Martha Stewart I’m Not

I admit it. Sometimes, if I am home in the late morning, I will turn on Rachel Ray’s or Martha Stewart’s television show and watch out of the corner of my eye as I clean the house or get ready for work. I enjoy the segments on 30-minute meals, flower arranging or home decorating. Yet while I appreciate the information and may learn a trick or two, I know I will never visit the shows’ website, download the instructions or attempt to make whatever was highlighted that day. Rachel’s world is welcoming but who can keep up with Martha? Hers is a world of grosgrain-ribbon perfection, a place where soufflés never fall or droop sadly in the center. As pretty as a homemade Easter egg might be, decorated with gold-leaf and painted with brushes so fine their hairs are almost invisible to the naked eye, who has time to blow out a dozen or more shells and do that kind of intricate work? Not me.
Certainly I enjoy making my home as comfortable and welcoming as it can be. I was raised by a traditional Southern mother who spent her days home-making, and one who coveted her subscription to Southern Living. While not a fancy showcase, our home was always tastefully decorated in a smattering of antiques and newer pieces that somehow matched. My mother referenced the Joy of Cooking and countless other kitchen tombs as she strived to make varying meals to serve us. Our dinnerware revolved with the seasons, and at holidays, our home was filled with the scent of pine, baking sugar cookies and whatever traditional food should be served to celebrate: brisket at Christmas, lamb at Easter, burgers on the 4th of July. But my Mom had the luxury (was it such?) of staying home, of investing all her energy in creative pursuits in the kitchen and decorating challenges throughout the five-bedroom home. For my Mother’s generation, achieving domestic perfection was an art, an honorable profession, and most families still sat down together to eat.
Several years ago, to celebrate my first Christmas in my first house, I invited my entire family to visit. “Spend the holidays with me. Eat, drink and be merry.” I poured over recipes, dug out the “good” China (which must be hand washed), bought bottles of red and white wine and planned a three-course meal to serve after gifts had been opened. I was nervous, sweaty and frazzled as I cooked, took foods in and out of the oven, and watched egg-timers like they were ticking off a NASA launch. I set the table, following the proper etiquette for where the cutlery should be placed, the wine glass and water goblet set. When all was ready and I looked over my efforts, I felt proud. I had pulled it off, and even though I was disheveled and slightly on edge from the preparations, I was eager to see my family’s reactions as they tasted my creations.
I called to everyone, “Dinner’s ready!” and got the serving spoons out. I waited but no one came. Kids were playing outside, others watching football on television, someone else was napping. I felt the anxiety-knot in my stomach begin to shift toward anger. Didn’t anyone appreciate my efforts to create a picture-perfect holiday meal? I began to round up people and urge them, maybe too forcefully, to come and eat. “Don’t let things get cold. C’mon. Eat.” Plates filled with food, wine sloshed in glasses, and cutlery clinked against china. But no one sat down at my perfectly laid table, opting instead to load up their plates and return to the den, the roar of a football game filling the moments of quiet between conversations.
I made a plate, too, but hardly touched it. I had no appetite. I watched in amazement as people ate and listened half-heartedly to the compliments paid to my carrot soup and my first attempt at Mother’s brisket recipe. The candles on the abandoned table burned down; dirty plates begin to litter the kitchen or to be left on any available level space. Once their appetites were sated, my family went right back to their interests: playing, napping, watching sports.
This was not my vision for the day. This was not what I had worked so hard to achieve. I had grand ideas of a true sit-down meal: everyone belly-up to the table, cloth napkins in laps, focused on my food and thankful for it. I felt that pesky knot of anger welling inside me and tried to force it back. But I was unsuccessful and ended up venting my frustration to my closest sister while in the kitchen, my hands wrist deep in soapy water. “No one appreciates me or this holiday,” I cried into the suds. “I worked all week to pull off this dinner. Do you know how hard it is to cook brisket right? Couldn’t we have sat at the table like a normal family?” I punished the Pyrex dish in my hands with a scouring pad.
“What are you talking about?” she calmly replied, picking at some leftover dessert, crumbs landing happily on my freshly swept floor. “It was a great meal, a perfect Christmas day. Who do you think you are, Martha Stewart?” she looked at me. I looked back and hiccupped. “You can’t control everything, you know. And by this point in life, you should know that we are not a “normal” family, whatever that means. Just let people be, let them enjoy themselves.” She grabbed a plate and began to dry it with a dish towel as I continued to cry quietly into the sink.
I mused over this conversation a long time. Part of me was torn between believing her point of view, and part of me felt my guests, my family, should have honored my request for a more traditional experience. But, finally, I had to acknowledge that my sister was right. I was not Martha Stewart, nor did I want to be. I had done everything “right” in an effort to meet some idealized standard set in my mind, somewhere, as to what a holiday dinner should look like, not what it actually might be. We are not a family who dresses for dinner, who cares if the fork is on the right or left of the plate. But we do care about each other, sharing time and a meal, a glass or two of wine, the occasional spat and hopefully a lot of laughter when we get together, holiday or no holiday. And so I learned to let it go.
I am contemplating hosting the holidays again. I’m sure I will still spend too many hours in preparation and will stress over the events of the day; however, I will not lay a fancy table where no one wants to sit. I am envisioning a large flower centerpiece with a host of dishes around it: a Honeybaked ham, green bean casserole, seven-layer salad. Folks can serve themselves buffet-style this year. We can load our feast onto sturdy Chinet plates and retire to the family room to eat, chat and cheer if a touchdown occurs on the televised football game. Martha Stewart might wince at this version of a holiday meal, but for my family and me, it sounds like a perfect day.

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About waggingmytale

I am an English teacher, writer, animal lover, and aspiring athlete. If you stop by and read or "stumble" upon my blog, please leave a comment and say hello. It's nice to know who visits :-) Namaste!
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