I think it is fine entertaining bloggers tell you that your imperfections are fabulous. They are, I am certain. But I wear foundation makeup and get pedicures because I am not fooling anyone: My imperfections can use perfecting. And now that you know this, I feel we know one another a little better, no?
In reading every letter sent me, I can single out one note hit in nearly everyone: How will I do this if I cannot/ do not/ have not (insert imperfection here)?
How did I write something you would want to read more than once knowing full well you might think the life I have lived and the painstaking way in which I was trained was the worst kind of bore? I do not have any idea, I just did. I do not know how I survived seven months alone with a newborn during a deployment let alone two on a second deployment, but I did. And I have done harder things still. And you have conquered higher mountains and more difficult situations than making and serving drinks and food to people who liked you enough to accept your invitation in the first place.
I believe in the things these two fine people taught me. My Mom made etiquette and manners fun, as she does everything. My Dad felt manners were something you had to have and did not give a lot of thought to them. My Grandmother though, she was a take-no-prisoners manners girl, she would just roll right over you with instructions. I liked that about her. I miss her, you know. Training children to be polite and decent was her calling.
We can do this you and I. I will always be here to help you. But I want you to get it right and I do not want you to give up. I realize I have not let you off the hook or eased the entertaining burden for you. I am hoping my work here generates more than mediocrity, better than fine. We are all gathered here because we are champions of a sort and we mean to reach a pinnacle, as all humanity should in every endeavor; even, if you are inviting someone to eat a sandwich with you on the park bench under which you live, I implore you to do the very best you can.
Sunday supper at my parents home, 1991 or so. It was summer, fairly casual, still the table is set with Medici (now a pattern called Westchester), Grand Baroque, and Colleen. My Brother was a notorious diet soda drinker, and less of a manners nudge than I though I must say he has lovely manners himself (that is Chris on the right). Many times, dinner was served from the buffet behind my Mother at center, but more often, it was family style. Note the swinging door over my right shoulder, it was a true kitchen door: it swung two ways because you know what I always say, what happens in the kitchen stays in the kitchen. When it was just family, the door was propped open, when there were dinner guests, it was closed and swinging.
"Refined," a letter from Nevada called it. Refining, is more like it: Refining one's entertaining skills within the established boundaries, perhaps. Amy Vanderbilt meant to make it easier for you, not harder. She wrote these books full of minute details in order that you would never be alone on the great host slope before a dining room of one hundred twenty or a card table of four. Moreover, once you and the guests know the steps of the dance, you will stop worrying about whether you are doing it right as a guest or a host, and start wondering whether you had the chance to speak with everyone at the party.
All of these things etiquette people tell you serve two purposes: First, to allow you comfort in knowing you have handled a situation well. Secondly, to make you look good. Now tell me: What could be wrong with this discipline?
The fact that it occasionally intimidates (as it does all at one time or another) originates in the self-consciousness that one does not already know the method of handling the situation at hand. But the how-to's are not formed at the in utero banquet table. They are skills, and like any other skill, all they require is being informed and practice. It is still curious to me that manners, conceptually, stumps and insults some. Surely this is caused by it being a defining characteristic of the perception of whether one is a lady or gentleman. And the prospect of failure is untenable to many: Indeed you are better than a single slip. I agree. Manners are a sum total, not a singular defining moment. However, you still never do get a second chance for a first impression, so practice is critical.
My parents table set for a light meal and coffee during the holiday season. It is the only time I can remember this service being used for anything which makes me suspect one of the attendees may have gifted it to my parents. Normally, we used my maternal Grandmother's service in the holiday season as it was vaguely reminiscent of the greens and reds of the season. That house was wonderful, all of those white cabinets under the window seats were extensive china storage.
Let me reassure you. You are lovely already, all you need is to deal with yourself the way you do the silver: Polishing. Ever polishing. I will do the same, right here before you, much as that intimidates me.
It is not with mixed feelings that I note the sometimes exhausted or intimidated tones the Blushing letters take. But it does not cause me to second guess myself in remaining within the prescribed guidelines in which I was trained, or decide I will not tuck the seating chart into my dress. Never.
My Godmother, Margaret's beautiful Easter brunch table. Absolutely everything was perfect. While she may claim to always be very casual, you might guess these favorite of all the family meals for me contributed heavily to my sureness that we should deliver to the best of our ability. Look at the care lavished on these linens and place settings, were there not beautiful items on the table, the lushness of the respect for the holiday, family, and the meal is enough to mark one's soul.
Margaret in the living room at my parents home one Christmas Eve, as you can see, she has a light-hearted side as well and we practice the Christmas cracker tradition.
While it does not cause me to question the lessons I learned with my people in these, among many, rooms, and their usefulness in this modern age, when I read your letters, it does make me wish I had a magic carpet and I could be over in a flash. In the meantime, always in spirit.
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