Sunday, December 27, 2009

27 December 1955 “Thoughts on a 1955 Christmas Morning of What I Learned This Year.”

I have taken many moments this year and realized what a lot 1955 had taught me. Yet, Christmas seemed to be that sort of icing on the cake, if you will.

We do not have a large family here and some of our relatives vacate to warmer climbs before the snow falls, but for those of us left here, we enjoy ourselves. This year, back in our ‘old house’ again, it seemed even more wonderful. My hubby, Gussie and myself promised not to spend too dearly for one another, but we did want to have a fun Christmas morning. We did our usual trick (though it must sound self-indulgent to others) where we wrap our gifts to one another and keep them hidden until Christmas eve night. We always have a family celebration on Christmas eve and this year it was at my nieces home some forty minutes away, so we were not back home until midnight. We gather our various gifts and lay out our stockings and then taking turns we try our best, whilst keeping our eyes closed, to lay out our gifts and fill one another’s stockings. We then creep upstairs. Bessie stayed over at our house in the guest room so that we could all have our Christmas together. This allows us, come Christmas morning, to creep down the stairs with childlike joy at the surprises under the tree. It was really entertaining this year.

I think there is in this act, possibly, that biological need to have Christmas for a child. And, as we have no child, we replace ourselves in that role, so as I said rather indulgent. Yet, we do enjoy it and it does keep the spirit alive.

Now, for what this 1955 Christmas has taught me: Really it has added to and reinforced what I have come to discover this year and that very simply is family and friends are the most important things as is having a simple happy life.

While lying awake in the early hours of Christmas morning, not unlike the childlike anticipation I once felt, I began to make a mental note, a list if you will, of the elements that have come to have meaning to me this year.

This was an actual tactile list of very real physical manifestations of the simple pleasures of life. That balance between small luxury, self pampering, and inexpensive practicality that seems a heady mix of economy and joy. Here is a rough of that list.

my vanity My Dressing Table: I think this headed my list because as I watched the shadows slip across the slanted roof of our upstairs bedroom waiting for Christmas morning, I was taken by my dressing table. The actual table itself is an ‘antique’ in only the academic sense. It is old and not made of fiberboard, but it cost me all of 20 dollars at a local antique/junk/op shop. It has a subtle dark polish and is cut and etched in the Victorian style known as Eastlake. It is a form of Victorian furniture I am often drawn to for it’s quirky squared angles and ‘x’s’ that seem to deem it perfect for a ramshackle cottage. It has funny little curved legs and a single drawer. I have contemplated, this year, the idea of skirting it in some lovely fabric, but have not wanted to cover the legs. Perhaps if and when I redo my room it will share a fabric that will adorn walls and bedspreads. But, for now, it sits snug in its little corner of our bedroom. The slope of the roof tucks it in and it seems to be rather comfortable, like an old dame sitting and reading by oil light.

The dressing table is topped with an old three way fold mirror that was also found at a local shop for very little money. It matches my etched vanity mirror, most likely any where from the 1920s-1950’s when such items were des rigueur for vanities. On my dressing table sits a few etched glass jewel boxes and an old silver box decorated with a sail boat. It is in here that I keep my hair/bobby pins.  I received a lovely old lotion/cream container with a silver lid (to be later monogrammed) from my hubby this Christmas that will make a fine addition to my set up. vanity jarMy cold cream can now sit out on display rather than hide it’s frumpy blue label in the little drawer of the dressing table.

Now, the point of this topping the list is it seems a wonderful amalgam of what I have learned this year:which is to stop and take a moment for yourself, but not to buy into the modern notion of ‘doing it for yourself’ which often translates into an excuse to continually buy things cheap to give one an instant thrill. We then set it aside with the myriad other things we don’t need and will ignore, throw away or just forget.

The dressing table says to you, “Here is where I become beautiful”. Or, “this is my ME station, where I can think and dream or plan the day ahead, as I prepare myself for the task at hand. Or “here is where I sit, spraying scents and affixing pearls for that night out” and of course, “here it is, the end of the day, off comes the grit and grime of my day and the ‘stage makeup’ of a busy but put together homemaker”.

It seems to allow self indulgence but in a way that is not costly, as you can slowly add to your collection of dressing table accoutrement, and perhaps pass them down. It teaches one to care for oneself and ones things carefully and to choose items for your life and home with a thoughtful mind to keep and care for them so they do not have to be replaced and possibly live on for others enjoyment. The combination of self-pride with conscientious thought and prudence that has come to represent to me the proper balance of self and others and economy. We can be beautiful and stop and smell the roses and very economically have nice things and in the bargain be ‘green’ in that we are buying locally things that have already been manufactured and not ending up in the garbage.

The next item on my list is a combination : Linen Napkins and a complete set of dishes, that is cutlery, glasses i.e. a collection of dishes one is proud to own. This might seem odd, but these items represent the following to me: Care, Luxury, Conversation, Pride, and Relaxation.

Whether or not your style or desire for dishes runs to everything matching, fine china, or an eclectic mix that was well thought out and not just Hodge-podge from hand me downs, such a simple thing as a set of dishes and linen napkins can really change your life. You want to display it. When you clean your kitchen daily, you smile or beam with pride at that stack of dinner plates or the even rows of coffee cups. In the chaos of the day there is order in those lined up nice dishes.

woman setting table Now, when a table is set with your dishes you adore accompanied by the linen napkins, your dinner is not just a slapdash affair before the TV. In fact, even were you merely serving meatloaf or macaroni and cheese, a linen napkin on the lap, a fine glass for water, wine and the waiting cup for evening coffee can make you feel you are at a fine restaurant. I have come to not only enjoy this but expect it daily. Even if we treat ourselves to a Chinese take out, there are no piles of paper napkins and plastic trays. It tastes even lovelier on your own dishes, served out in bowls with serving spoons and a nice glass of wine. We have become so accustomed to the ‘ease and speed’ of the fast food pre-packed world that we are becoming content with having a fast pre-packaged life!

Really, this is such a simple act. And, again, so very frugal.  I, for instance, have my everyday dishes which are vintage 1950’s. my dishesHere is the little corner of my kitchen where they ‘live’ happily in their simple ordered life. I started to collect them because they were never dear and were rather inexpensive when they were made, even being offered as ‘promotions’ at local grocery stores. Yet, they are readily available and are amazingly strong. I had an inexpensive set of dishes from IKEA that I used in the city and I have very little of it left, as they seemed to shatter when you look at them. Yet these dishes cost LESS than IKEA and they obviously are well made as they have lasted through generations of use and various packing and unpacking of grannies attics and yard sales. One does not have to spend a lot to make a collection of something that has meaning and purpose and such an act does in fact give your day meaning and purpose.

Things themselves are not necessarily meaningful, certainly people are far more valuable than things. Yet, I feel as if today we are more likely to just buy and buy and if it breaks or we need something last minute we can just pop down to the store and buy a serving dish or a plate for a dollar, who cares if it matches or breaks, there are always more.

child and mother washing dishes Then, I begin to think of this as a sort of teaching element to anyone who may have children. What a fine lesson to teach a child that though people are more important than things, much like people, things must be treated kindly and carefully. If we willy-nilly toss plates and break things thinking they are easily replaceable, who is to say we will not treat people that way? Who cares how we treat them, we’ll just get more friends, no big deal. But, a child who sees a set of dishes being carefully laid, and thoughtfully put away, who has to sit with his feet on the ground, napkin on the lap and eat thoughtfully so as not to make more work for mother in the laundry, will be someone who can go out and be comfortable in any setting and think of others as well as his own comfort.

I have a pet peeve of opening a cabinet and seeing endless coffee mugs of various shapes and sizes, sometimes stamped with corporate logos not matching and rammed together with no thought. Think of how you respond to this and how you respond to fewer cups, either matching or with a definite theme, hung or stacked neatly in an open cabinet. Which gives you more a sense of calm and order and relaxation? Which gives you the feeling of order and refuge our home most assuredly should be? Does it also express to us that we would want to treat our clothes and home this way? Piles of inexpensive things, not well thought, but readily available inexpensively tossed about? I really feel that is a way that leads one to even spend in a way not frugal. You are not cautious or careful about what you have or how much you may or may not need because there is so much of it already, you cannot find what you want in the mess and you can just buy more because it is cheap.

Cleaning out the corners and donating all that you don’t need and then making very definite decisions about what you want for utility and for decoration/sentiment is a big move towards making your home feel a sanctuary or a place of pride or the spot you wish to snuggle into and stay and relax. Perhaps you won’t feel the need to go off and go shopping again, if you love your home and feel comfortable and have things you need and love where you can get them?! This is a lesson I have learned and am still very much in the act of resolving. Yet, I have done much in the way of moving towards this final end. And all because I want to sit and enjoy a nice meal with family and friends or even myself. Simple.

hat and gloves1 The Hat and Gloves. Such a simple pair, fairly inexpensive and of course green in the sense that they are already made. I have received probably the most compliments and or stares from merely wearing a hat, gloves and vintage handbag than anything else this year. It is odd, really, when you think of the very basic practicality of the things.hat and gloves2 Hats protect our heads from the sun, keep our hair in place and gloves protect our hands from the sun as well as from the germs of shopping and being out in the world. Two very simple items.

In the winter, a stocking cap and knit gloves receive no particular notice, but wear a tiny 1950’s vintage hat and white gloves in the warm weather and see what results you get. I am actually surprised by the amount of positive feedback I get. Sometimes, such as in line at the shops or the post, I will see ladies (young and old) spot me in my hat and gloves, catch my eye and smile and then, fix their hair or try to ‘right themselves’ somehow. It is a contagious thing, fashion and order. It might seem easier to just throw on the sweats and run out the door, but honestly, how much time does it take to put on a hat and gloves? I often do it as I am walking out the door, it is not as if I spend hours contemplating myself in the mirror, and yet such a simple thing makes one feel different; better. I find I walk taller, feel more in ‘the moment’ when I am ‘dressed’ to go out. A trip to the grocery story is not a mad run in and out with my hair a mess in my slippers and pajamas (yes I have seen this at our grocery store!) it has me taking time to find the best bargain etc.

I also notice that many people seem to derive joy in seeing someone ‘dressed up’ . It makes them smile and most likely stop for a  moment and consider their life. If it makes others feel that way, imagine how fine and wonderful it is to be under that hat and inside those gloves! Fashion IS important in that what we wear expresses ourselves and colors the world much like art. Today, so much more money is spent on clothes than ever before even though so many things are so cheap, yet I see almost no style. Endless t-shirts and jeans and clunky boots. You would think people could spend almost NO money when they really wear a sort of uniform and yet I know there are closets full of cheap clothes in bags with tags still on in many closets, for I too once suffered this same modern ague. This leads to another item on my list

50s dress The dress/skirt. Nothing could be easier to sew than a circle or full skirt with a waistband and zipper or a dress with a simple seamed two piece bodice. And with that pattern the world is your oyster. You can use actual vintage fabric, new fabric, fabric you paint or print on yourself, you can honestly express yourself endlessly in this pattern of dress. Or, purchasing well made vintage pieces that have lasted and then caring for them to last you forever. Style, Utility, and Economy.

It is not colder nor more uncomfortable to wear a dress or skirt and yet I always hear people say, “Well, my jeans are so comfortable'”. Perhaps it is just me, but I can say without any doubt that a dress is far more comfortable and offers much more ease of movement that a pair of jeans. Even a nice pair of wool trousers feel much more comfortable to me than jeans ever will. Now, I do have dungarees I wear when I garden or if there is a particularly nasty job to do, but is it harder to put on a skirt that a pair of pants/jeans? People act as if it is a production to have a skirt or dress on. And again, it comes down to this:we often feel different, walk and hold ourselves differently when we are in ‘dress up’ clothes. So, why do we save them only for ‘special occasions?” I have learned that my day to day life, the very act of living it out is special and I am not going to leave off fashion and joy in my clothes to two or three occasions a year! I am worth the effort, to which honestly there is very little, to wear nice things that I make or buy and care for. I find a closet with a few things ironed so much more promising and fulfilling that piles of clothes that are ‘easy’ to wear and are so ‘cheap’. And one does not need to dress vintage to dress this way. Hats and gloves can be ‘modern’.modern dress There are modern dresses and skirts that certainly cut a better figure than low rise jeans or the worst of all, those wretched velour running pants with “Juicy” written across one’s derrière.

Again, personal style is just that personal, yet I wonder at individual personality when one feels comfortable wearing items of clothing that have logos and company names writ across them and might find a thousand other people wearing the same thing. There is much to be said for a personal sense of style that is made by your likes and joys and not so as to ‘fit in’ or merely ‘be comfortable’. If clothes really didn’t matter we would all just wear blue jumpsuits with no varying changes amongst them.

The reason the modern version of ‘fashion’ attests to be about comfort and freedom is merely the advertising gimmick. It tells us we are  happy with misshapen ill made things while really this is the ‘style’ as these are the cheapest easiest items to mass produce and sell over and over again, merely changing a pocket or logo or height of waist line. We are dictated our fashion by the ease and profit margin of the very chains we frequent. Again, one of the main elements 1955 has taught me is this is MY life and I want to live it to the fullest with MY OWN expression and joy and not to merely buy into and pay into the current consumer corporate world that I really feel is rather vapid, hollow and empty. I certainly don’t see teems of happier people because all is cheaper and easier than it once was, and in fact I see more rudeness, anger, frustration and down right selfishness on a day to day basis in the ‘shopping’ world. There is a reason for it.

And, though I could possibly make a much longer list, there is but one final thing to add:

SKILL and THINKING. The personal skill to put to oneself to learn to make your own food, sew, mend, decorate, etc is such an important element to anyone’s life, be you rich or poor. And, I put Thinking in with this because quite honestly, one is more thoughtful when making and doing new skills.

You have to think to cook your meals and plan your food budget. And, once you open that dam you begin to question things, “Is it easier and cheaper to buy those cheaply made clothes? Is it easier to buy ready made food in all those plastic containers? Do I need to buy containers to keep my food in or does some of my food come in containers that can be washed out and used again instead of the cost to the earth and wallets to recycle it?”

You begin to stop and look around your world. You begin to see that you are not merely a spectator in your life or a demographic to be sold to, but an actual individual with your own thoughts and mind. You can see the world for what it is and decide and know you have the power to illicit change in your own little world. If you have to work a job you dislike, perhaps if you spend less and make your home more a place you want to be then your free time can be enjoying your life and not trying to forget about it by mindlessly shopping.

Or you find yourself ‘bored’ while you sit in a home with so much diversion that you realize you are not bored but merely mind numb. The video game the tv the movie the endless items to cost us and distract us from life are making you feel empty because you are becoming empty. Look inside, sit down and listen to yourself. Give yourself that place to prepare for the world. Make a little corner to sit in and read and knit or sew. Turn off the iPod the TV the computer and grab a book or merely watch the birds out the window. There is a life out there waiting to be lived, and I have learned I WANT to live it and not just Waste or Bide my time.There is a place, surely, in our modern world for the technological distractions, but moderation will make them a joy to you rather than you a slave to it!

1955 has taught me to look to myself to make my life and my happiness and to not make excuses but to make my life better. I don’t need more money and more things, I need to start actually participating in my life. There is so much ‘virtual life’ out there to live, but I also want to enjoy my ‘reality’ as well.

I don’t know if my little list will make a difference to any of you, as I am sure most of you have known these things all along, but as a modern woman in a very typical middle sort of life, I have come to realize how much fun and joy there is in simply living. I hope any of you who have not yet discovered that can indeed find it.

And as I face the encroaching new year I ponder what I have learned from the past and consider how much a continued part it shall remain in my day to day living.

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