was ready to be featured in House Beautiful. Her cooking, table setting, music and choice of flowers and entertainment also had to be memorable. By the time the guests arrived and the doorbell rang, the hostess was expected to be bright eyed and bubbly as she opened the door.
Once this layer of images came forth and was put into place on the page, memories of the happiest get togethers at my Grandmother’s houses came to the fore. There were many times the women in the family helped out by cooking one of the dishes and bringing it to the dinner. Other guests brought the dessert. And if there was a buffet another relative could be counted on to bring paper plates, cups and plastic forks. Everyone did dress up but it was never about formality. It was more about taking the time to make each part of our presence at the meal special and different from our day-to-day activities.
Television and movies led me to believe that family dinners could be very emotional and romantic times. Discussions of marriage could take place in a corner of the living room while in the dining room the men of the family might plan a new business venture. In the kitchen the women would discuss their children’s development or what was going on with the neighbors. Yet in reality what happened was that the family came together, engaged in conversations that spanned a wide variety of topics and shared many funny stories and memories with each other.
There is one characteristic of these gatherings that I now recall. It is not something I gave much thought to at first. I am grateful for remembering it. There was the presence at these gatherings of decorum and consideration that was shown during our time together. Family gatherings consisted of siblings, parents, and grandchildren who held varied points of view on many subjects. Even during the cultural changes of the 1960s nobody showed a desire to impose their point of view over anyone else. The respect for parents and the sense that we came together to celebrate our family relationships as members a group were the guiding principles for how the family members conducted themselves. It’s not only the food and companionship that I remember but the courtesy the elders observed. They knew the difference between opinion, emotion, and reason. They understood the difference between conversation vs. debate. If there were differences of opinion–and there often were–those were worked out over the phone or at an informal gathering between the people concerned. Family time together for the holidays and special occasions was just that–a special time apart from the flow of the everyday. I miss that sensibility today and think it is something that would improve the quality of our modern life and family interactions.