Wednesday, April 8, 2009
In the olden days High WASPs had servants. My mother's family's cook was named Willie Mae. She was from the South. As a result, at my grandmother's house we ate fried chicken. Huge plates of fried chicken. Huge plates of fried chicken under the chandelier. And when we wanted more, we hoped we would be allowed to squirm our lower halves under the dark shiny wood table to search with our feet for the buzzer under the carpeting. And ring for Willie Mae. Food in those days seems to have been more about a display of the resources at your command. But you had to eat what the servants knew how to cook.
Once servants became impractible for any High WASPs who left Wall Street for a gentlemanly life of leisure, food became a true problem for some. My great-Aunt Priscilla and great-Uncle Bill (he was actually named Stanford but WASPs have a thing for nicknames. That whole Muffy and Biff thing is a smokescreen to hide what the nicknames really are...) lived near me when I went to college. I would visit them on weekends. They would feed me.
With no servants, Priscilla had to cook. She had no knowledge and no interest in gaining any. We would eat in the kitchen. A kitchen furnished originally for servants, so no granite, no stainless steel, no glass-faced cabinets with acres of copper pots and saucepans from obscure forgeries in Italy. None of the accoutrements of kitchens now inhabited by men and women with MBAs and JDs. Linoleum. Metal-legged tables. Priscilla would make frozen peas. Frozen peas were a great invention for this transitional phase of High WASP life. And gray hamburgers. And we would eat our meal as though it were normal for those who lived on hundreds of acres that have now become a multi-dwelling housing development to eat in the kitchen without ceremony.
After dinner we would sit in the library, which was near to the living room, which was near to the dining room we never entered, and have a drink from cut crystal as we sat on the sofas covered in cushions needlepointed in dog pictures. There was never any mention of the incongruity. To this day I do not know whether this was another example of impunity, or whether they were secretly embarassed and keeping a stiff upper lip, or whether, in fact, they just didn't mind.
image from LargeMarge's Flickr stream