Sunday, May 29, 2011

For Love of Occasion

Domesticity mystifies me.

A complete understanding of what it means is still hiding, drifting in the fog of what society wants me to believe my grandmother's life was like, obscured by fears of Martha Stewart and church lady living rooms. What are womanly arts and what do they have to do with a properly basted turkey? What is delight in ones home and how does it get properly sorted out from the starch-and-scratchy chair sneering I saw from many ladies with beautiful, if somehow hostile, homes? What is it about me that goes all giddy when I look at my freshly made bed, covered in a quilt my great-grandmother sewed by hand fifty years ago? Or when I lay down at the end of a day to see the hushed light of my hanging lamp warm the purple and lavender of my walls? Why does this speak to my soul? The quilt is just old cotton, second-hand even when it was sewn. The lamp and the walls are just wire and plaster, paint and light. What causes such distinct and domestic satisfaction in a well-planned room?

I don't have an answer.
But I think my four year old does.

She hasn't had enough years to absorb, through whatever terrible osmosis, all of the domestic shame we as women build up in today's culture. She doesn't know that she should be liberated, or that her mommy is living a dreary and repressed life of household servitude. She doesn't know that her joys should be more sophisticated than homely pursuits, that instead of homemade jam and homemade twirl skirts she should covet five hundred dollar shoes and three hundred dollar handbags. Because she is naive, she is wise.

I watch her order her little domestic sphere, from the precise placement of beloved animals to the "decorating" of her room with scarves and ribbons and scraps of paper, I see her joy. She loves to plan, to select just the perfect treasure for the perfect spot. I watch her turn ordinary things into special occasions and I reclaim my own, still timid, love for everyday excellence. When did we as women believe that to orchestrate our homes is less worthy than orchestrating our careers? When did we stop being excited about the tiny, special things that surround us-- the breakfast plate with flowers, the lace edging of a napkin, the pleasing arrangement of a room so that it breathes peace and harmony to those who enter? I do not have to justify loving those things because they are part of who I am as a female reflection of God.

A week ago, I sat in a rocking chair outside a vintage-inspired general store, eating mint ice cream and staring at pansies. The color scheme was perfect, each petal a blend of pearly whites, blushing mauve, and deeper purple. As I looked at the other flowers-- tangerine orange against crimson red, bright yellow and white-- I realized that God is intentional about his colors. I have never seen a flower and thought oh, that doesn't match. He chose well and He chose deliberately, even though flowers are common, ordinary little things. He gave them beauty anyway. We have a love of occasion-- of detail, beauty, planned and executed well-- because He has filled a world with those domestic touches. When we fill our homes with the same, we are mimicking Him.

If you are anything like me, you're trying to understand this and all you keep thinking is the image of the 1950s Woman. You're not sure if you've ever met her or if you've just heard about her but images of plastic pearls and disturbingly red lipstick come to mind, along with mohair sweaters and a polka-dot apron tied at the waist. Her blue eyes gleam with manic energy as she tells you all she does to get her home to a waxy, gleaming, artificial beauty common to fake fruit. Every ounce of her is consumed with the tyranny of details, having the couch cushions turned just the right way, making sure the curtains are ironed once a week. Enter and admire but don't touch the good china. She obsessively pursues perfection and defines herself by the cleanliness of her carpet or the trendiness of her wall decor.

This is not the woman who understands God's domesticity.
Nor is it a woman who understands the true pleasure or love of keeping a home, of those touches that elevate the most basic elements of existence-- shelter and food and clothing-- into something special. My great grandmother, when she was sewing by hand dozens and dozens of patchwork quilts made from discarded dresses, knew the secret. My grandmother, who could make a coconut cream pie that will be served in heaven at the Lamb's supper, knew the secret. Even my daughter, when she runs to give me a handful of wildflowers-- aka weeds-- to place at the lunch table, knows the secret.

I am listening to them. I am learning. I am delighted and unashamed by it.

Image taken from a house tour featured on Parlour

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Lovely post, Karen. I'm glad there's a generation of young moms who desire to make their house a home, and whose children are content with the "simple" things of life. It's all about relationship, and you can't buy it at the store.