Sunday, July 19, 2009

Don't Tell Me It Didn't Happen, I Was There!

There are no dishwashers other than one's hands in the "Oz" known as Sandy Pines. As I was doing clean up from our bacon and eggs breakfast this morning, I found myself thinking about washing dishes...the old fashioned way. And other things..."the old fashioned way".

I don't mind doing dishes and never have. I remember the special "sisterhood" shared by the Mom's, Aunties, and Grandmas growing up in the times before automatic dishwashers ; Of sitting on a kitchen chair, listening to the snippets of laughter and conversation whipping around the sink synchronized with the flapping of rapidly dampened, hand embroidered, flour sack dishtowels in the hands of the aunties. Out at the cottage, the water was first pumped into a big white porcelain pail, then brought in to heat on the wood stove before being poured into the huge metal dishpan sitting on the table. I can still hear and feel the ubiquitous sand at the bottom of the pan...and see my little 4'8" Grandma open the screen door to fling the pan's dirty water on her thriving grove of lilacs. It was no small task to feed and then clean up after 20 people eating my Grandmother's Sunday Smorgasbords or Thanksgiving dinners. The more I think of it, while I don't mind the few dishes in my Sandy Pines sink after breakfast for two, maybe I WOULD mind the dishes tackled by the womenfolk of my youth!

This morning, however, my thoughts were focused on Ruth Martin and June Cleaver...Timmy and Beaver's Moms. My addiction to television isn't a new thing. I had a weekly date to watch "Big Top" and "Circus Boy" at my Grandma's before we got our own "glowing rectangle" ( thanks, Adam!) I was a goner. I truly believe my love of blue willow dishes stems from all the blue willow dishes I watched Ruth Martin wash in her farm sink as Timmy's Dad, Paul drank another cup of coffee before heading out to the barn to help Gus. When I finally got my own set of Blue Willow in the early '80's I honestly felt I could finally emulate Ruth. What a role model. I mean, did June Lockhart ever play anyone not trustworthy, sweet and comforting? She's Mom, standing by her sink with her hands in the dishwater, always with an understanding smile on her face. "The Madonna of the Blue Willow".

June Cleaver wore rubber gloves. This was doubtlessly to spare her manicure. Anyone decked out in those neat as a pin shirtwaist dresses complete with earrings and pearls around the neck HAD to wear rubber gloves! How very CHIC!!! So Barbara Billingsley raised the bar for me. I decided that one day my children would drink their everyday milk in goblets, just like Wally and the Beav.....and there was formal dining room for DINNER. Not supper, DINNER. Now that was something.

Manners were NON NEGOTIABLE! We shared this basic tenet with Timmy, Wally and Theodore. White anklets with shoes. White gloves at the very least for Easter and often on Sunday's when your very best clothes were always worn, freshly washed and pressed. June and Ruth both in hats. I have not worn a hat since one was plopped atop my fresh, and most offensively Toni Home Permanented hair and while I certainly don't think the white socks, gloves and chapeaus are a "salvation issue" I confess to missing the underlying message of respect those trappings spoke to. This summer I have been to three beautiful weddings representing months of planning and expense. Wedding parties dressed in carefully selected gowns and formal wear, looking their very best for the "day of their lives"....only to be met by a handful of guests wearing ragged bottomed cargo shorts, wrinkled shirts and sandals.

And here's my point: I think people make a big thing these days of dragging down and disposing of the icons of the past as not necessary and a bother. The banner of "Whatever works for you is just fine" in the effort to legitimize poor behavior today. The Martin and Cleaver families are said to have never existed...just a stereotypical image foisted on the public. For those of you who weren't there to experience it, I must tell you that isn't true. It was a comfort to live in times when right was right and wrong was wrong...and everyone knew which was which. It never felt like the dark ages before "enlightenment." Rather, it felt secure and comfortable... without pharmaceutical support. There was nothing wrong with aspiring to be "the Cleavers" or "the Martins". Now, just as then, inherently sinful humans continually fall short, but how can striving to present yourselves in the most decent light be a bad thing? What is so noble about settling for the lowest common denominator in life? ...or worse, setting about to establish a lower low? We weren't oddballs, by the way. Everyone we knew was emulating the Cleavers. Dads and Moms, Aunts and Uncles, Grandmas and Grandpas , everyone at work and school and church...all worked hard to provide the best food and shelter and clothing they could afford for their families. I expect families were all functioning with a better sense of the difference between "need" and "want" and there was never a question that sacrificing for your family and those in need around you always trumped something that might bring personal gratification.

I mean, just as you KNEW Lassie was going to run into that dangerously unstable mine shaft to rescue Timmy, was there ever a question of Ruth or Paul or June or Ward not doing the right thing...usually the hard thing? In that same way you KNEW you could trust your family to do what was right and best if it was at all within their power to do so. Remember the sad look on Ruth's face when she had to send Timmy to his room without his dinner? She was standing there next to the sink full of dishes, dish towel in her hand as she placed Timmy's plate of food in the icebox....