The other day I was talking about the dentist with a friend and my surprise that most people don’t like going there. Since I have always enjoyed, or at least not disliked, going to the dentist, I began to wonder why. Then I remembered the ever present admonishment in my home to “keep my teeth.” Apparently it had been a matter of pride that my grandparents and my parents had all managed to “keep their teeth.”
I suppose to a young person in the U.S. today the phrase would seem odd. Here there are fluoridated water, fluoridated toothpaste and countless reminders everywhere to brush your teeth. In fact the ads for denture paste seem to have been replaced by ads for whitening products. For older people today yellow teeth, while the natural result of using them for a life time, need bleaching. At least according to the teeth whitening industry.
But when I was a kid I knew many adults my parents’ age who had false teeth. We didn’t use the more polite term “dentures,” but called them false teeth. One of my favorite family friends could not only blow pipe smoke out his ears but could also wiggle his teeth in and out. We thought it was hilarious. Even my orthodontist had lost his teeth, though it was from the Bataan Death March and not from neglect.
But not our family. No way. We were a family who kept our teeth. In retrospect I think this may have had more to do with the rock solid hard water they grew up with. Portland, where I grew up, had water so soft anything could produce suds. Not so in the Minnesota of my forebears. So geography rather than personal habits shaped their teeth. I was going to have to work to “keep” mine.
Going to the dentist meant I was continuing in the family tradition. I still go. I still feel unnecessarily virtuous. And I still have my teeth.
When I am at the dentist a television hovers over the chair allowing me to distract myself from procedures. I almost always choose cooking shows. Lately instead of watching the news I have been viewing season after season of the “Great British Baking Show” with the original cast pictured above. Why on earth am I spending time looking at other people cook?
After thinking about this question for a while, I still have only a partial answer, but thought I would share what I know right now. Cooking shows are calming. Other people do the heavy lifting of grocery shopping, storage, cutting, dicing, measuring and mixing. I sit back and watch them. I imagine that I have an elf getting everything ready for me and I know I would be an outstanding cook in that situation!
Cooking shows promote a can-do attitude. Although they occasionally make mistakes or cut themselves, the cooks carry on. Curiously it doesn’t translate for me into an “I can cook this same dish.” Rather it seems to increase my general sense of optimism. I certainly need that both at the dentist and in the American political climate.
Cooking shows are utterly predictable. In the case of the “Great British Baking Show,” each week one baker will get the “star baker” award and one will leave the show. At the end of the season the three bakers left will compete for the prize. A grand picnic of family, friends and all the eliminated bakers celebrate as the winner is announced and handed a large bouquet and a glass plate. In other cooking shows each episode ends with a smiling cook and a tempting display of cooked food. I am calmed by this predictability in a country where I never know what will happen next with my “leaders.”
Having binged on cooking shows the only question left is “what’s for dinner?” Take-out maybe?
Although we live near the huge Barnes and Noble store, and have ready access to Amazon, I was delighted that an independent bookstore opened a few minutes away from our home. River Bend Bookshop, in Glastonbury(Connecticut, not England!) was opened by a woman who retired from the insurance industry to fulfill a life dream of owning a bookstore. Making a small business successful challenges the best entrepreneur, and selling books in the present climate presents an additional hurdle. Why, when I can get a book for a few dollars less from Amazon, should I frequent an independent shop? Why, when I can look at thousands of choices at Barnes and Noble should I go to River Bend instead?
Amazon presumes that my most important value is saving money. Barnes and Noble presumes that my most important value is choice. River Bend Books, on the other hand, presumes that my most important values are being around readers, getting personalized recommendations, meeting writers, and getting to know the booksellers. While I do value saving money and having vast choices, I value most highly personal interaction. Currently I find books I want from reading reviews or looking at Amazon. I then call River Bend and order the books. When I go to pick up the books, not only am I greeted by name, but I also have an opportunity to talk books. Reading is often a solitary pastime, and talking about books satisfies my intellectual side.
American society teems with lonely people, treated impersonally in shops, checking out their own purchases, ordering on-line without talking and seeing only the delivery van, rarely even the driver. We have collectively traded community for economy. We have lost much without really stopping to consider if it was a worthwhile exchange. Going to River Bend Books reminds me that many of us have made a bad bargain. Thankfully and surprisingly enough, independent bookstores are doing very well again. I must be part of a larger group of readers than I knew.
Driving home from the gym this morning I was startled by a line of four turkeys crossing the road in front of me. I stopped to see where they were going, and managed to get this shot of two of them foraging in the grass by a neighbor’s driveway. I had never seen a group this near our house, though I have spotted an occasional lone bird.
Seeing them I was reminded that they are really pretty ugly, and I understood why the eagle and not the turkey was chosen as the nation’s bird. The much spread rumor that Benjamin Franklin promoted the turkey turns out to be one of many urban legends, one I believed until a quick search this afternoon proved it not true.
When I lived in the country in the 1970’s our houseboat was near a turkey farm. Here hundreds of the more familiar domesticated heavy breasted white turkeys roamed around huge fields making lots of noise. New England provided my first sight of the wild turkey ( not to be confused with bourbon with the same name!) They are definitely not top heavy, not are they white. Neither do they resemble the commonly depicted colorful one of children’s Thanksgiving handprint pictures. But they are native, apparently edible, and not eating my lone sunflower. So I enjoyed seeing them.
I still don’t know why they crossed the road.
Although I am called a child of the 60’s, I am really a child of the 1950’s. The early 1960’s were much closer to the 1950’s than to the end of their decade. So I grew up on images of romance, marriage, and happily ever after all symbolized by the incessant magazine ads for Lane Cedar Chests. Lane advertised every month in my favorite magazine Seventeen and I learned about “hope chests” because of their ads. I had never heard of them before that.
Apparently as a girl I was to acquire a “hope chest” and then begin to fill it gradually with gifts given to me for that purpose. Lane assumed I would need a sturdy cedar(moth proof) chest to store my table linens, bed linens and wool blankets until I married and moved into my own home. I would go directly from my parents’ house where I kept the chest into the home with my husband. I absorbed all this, but felt it unlikely that I would be given either the chest or the linens.
By my college graduation in 1969, I now longer had any of the romantic ideas from my younger life. I expected to leave college, go to work, move into my own apartment and begin to build a life after college. I did, however, have a lingering sense that I should mark this transition with a domestic purchase. Just before I left Cambridge, I bought this little blue glass bird. It sits on my windowsill today reminding me of my first furnishing for a future “room of my own.”
In 1978, when my daughter was three, I won the Clark Essay Prize at my university for the best work done in the English Department that year. It came with $100, an enormous sum for me at the time. My daughter had been begging me for a Big Wheel, and I was able to buy it for her with part of the prize money. Our driveway had a gentle slope and she rode the new bike tirelessly, careening down the driveway, making a sharp turn onto the sidewalk and skidding down the concrete. Then she hauled it back up and repeated the move endlessly until her hunger won out over her love of skidding.
My grandson turns ten tomorrow, and he wanted a major gift for his birthday, a big wheeled trike made by Razor, pictured above. On Saturday my husband, my grandson and my first husband–my daughter’s father in town for the birthday–worked together to assemble it. As I observed this activity I thought back over many years. I was touched by the camaraderie between the men, not a common outcome in such a situation. My grandson loves them both and takes for granted that they get along. Once again I am thankful that after our divorce my daughter’s father and I committed to parenting her with love and without any negativity toward each other. Here was the fruit, 41 years later, of that decision.
Now my grandson, wearing the mandatory helmet, is pedaling up and down the sidewalk in and out of our driveways. He accelerates, then skids merrily across the cement. Razor calls it a Drift Bike, but it really just a jazzed up Big Wheel. A child powered vehicle, designed to spin out, delighting another generation.
I mentioned that the lovely china I had purchased didn’t fare too well with children and daily use. As pieces broke, I supplemented my dishes with inexpensive additions as needed. I ended up with a patchwork collection. While nothing was wrong with this motley assortment, it did lack any sense of being “company ready” when necessary. I didn’t have any friends who would be bothered by this, but I did feel at times as if I were back in my post college days with my ragtag place settings.
A few years ago, I settled on the very simple, very sturdy French dinnerware pictured above. Its stark simplicity certainly contrasts with the Noritake china, but it perhaps better reflects this more centered, less showy time of my life. At any rate, we have accumulated enough dishes to serve my family and a guest or two.
Preparing to write about these dishes reminded me of the “blue plate special” of my childhood. The working man’s equivalent of the upscale “prix fixe,” the special had a set meat, starch and vegetable with the strict admonishment of “no substitutions.” This same idea was promoted in a book I read as a single mother wanting to marry again. It suggested that I could pick three characteristics I thought essential in a husband. (Violence, addiction and general boorishness were seen as non-negotiable and didn’t count as part of the three!) After identifying the three, I had to ignore any other characteristics and focus on the three–no substitutions. I chose intelligence, kindness and a sense of humor. That meant I couldn’t exclude a man with these three qualities who also happened to snore, have contentious family members or was a Republican. (Fortunately I didn’t know any Republicans at the time!)
This process worked, eliminating the kind of second guessing I had been prone to before. Did I like his car?(Not one of the three.) Was he deadly serious? (Instant elimination.) I have been happily married for 31 years to an intelligent, kind, humorous man. Who snores!
I had been envying the lovely photos of sunflowers, fields of sunflowers, arrays of sunflowers, and displays of sunflowers posted by my blogging friends. I had tried to vicariously delight in their sunflowers, all the time missing the sturdy row of my own I had planted and expected to enjoy. I thought malevolently of that happy fat woodchuck who had had the audacity to cut the flowers off mid-stem before they had bloomed. I resigned myself to continue to feed the goldfinches who flock to my yard remembering previous September’s sunflower seed feasts.
And then! What did I see this morning when I left the house for an appointment? This solitary sunflower, small but blooming, defying all the odds. Waving insistently at me, it seemed to say “you give up so easily. Did you really think the woodchuck could prevent every single plant from growing?” Well yes, I did. But I was wrong- a sentence I seem to say as rarely as possible. That one little sunflower seed waited until the coast was clear, ignored all instruction that its time to grow had passed, and pushed its way into stem and flower.
I think of John Milton’s verse, “they also serve who only stand and wait.” Here it seemed to be wait and stand, but it prevailed in the end.
When I had my first apartment I had no furniture, so I went to Cohn Brothers to buy a couch. This store gave credit to anyone who could make monthly payments, and I needed to establish a credit history. I picked out a lovely blue/green Swedish looking long couch, put down my first $25 and promised to return each month with any additional $25 until the $250 was paid in full. Once I had the habit of paying $25 a month for home furnishings, I continued this approach for many years. In those days, interest on installments was either nonexistent(as at Cohn Brothers) or very low.
Somewhere in the mid-1980’s I suddenly wanted to own real china. I chose the pattern above, Nanking by Noritke, and began buying it one piece at a time until I had acquired several settings. However, since I had a young child and the young child had many young friends, this was not a particularly wise move. I did love the pattern, and a few pieces of it still remain. My favorite platter, rarely used when I was younger, now comes out every Thanksgiving.
Looking at the plate now, I remember how much I longed for the kind of stability that owning china represented to me. I was a single mother, no longer waiting for another bridal registry to provide me with what I wanted. I decided to buy my own dishes, this time acknowledging a love for the traditional which had eluded me years before. One lovely piece at a time.
Lately the weddings I have been aware of seem to have become extravaganzas, lasting at least two days, often in a vacation destination, with expensive bridal gowns, lavish food and long bridal registries of desired gifts. In 1973 when I married the trend was the opposite. We had the simplest possible ceremonies, frequently outdoors, with flowery dresses, potluck food and much dancing and merriment on site after the vows. One thing was still in operation–the bridal registry.
Traditionally (and apparently still judging from the website The Knot) a woman (now both parties) went to a department store and chose a china, crystal and silver pattern she desired as gifts. In 1973, china, crystal and silver were considered bourgeois, but I still needed to pick a pattern to satisfy the older generation. I chose, still by Lenox of the fancy china lists, a stoneware pictured above. This was very unconventional, a real statement that we were not following in the materialistic footsteps of our parents, but were practical and thrifty. The nature theme of the pattern also reflected the “back to nature” spirit of the time.
Very few pieces from that time remain, a couple of cups just the right size for a scoop of ice cream are in my cupboard. I smile when I see them, remembering who I was then and what I thought I would treasure in the future. But tastes change, as did mine, and more choices will be featured in the next posts.