On Christmas mornings my father would go up front to lay the fire and get the living room warm. My sister and I would beg for information as to whether Santa Claus had left us anything. He would always pretend he had not noticed. When he felt that the room was warm enough, we were allowed through, and the parting of the curtains to reveal Christmas remains a precious memory of my childhood.
Maybe that is one reason that I fell in love with theater, those curtains that would part to reveal a Christmas stage.
The china cabinet on the right has been in this house longer than I have been alive. It is not a particularly distinguished piece, and its value, beyond the functional, is only that which time has given it. My mother kept the good china and glassware in this cabinet: everyday china was kept in the kitchen cabinet. Me, I have mostly everyday china. I rarely entertain, and if so rarely more than four. I got rid of the old dining room table (which could be expanded to seat ten) and replaced it with the “breakfast room table” my mother had in the extension to her kitchen that was added to the house in 1950. It can be expanded to seat eight, if necessary. Let’s see, 10 at the old dining room table, 8 in the original kitchen table that could expand, and 8 more at the expanded “den” table: that’s 26. For overflow (and there frequently was) my mother would set up card tables. Big family.
The hutch on the left of the doorway is also probably older than I. My sister used it to store her dolls when she was little, and later on my mother sanded it and refinished it. She never considered it fine enough for the dining room but I like its old and rustic look. And like the china cabinet, time has added value to it. I keep pots and pans in it, ones that I don’t use every day.
On top of the hutch sits my mother’s old recipe box. No, not the basic everyday recipes for such things as backed chicken or turkey, cornbread dressing, fried catfish and oysters, squash casserole, soups, biscuits. You don’t need recipes for that. Any cook knows how to do those things. As the oldest child of seven with responsibility for cooking the breakfast biscuits every day you learned how to do that. And I must tell you that they were the best biscuits anybody ever cooked.
No, this was the box where you kept special recipes, like the “Christmas casserole” that she would prepare every Christmas Eve and refrigerate overnight and bake for Christmas breakfast. Eggs and cheese and crumbled sausage and bread. Delicious! Or her pear cake. Recipes that she clipped to try someday or that people had given her. I still think it deserves a place of honor.
Heating and cooling. That lighter you see lying on the hutch is what I use to light the big propane heater in the dining room. The igniter on the heater no longer works and I have to do that manually. Yes, I could have put it in the drawer in the hutch but I just never think to do it. After all, about November I’ll be needing to use it again. The only air conditioner for these two rooms is the big window unit to the left of where I sit in the dining room, and the big fan in the doorway helps me pull cooler air up front.
That front door dates back to when the house was built, about 1927. The big window at the top, all one pane of glass, allowed for more light in the living room (and when the house was built there was no electricity for lights, and the family relied on oil lanterns in the evenings, a condition that lasted until I was about two years old). My mother used diaphanous curtains to admit light. I decided to hang a dark curtain to keep the room dark (I watch a lot of movies during the daytime). Fearing that someone might break the glass, a few years back I had Plexiglas screwed into both sides of the pane.
That carpet! At some point, probably in the 1970s, my mother decided that the family was well-to-do enough so that she could hire an interior decorator to advise on new carpeting. Her furniture was a hodgepodge of shapes and colors, and the decorator came up with the idea of a pale green carpet. I never liked it, but on my trips home from New York I was tactful enough never to say so. But my father was aging, and his glaucoma and his general feebleness meant that he spilled lots of stuff on the carpet, leaving stains. In exasperation my mother decided to have carpet put down that would disguise any stain. I think it succeeded. I’m sorry now that when I was having house work done about fifteen years ago I didn’t have the carpet removed. In my defense, I feared that the flooring, laid down initially in 1927 and the 8 feet more added to the east side in 1950 would not match. I guess now that carpet it will outlive me.
The brown corduroy curtain covering the big window on the front door and a maroon one and a dark yellow one were made by my Aunt Martha Julia for my late friend Tom probably35 years ago for windows of his second-floor apartment in New York City overlooking the intersection of Greenwich Avenue and West 12th Street. When we moved to Alabama in 1989 we brought them with us. Early on we began using them instead of my mother’s old flimsies.
Both of us having small rent-controlled apartments in New York (mine 3 blocks away, on 15th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues), we had never lived together there, not until out movie to the South The black Eames chair, the gold couch, the wood coffee table, and the long parson’s table of which you can see only the corner all came from his apartment.
The painting hanging on the wall to the right of the front door belonged to Tom’s sister Norma. It, along with other paintings and furnishings, moved from Las Cruces, NM to Pine Valley Retirement Community in Tuscaloosa in 1994, where Norma resided until her death in 2000 at the age of 94. (Tom was some 17 years younger than Norma, there having been a sister Evelyn in between, but Evelyn died in 1919 of complications from the 1918 flu.) I inherited paintings and furniture (and still use a bed and a credenza of hers) when Tom, her heir, died in 2007.
The framed photograph on the left of the doorway is a Herb Ritts study of Richard Gere taken during the photographer’s special assignment on Francis Coppola’s The Cotton Club. It is a handsome photo, almost Picasso-like it its shadows and light and shapes involving Gere, his hat, and his horn. Ritts had the photo developed, and he signed it and gave it to Tom as an expression of his gratitude for Tom’s assistance. (Tom worked as unit publicist on that movie, and later on he wrote extensively about his experiences working on it and the earlier Elaine May movie Mikey and Nicky. After his death I edited the manuscript, added a few notes and comments, and published it under Tom’s title A Fever of the Mad.)
On top of that coffee table I see a couple of coasters glinting like eyes, and they are there because on the rare occasion when I have company I need something for the drink glasses to rest upon. I have not entertained in months, certainly not since April (and this is August). But maybe someday.
And I see a couple of DVD or Blu-ray cases. My collection of same now numbers 290 (or will as soon as Song to Song arrives later in the day). What’s in that collection? An odd mix of great movies that I will return to often (2001, The Long Day Closes, The Tree of Life, The Dead, Alien) and lesser movies that I can’t sell for enough to make it worth my while. I now have a collection of all the Guillermo del Toro movies, all Stanley Kubrick movies beginning with Paths of Glory, all Terrence Malick movies starting with The Thin Red Line, all of Terence Davies’ movies that are available for this region, most of David Fincher’s, a good sampling of Christopher Nolan, and a bunch of oddball stuff maybe precious only to me (the Transformer movies). A good bit of science fiction, horror, and super-hero. My tastes are nothing if not eclectic.
That brown recliner is where I sit for reading on my Kindle (eyesight no longer permits regular books. Sigh) and watching my modernly large HDTV (mostly movies either owner, supplied by Netflix (not streaming: can’t do that locally), or recorded, and the occasional series). I sit about 4 feet from the TV screen (because of the vision) and if I ever have to replace it, I will go for an even bigger screen (bigger the better for my eyesight).
Remarkable what memories this one plain photo brings back to me.