When I gave my very first dinner party, I followed the instructions to the letter. I bought exactly a quarter of a pound of green beans (like the recipe said). I counted them out; there were 23 green beans - I needed five each for four people, so I threw the extra three away. I was so concerned about making such a good impression, that I cannot remember the evening at all.
Years earlier, in school, we had to take Home Economics. For me, anything that took me away from Math and Science was a good thing, but gradually it started to feel too much like work. The cooking was the fun bit, but afterwards, we had to deal with the mess that we had made; washing dishes, cleaning ovens and putting everything away on neatly, labeled shelves. I know it took longer to clean up than it did to cook. We also had to learn how to sew (which I was miserable at, and still am) and study the anatomy of farm animals, all while being constantly reminded about manners and which fork to eat your fish with.
At the time, I didn't think I was really learning anything, but years later I found myself thinking of little pieces of advice that my teacher had given me. Of course, there were practical things, like, "Always use sheets and blanket's that are made from natural materials", "Take your time..." and, my favorite, "Never bang your whisk on the side of the bowl, always tap it on your hand". (None of us ever knew why that mattered, but I still never bang my whisk on the side of the bowl without cringing and thinking of my teacher).
Several years ago, I decided to contact my Home Economics teacher. A couple of letters and a phone call became an afternoon, and a visit turned into a friendship that I now treasure. Her home is quietly beautiful and comfortable, and there is always hot tea and something sweet waiting for us when we visit. We sit with her and her husband outside in the rose garden, and we talk about where our lives have taken us. We laugh about banging the whisk on the side of the bowl when I was 13 years old. Life has moved on, but her priority is still having a loving home that people want to return to.After I had visited her recently, I went back to my mum's house, we talked as I helped her hang the laundry on the washing line.
"Don't you just love my new laundry basket?" mum said. "I had to buy it the minute I saw it. I know it's not practical (it was a small, wicker basket with a blue and white lining) but it makes me smile when I put the washing in it, and that's all I care about!". I knew what she meant.
When we had finished, we sat on the deck with a glass of wine and a piece of warm cake. The cake was a bit dry, but we had made it fresh that afternoon, so it really didn't matter at all. We wondered, outloud, about what we should do next; maybe we should re-pot the hanging baskets, or prune the tree, or maybe just walk to the beach and look for shells.
That afternoon, two amazing women made me realize that being a domestic goddess wasn't about the perfect house, or counting your green beans, it was about creating a home filled with love....
Photograph from Rosemary Washington's Blog