Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Five Generations of Sliding Downhill



My mother had a phobia about little old ladies who shuffle. She always used to tell me, "if you see me shuffling, you tell me, 'pick up your feet, Jane', you're shuffling." Until the very last, she made a heroic effort not to shuffle.

I, personally, don't have that much of a fixation about shuffling. If I'm home, I'm barefoot and I guess being barefoot is not conducive to shuffling.

My father's pet peeve was women who didn't get dressed in the morning. He thought remaining in a robe was the epitome of shiftlessness. As a consequence, thirty years after he died, Mom still got dressed as soon as she finished her first cup of coffee. Meanwhile, I've been known to hang out at the computer in my robe, coffee and cigarettes at my side, until noon or later. Each generation seems to become more self-indulgent. Lazy robe-wearer that I am myself, I'm always kind of shocked when I see the next generation of girls at Village Pantry in their pajamas.

My grandmother was an immaculate little old lady. You never saw her that her (blue) hair wasn't styled. Her clothes matched her shoes which matched her purse which matched her jewelry which matched her fingernails. We cousins laughed about her penchant for color coordination sometimes.

"Who are you trying to impress, Grandma?" we'd ask.

"I'm not trying to impress anyone. I do it for my own sense of pride," she would say haughtily.

She often told the story of her mother. My great-grandma committed the sin of sins - she fell in love with and married the hired man. Her family disowned her for this stain on the family honor but her father allowed the young couple to live in a fixed up chicken house on the farm. They eventually had several children. Rough as their living conditions were, my grandma made the point that none of her kids ever saw their mother not fully dressed with her long hair done up in a pompadour.

"She never left her bedroom until her toilette was complete."

The story did have a happy ending. One Christmas, great-great-grandpa told his wife, "I can't stand it anymore, Addie, those are our grand-children and I'm taking them Christmas."

So, he loaded up the sleigh with food and toys and other presents and rode down to where they lived. It took a while longer for his stiff-necked wife to give in but eventually she did and great-grandma was accepted back into the bosom of the family.

I always wondered if there was lingering bitterness that they allowed her and her husband and children to live for so long in a chicken house or if she was simply joyful to be part of them again. I asked Grandma but she didn't know.

But there you go - the history of self-discipline writ in five generations. A woman living in an old chicken coop with several children but who never let her own family see her en deshabille. To a woman who was perfectly dressed and coifed at all times. To a woman who worried about shuffling. To a shiftless barefoot robe-wearer. To a girl who feels comfortable wearing her p.j.s to the store.

Apparently, as females, we live in an era of lax intestinal fortitude. On the other hand, hardly any of us nowadays would cast out our daughter for marrying the hired man.