Book Reviews

Gracious Living


All this month I’ve looked at various style icons of the 1950s–my mother’s generation. Today we look again at the 1950’s ladies and how they were taught to view marriage. Like their Signature Dish, there was an art to it, there were lessons to learn. Home life was to be “gracious”–and they were the arbiters of that grace. We’ve all laughed over that 1950’s home economics class list of how a wife should prepare for her husband’s return each evening. But, let’s pull it out and look at it again, critically–critically as in examine the meaning.

First, a little background. In the 1950’s people married young–17 and 18 young, or if they went to college, maybe at 21 to 23. My parents went to college, as did my Aunt and Uncle–in fact both couples met at a Big 10 school. Both had small church weddings and both wives worked until the first child arrived. My Aunt and Uncle bought a new suburban house and a new Rambler while they saved one income. My parents had to move more often due to Dad’s job. They didn’t buy a home until later. Both couples received such useful wedding gifts as place settings of china, silver-plated chafing dishes and sterling silver nut dishes. Seriously. Once that first child arrived my Mom quit her office job and my aunt gave up her career as a chemist. In spite of their education and personal interests, they were expected to instantly adore motherhood and homemaking–including washing diapers–and follow this list.


And, while we usually picture a man in a gray flannel suit when we think of the wage-earner of the 50s, the truth is most were working on the shop floor in a factory. Hence the ridiculously early 5:00 pm dinner to accommodate shift work. Men also taught school, held upper-level jobs in Department stores that paid a wage he could actually support a family on, were salesmen, doctors, policemen  and did other types work, or still farmed. In my family the men wore gray flannel suits and, when I was born, my Dad took the train into Chicago to work.





Today’s brides and young mothers giggle over all of these rules. But, let’s take a look–a serious look–and see what they say about home life. So, THE RULES:

          Why is it so hard today for the stay-at-home parent, or even the first-home parent, to fix dinner? In the 1950’s Julia Child wasn’t yet known. A basic dinner was served such as baked pork chops, baked potatoes and a vegetable. If desert was served it was likely the same simple cake or pie served till it was gone. Now, wasn’t that easier than loading up 3 kids in car seats, fighting traffic and driving to a restaurant to wait with restless kids and “dancing on last damn nerves” parental attitudes just to sit at a not-very-clean table and order over-priced under-great food? You bet. Modern cooking can be truly easy: God created the Crock-Pot in the 1970’s and hasn’t really needed to tweak it yet. Get one. Sanity saved. And who doesn’t like to walk in to the announcement that dinner is ready? And, if it can’t be ready the minute you get home, at least have a plan so it can be put together with minimum stress for all. Need help with this? [Leave a comment–seriously.]


Typical 1950’s housewife about to serve a typical gracious family dinner.

Prepare yourself. This means get dressed in grown-up clothing. His college boxer shorts and your 3rd time’s a charm maternity t-shirt is not really what anyone wants to see, now is it? Brush your teeth, a shower may not happen yet, but at least get the sleep out of the corners of your eyes. Brush your hair. Put on something reasonably clean. How would you feel if you came home exhausted  and he smelled like he didn’t care about life? Well….

Listen about his day? Well, duh. How do you feel when no one listens to your day? And, yes, he’s the new arrival–let him talk first. Listening to his boring discussion of a debt consolidation plan will make the kid problems leave your mind. Just listen. If he wants to have at bedtime he’ll learn to listen to you, too.

Now before you interpret “be a little gay” as to mean cross-dressing or something, back in the 50s it meant “cheerful.” But be wary. If “perky” grates on his nerves, just kiss him like there’s more to come later (there isn’t, of course, but you can manage that later) and shove a glass of Jameson’s into his hand or a Bud Lite. Now, the gracious living part: open or pour yours. This will help you be happy to see him and to quit contemplating giving him a vasectomy with that electric knife you got as a wedding gift.
Pick up the house. If you have kids you do this till you are ready to scream. Take away the Play Station, run the SUV over their phones and they’ll pick up. Teach them the signs: That vein in your forehead is about to pop–do it now or your life ends, is a lesson you are never to young to learn. Self-esteem? It was never earned by being handed a trophy for showing up. How do you feel when you walk into a living room strew with soda can, fleece throws, cat puke, an explosion of Polly Pockets and your first born pretending to be a serial killer in a video game? Enough said. If, like me, you struggle with this, check out this chart or the Fly Lady.

      Have the laundry and the vacuuming done so the house is reasonably quiet. Well, 1950’s appliances were a lot louder, but I think the vacuum cleaner still makes the list. The washer and drier, too, if your “laundry room” is a closet in a bad location. But on the whole, I think this one is a non-issue today.
      Don’t greet him with complaints. Just don’t. It’s not that hard. What can’t wait a few minutes? Discussing children’s poop with a man in a suit who is not wearing a stethoscope is just wrong. His brain won’t handle it. He’ll give you that look you hate. See Jameson’s reference above and drink your drink. You’ll soon forget there was a poop problem and the evening will be the nicer for it.


      Do clean up the kids. Just do it. No one, not in the trenches all day with them,  need smell them the way they are by 4 or 5 or 6 pm. Change that diaper–budget be damned. Hold them down and scrub them. With luck they’ll cry hard enough to have to sleep it off and you’ll get some peace [I’m joking–don’t flame me]. Back in the 1950s a little of that Jameson’s went in the baby bottle and worked like a charm [don’t try this today–you’ll have CPS at your door]. Remind them to use their Dad-just-walked-in-the -door-OR- we’re-at-the-funeral-home-voices, too. And they, too, must learn to wait to express their desired evening plans or to tell the latest disciplinary misstep by Mom, until Dad is calm and back to his at-home self. (Let him pee and change clothes and gulp his drink).


WTF?? Well, ok, a few of those last ones… Save them for behind closed doors. Heck yeah you’re gonna ask where he was last night!! And rightly so. And, yes, it is perfectly acceptable to question both his judgement and his sanity when he stops by Burger King and Auto Zone on his emergency run for Baby Tylenol and Super Tampons. And just why would anyone need an engine rack, let alone at 2 am? Somethings HAVE changed since the 1950s.

But, do remember to think like 1950s parents on one or two things: Not in front of the children. That means complain, argue, fight or be sexy behind closed door only. They really DO have enough worries these days. And, gracious living DOES matter. Oh, not necessarily the candlelight and silver, but the calm, peaceful coming together at the end of the day. Don’t let kid activities take over your lives. Being home together, preparing and eating and cleaning up dinner together, having time for a movie night or game night–those are far more important. Bedtime and bedtime rituals–both for the kids and the parents–matter. Who doesn’t love to have a story read aloud to them or to have a nice back rub? Parents need time to be adults together–even if it is just to watch NCIS and fold laundry. It’s adult-only time and that’s crucial to the whole family.

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Recently a friend’s child, when asked where home was, said innocently, “in the car.” That made me want to cry. Being home together is almost a lost art. Have a place for phones and force its use. Turn off the game system, the computer and the tv. Growing up in the 60s and 70s lots of kids had no tv on school nights. Bring it back.  And, remember, Harvard never rejected anyone who just for failing to play soccer before age 14. And, ask yourself, unless your last name is Beckham, how many pro soccer players do you know anyway?

I think we can all see the sense in these–but remember, it’s the stay-at-home or the first-home spouse. When the “coming home” spouse has their days off they should return the favor. “Should” can be misinterpreted to mean “if I want to.”If you both get in at about the same time fix dinner together–even if it’s one of you doing and the other talking and listening. It’s still nicer.  This should be rephrased as “if you ever want to enjoy the physical side of marriage ever again you will.” See? Concise definitions make all the difference to compliance with rules. For families today, if you can, pay for the cleaning to get done and enjoy the food. There’s nothing wrong with eating out once a week or making Friday pizza delivery night. But on there really is something about family dinners. (Need help with this? See this post.)

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But with us being so modern here, where do single parents fit in? I am a single parent. It took some effort, but I use Sunday afternoon to cook–I cook thru Thursday on a “good” week. Some prepped to cook, some ready for the oven or crock-pot. The crock-pot is truly God’s gift to frugal, busy families.  Most of the time my kids were good about the not hitting Mom with that truancy note or the science project from hell the minute I walked in the door. But I had a part to play too–I had to greet everyone and show I missed them and not just start in on why the trash wasn’t at the curb or why the cat was in the dishwasher. It takes being “in the moment” as the hipsters now say. Being “mindful” (a term I’ve come to dislike for other reasons). A single Mom CAN have adult time in the evening–even if is alone (bliss) or via phone or texting with a friend. Set yourself up to succeed though with a cooking routine and (my huge failure, aside from laundry) a cleaning routine. Involve EVERYONE.


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