Thursday, September 25, 2008
The Preacher’s Corner
It’s just me, please don’t pick up the toys
It is interesting to observe how house styles have changed through the generations. Right now, it is “in” to have a fancy stainless steel kitchen with a Viking stove large enough to feed a battleship and a bathroom with a sunken tub that would do justice to the caesars of Rome.
In olden times, every house had a parlor. This was a room in front that, as my grandmother described it, was kept closed off and used only on the most special occasions. Grandmother’s parlor was in Missouri, and she said a special fire had to be made in the fireplace when it was opened up, and about the only time it was used was when the Christmas tree would be lit using real candles and the children brought in to open their presents from good ole St. Nick.
The 1950s were a more practical age. The small house I grew up in on Maple Street in Cleveland, Miss., had a living room where the family actually lived. The unused parlor had been done away with as so much extraneous square footage.
Our house had a living room, dining room, and kitchen. These were all separate rooms with doors in between. When company came, the kitchen door was closed and my mother and grandmother were back there and woe betide the hapless child or nosey relative who ventured into that kitchen while its earnest labor was underway.
My grandmother (who looked like a Norman Rockwell painting) ruled her kitchen with utmost authority, and you did not enter without her summons. Only when the kitchen door was opened was the “coast clear” to resume the regular traffic pattern through that part of the house.
Now the world has changed again and houses have very few interior walls. The kitchen and the living space are in clear view of one another. This is called the great room concept, and it seems to suit the more casual lifestyle of today quite well.
I cannot imagine my grandmother, however, welcoming all the aunts, uncles and cousins around her stove. Cooking was her private preserve, and she did not wish to be disturbed. I can just hear her now saying that all that distraction caused her to forget the baking powder for her biscuits!
Our living room where we lived had a big picture window out to the street. I would be spread out with all my toys (my grandmother was very indulgent in this regard, and with her penchant for absolute neatness, I see in retrospect what a marvelous concession she made). Inevitably when I had dragged every toy I owned out into the middle of the floor, our minister would drop by for a friendly pastoral visit. Our minister, Dr. Bolling, was called the bishop of the Mississippi Delta, and I believe he spent every afternoon making polite calls on his flock.
This was before the day when visitors were expected to call and make sure you would be home. Most women were not employed outside the home; somebody was always at home. My grandmother would see his car pulling up to the curb, and then we would go into action. I never questioned the fact that all my toys had to be hurridly gathered up and thrown into a side room as if a tornado had struck.
My grandmother was in her eighties when these scenes would occur, but I can testify that she could utterly clean and tidy a living room in the short space that it took for Dr. Bolling to park and the time it took him to stroll up our walk and ring the bell at the front door!
I was always glad to see Dr. Bolling. To me he looked like the picture of God I had in my mind. And certainly he was as kind as the Almighty. Moreover, he always had Wrigley’s gum in his pocket which he generously dispensed to all the little children he met through the day. I would sit quietly while he and my grandmother visited, full of the sense that we had been paid high honor by the visit and interest of the beloved minister in our home.
Now, in those days, ladies wanted real living and dining rooms for entertaining and another space for the ordinary “living” to take place. So the big thing in the 1960s was to add on a den. This was about the time of the Cuban missile crisis, and I recall one poor woman who said that in the fervor of that upheaval her husband convinced her to take the money they had been saving for a den and build a fallout shelter in the back yard. They did, and it was used ever after to store the yard tools. Mrs. Simpson used to say that that shed out back was “her den.”
My mother got her wish for a bigger house with the formal living and dining rooms. But like the parlors of the Victorian era, they were seldom used. Everyone gravitated back to the den. Dr. Bolling passed away, and our new minister did not make drop-in pastoral calls. Mother kept the front rooms shut off to save energy, and I used to say that a cyclone could blow away that living and dining room and it might be weeks before anybody noticed. Certainly no one ever came to the front door. They came around back, where the cars were parked.
So lifestyles change. But I do hope for one thing. I hope none of my members ever make their little children gather up their toys just because I have come for a visit. Those amazing “clean-ups” my grandmother used to mount were just too stressful. And Dr. Bolling had reared children. I am sure he would have understood.
Meanwhile, as I grow older, I realize that it is the visiting that counts most — whether it is in an elegant receiving room, on a back porch, or around a friendly kitchen stove.
But I do think my grandmother would still insist on a house with a kitchen door.
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