Monday, May 5, 2014

Refined Living

This Tasha Tudor illustration is from Amy's Goose, a sweet book by Tasha's daughter, Efner Tudor Holmes.  It is only a slight exaggeration to say that it changed my life.  When my child was a mere toddler with a newly minted single mother,  I bought the book because I was captivated by this portrait of a small family having dinner together by candlelight.  I fantasized that the husband and wife, and the little girl Amy, took all their evening meals as a threesome at this elegant yet cozy table. But it is not an exaggeration to say the illustration made me sad too.  And like a wound that hurts only when touched, I rubbed it often.
Soon I became obsessed with dinner scenes in children's books and found many of them.  I looked for mealtimes in films too and studied the china, the cutlery, the flowers and food.  I didn't know at the time, but a shift was taking place - I was crafting a new way of life for myself and my little child.  When we moved from our big country house to a tiny city apartment, I went furniture shopping.  The moment I spied a beautiful smaller dining table, my fingers ran across the fine oak and I heard myself murmur, "This feels like home", even though I wasn't yet sure what home really looked like.
When the table was delivered to the apartment I scurried off for my daughter's antique high chair and discovered it tucked neatly up to the table.  A few days later, I bought some lovely quilted placemats and cloth napkins.  I polished the silver candlesticks that were a wedding present for a marriage that abruptly ended but once on the table with simple beeswax candles, I knew my daughter and I would be a family, just a different version.  Encouraged by Tasha, my vision helped me find the time, despite a working mother's exhaustion, to create healthy meals too.  It wasn't always easy...single parenting is grindingly hard sometimes, but soon I began to feel whole again.  Capable.  Strong. 
Wonderful tablescapes and meals can be spotted wherever you look for them:  literature, picture books, magazines, etc.  It's really about refined living - table manners, good food, conversation, candlelight, sharing.  The other evening, my daughter came home after being away for ten days.  And since I am acutely aware that she will no longer live here after her wedding, I laid out the linens, placed the candles and a flowering plant and made a small meal.  We ate together at our family table in the fading light of a crisp early spring night.  We could have ordered pizza and ate in front of the TV or grabbed a snack and ate in front our personal computers.  But I wouldn't have seen her face as she excitedly described her art museum visit or her delight as she relayed all the airport observations she collects just for me.  Refined living, inspired by a child's book, from long ago.
Great refined dinner on film:  Mrs. Miniver, House of Elliot, Enchanted April, Out of Africa -  where people are civilized, eat continental style and one can hear clinking glasses and the gentle sound of cutlery against  china.  And of course, conversation...and laughter.


  1. I always liked the dining scene in the film "Father of the Bride".

  2. "observations she collects just for me" - oh, this made me tear up, though I am not sure why. I collect little stories to tell my mother and sisters during my day - often different stories for each.

  3. Studio, Father of the Bride is a good one - both the 1950's one and the newer one. Kristina, that is so sweet.

  4. Perfectly crafted view into the lovely, lonely life of a single mother. As a member of that tribe, I salute you. Art has always inspired me and like your little tableau of civility, it inspires me, too. I loved every word here, Donna. Beautifully put. K.

  5. Hi Donna, thanks for the comment on my blog re the Charles James exhibit. I did love that green gown but my favorite this time was that Clover Leaf dress with the black silk lace overlay. Just stunning. Are you in NYC? Maybe we should meet sometime! Think about it anyway. I'm curious, did they let you take pictures at the CJ exhibit? The Met guards have been kind of nutty in the past making sure no one takes photos but I wonder if they have relaxed their policies lately.

    1. The Clover leaf was my fav too Jill. I'll be back in NYC for my daughter's wedding dress fitting sometime soon. Will email you! The Met guards didn't seem to notice the people taking photographs. In the past, they've been militant about no photos.

  6. Oddly enough the Sunday dinner scenes at Tom Selleck's house are my favorite part of the TV program "Blue Bloods". Four generations sharing food and love for each other every Sunday.