And it chars my heart to always hear you calling
Calling for the good old days
Because there were no good old days
These are the good old days
~ The Libertines “The Good Old Days”
For reasons that I still don’t quite understand, I have been deemed the defacto family historian. I’ve somehow ended up with every family photo, newspaper clipping and letter that still exist from my mother’s side of my family. For the past umpteen years, they’ve been stored ridiculously poorly, particularly for humid, mold-friendly Florida. So I’ve been trying to consolidate things into more friendly temporary storage. Partly because of my New Year’s declaration of a War On Clutter at my house, but also as a precursor to some bigger genealogy and scrapbooking projects. I’m sorting things out of cardboard boxes that date back to the Truman Administration into a big-ass container from the post office that our held mail was kept in while we were away on the Alaska cruise. I keep thinking that I’m probably committing some sort of felony by holding onto it, but it’s really perfect for this project. It’s not like those folks at my post office are keeping strict track of their container count. They have other things to worry about. Like ejaculating customers.
I’m taking just a cursory look at these pictures, as I’m trying to stay focused on the objective at hand and not be distracted by other things. Such as reading every single newspaper clipping my nana ever, well, clipped. What I am doing, though, is taking note of the gist of each photo. The mood that’s prevalent. The scene that’s set.
Picture book, pictures of your mama, taken by your papa a long time ago.
Picture book, of people with each other, to prove they love each other a long ago.
The formality of so many of the shots featuring my nana and her contemporaries is striking. Women dressed to the nines to board a plane, hard-sided train case in hand, hat perched on freshly coifed hair. Men in skinny ties and gray flannel suits, attired nearly identically, regardless of the occasion. People looked nice. All the time. Candid shots were few and far between. Everything seemed planned. Calculated. Organized.
Things got slightly less staid by the time the pictures started to feature my mother and really looked loose and funky (in comparison to earlier days) when my brother and I started becoming the photograph subjects. However, even in the candid shots of my childhood, the feeling was still more structured than the shots I take today of Will. Check out this picture of my Uncle Al, Aunt Munch (real name: Evelyn. No idea why she was called Munch. But she was.) and me. At the zoo. That's right. The zoo. Lions and tigers and bears and linen dresses and skinny ties. Oh my!
A picture of you in your birthday suit,
You sat in the sun on a hot afternoon.
Picture book, your mama and your papa, and fat old Uncle Charlie out boozing with their friends.
Picture book, a holiday in August, outside a bed and breakfast in sunny Southend.
Picture book, when you were just a baby, those days when you were happy, a long time ago.
It was indeed a different time, that era reflected in pieces of paper stacked in a post office container on the floor of my office. A time when tea was served out of silver vessels, rather than a contraption operated by a barista. When a dinner party meant getting out the good stuff -- china, crystal, silver; dressing up in a hostess gown if you were the party giver; having ashtrays available for guests since smoking was not yet verboten; serving a menu of Baked chicken breasts supreme, savory stuffed mushrooms, peach Waldorf salad, hot cheese biscuits, creme-de-menthe parfait (in special parfait glasses), coffee served in demitasse cups. And dinner was followed by a game of bridge. Every home had at least one card table, which was used to actually play cards upon.
This is a picture of a bridal tea hosted by my nana and mother, held at my childhood home. I love the lady seated at the head of the table whose job it was to pour the tea for the guests. She was a friend of my nana’s and I suppose volunteered to lend a hand. (That’s Nana in the teal dress and Mother’s head at the very right of the frame.)
Sure, time marches on, as they say. And cultural norms change and adapt to the times. But there’s just something about the lost arts of civility I see represented in those photos that makes me a bit wistful. I myself have many of the accouterments used for entertaining that my nana and mother had. Where their silver was polished and gleaming (thanks to a once-a-week housekeeper who came in to handle chores like that), mine is reflective gray with tarnish. The “good china” sits pristinely in the china hutch, used only on certain occasions like Christmas and Easter dinners. I’d honestly use it more, but it’s the sort of dinnerware that needs to be handwashed. And that’s not my scene if I can help it.
Here’s a glimpse at my dining room, set for an Easter Day meal. Looks a little different than the scene at my parents’ house, doesn’t it? (That’s my hand and glasses to the right of the frame.) This is as close to a classic dinner party as I've gotten. Yet.
Might be time to revive the Lost Art of the Dinner Party. But not anytime soon. Really don't want to host such a momentous event while being obsessed with Weight Watchers points. That would take all the fun out of things.
I’m looking forward to spending more time with my relatives as I look at and absorb the pictures for which I am the caretaker. Not only will it give me some perspective on where I came from, but I hope to find a connection with the past that goes a bit more global than the details of my family life.
And maybe I’ll hunt down a recipe for Baked Chicken Breasts Supreme and pick up a bottle of creme-de-menthe. Just in case.
Remember the good old days.
Remember the good old days.
They were good...
They were old...
They were days...
~ "Good Old Days," Carlene Frazier, Designing Women