Archive for February, 2013

Mother’s China

After my mother, Adele Hutchins, died in mid-December I made a photograph of her china the wallpaper on my cell phone. The fluted silver platter and two ivory tea cups with gold rims and roses appealed to my sense of beauty. So now they haunt me.
Why? They are the level of comfortable living I was told was my birthright, the prize of being a suburban housewife to which Betty Freidan said we all aspired, the measure which, since I never comfortably achieved it, probably now never will, given my age, approaching Medicare’s gate this May. This silver plate, these delicate tea cups, represent the concepts “dining room” and “china cabinet,” neither of which have been in my personal property vocabulary for many years.
It is fashionable this week to remember Freidan’s Feminine Mystique, marking the 50 year anniversary since its release. Freidan spoke to those women of my mother’s post-WWII 50’s generation, women who married and got the china cabinets, the silver plates and gold-rimmed tea cups, from their middle-class inheritance and husbands’ good blue collar and white collar jobs.
Though she lived until she was 88 and lived the last decade of her life alone, I don’t think my mother ever understood what it was for me to grow up single, independent, un-partnered for most of my life. It was a way of life she’d never encountered first hand until she was a widow, and by then the rest of her life-span was planned out and protected, provided for by privileges her marriage, her class status and society at the time provided for women of her race and class.
So no one taught me how to save money, how to manage investments (like grandmother’s house, when I had it, a great big house with dining room and even some left-over china, after the cousins had grazed through). I held onto that house for 12 years but eventually traded it back to the bank to pay down some of my grad school debt and move in with Andrew, what a mess that was. Still recovering from it, in some ways. But at the time it seemed a sensible next step. Ever since the beginning of this new century I have been off-loading property; managing, negotiating, juggling furniture, roofs, walls and infrastructure repairs and making homes for people to live in, communally. I’m really tired of it, too. Nan and I both here, holed up here in the cold winter together with our elderly cats, in Takoma Park, in a rental property I’m currently in custody of, a place with no room for mother’s china cabinet, which got shipped off to a cousin’s girlchild during the recent emptying of mom’s apartment after her death.
It’s ridiculous I have this big flashy purple-and-black, zebra-striped comforter I haven’t spread out on the bed since I bought it in October. It’s February now and I shiver in bed sometimes, but it’s so beautiful I don’t want to get cat hair on it. Am I waiting for my elderly cat to die? Well, he’s loyal, in his own twisted way, and I’ve lived with him longer than anyone else so I return his loyalty in my own grudging way.
My mother and grandmother and aunt (forget the men for now) brought me up to expect to live in a house with a dining room and china cabinet, a home with linen closets and cedar chests, fire places and bathrooms with genuine guest towels, all of that. Instead I live camped out in someone else’s home, in a basement storage area wrapped around a furnace room. Not as bad as it sounds, it’s actually a big one-and-a-half room suite w/office, bedroom and bath. Certainly no room for big furniture or tiny china tea cups to be properly displayed though.
I know we Tauruses are supposedly really rooted in and into the material world. And I love treasuring things as much as the next person; especially bright colors and contrasting textures and shapes, smells, sounds. I just can’t deal with how easily they accumulate and take over, I feel a commensurate need to keep them at bay in my life, lest they weigh me down. Perhaps my life is more guerilla, more gypsy than I was bred for.
This troubles me. And yet it just is, a stark function of my expectations that we face more societal upheavals in the near future, must be prepared for changes at a moment’s notice. Personal treasures and possessions seem to be perhaps some of the least important things we will keep track of or care about. Community, fellowship and companionship with others is what we all thrive with, long for, and, if we’re lucky, can create as we go along. And while I’m embarrassed that I often spend weekends depressed and withdrawn, humoring myself back into humanness so I can function enough to hold onto this sanctuary space I retreat in, yet I’m also grateful, simply, to have the freedom to weather this angst, to still have this place of peace amongst increasing uncertainties. In the meantime, any vessel is my tea cup, every plate my silver platter.

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Posted on February 24th, 2013 by Loraine Hutchins

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