Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Story Of Our Dinner In Northern New Jersey

On the Wednesday after my daughter’s graduation we drove to stay with my 82-year old 2nd cousin once-removed-in-law whom I had not seen in 31 years. She put together a dinner party for us. She invited her son, his girlfriend, her daughter, her daughter’s husband, and a few other people from my father’s youth.

I had visited her and her husband fairly often while an undergraduate at Princeton. Unfortunately I spent much of my time uncomfortably watching the glamorous side of my High WASP family wear clothes I didn’t own and have conversations I couldn’t grasp. Her son and his friends lived in New York, they were the Gossip Girl cast grown up, they were Bright Lights, Big City, they were the late 20th century version of This Side of Paradise. In those days I was not far removed from the girl who showed up at Princeton with a bandana on her head. Sure, I was High WASP, but as the daughter of a slightly left-wing professor from Northern California, at that point I had the High WASP horror of being inappropriate without the specific expertise in how to avoid it.

But last Wednesday I had fun. I had fun as we all gathered in the garden room where someone in a white jacket poured us drinks. I had fun on the patio where someone in a white jacket brought us cheese and crackers. I had fun at the dinner table, set with what appeared to be family china, and ornate silver candelabras with hanging crystals, and what appeared to be Louis Comfort silver centerpiece holders. Where several people with white jackets served us dinner. To my surprise, my discomfort is gone. It’s gone. It turns out that, after 30 years of life rubbing down your raw edges, you can go home again.

A fashion deconstruction of Wednesday night might make this all clearer. I didn’t have the right clothes to wear. And I knew it. All I had was a green patterned silk jersey shirt dress from Banana Republic. Which I had thought to wear for my daughter’s graduation but left in my suitcase in the face of an early thunderstorm.

The other women came, almost all of them, in sherbet colored dupioni silk pants and jackets with striking Kenneth Jay Lane type jewelry. I’d show you pictures but these kind of clothes do not appear to exist on the web in 2009. The only other woman who forgot to board the dupioni train wore a Tory Burch tunic and jeweled sandals. She was from New York. That explains it.

My cousin even asked me, in that indirect way, what had I worn for dinners during graduation? As in, why are you wearing that dress, surely you must have had to dress appropriately on other recent occasions? I didn’t mind. Do you hear that? I wore the wrong clothes and I didn’t mind. Quite remarkable. I felt in that moment that if you are in a group of people for whom you feel nothing but affection, and you give your affection freely, and you look them in the eyes and shake their hands as I was taught when I was little, all can be well. All manner of things can be well.

The next day I told my cousin that the table setting had been so beautiful and she told me it was all inherited, except the china, they had bought the china. Sometimes things are terribly profound and sometimes they are not and you do not usually get to choose.

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Blogger Julia Remix said...

Is it possible that your cousin just wanted to talk about dresses? I like the one you wore. Too many things are determined by labels, instead of grooming and manners and intelligent conversation.

June 9, 2009 at 9:19 PM  
Blogger Pam said...

I'm loving the Julian of Norwich reference.

June 10, 2009 at 4:37 AM  
Blogger Academic, Hopeful said...

Thoughtful post, LPC. A nice read. There are have high teas, polo/sports and certain uniforms (and pastels and creams usually feature) that signify the High Wasps of Australia, but I haven't ever spotted any servants in white jackets. I am probably not privy to such occasions where the help comes out. But I am just not sure they are present in the same way in Oz. Maybe we missed that somehow, being a little younger and less wealthy historically (and having this embedded egalitarian myth). It's usually a blond, serene mother who is or pretends to be in charge of all the offerings.

June 10, 2009 at 4:44 AM  
Blogger Academic, Hopeful said...

Take out 'have' in first line. In middle of paragraph for a chp. Shame on me.

June 10, 2009 at 4:45 AM  
Anonymous Maureen at IslandRoar said...

Kudos to you; I think it's age that makes us just let so many things go.
And you enjoyed yourself; that's what matters,right?

June 10, 2009 at 7:03 AM  
Blogger indigo said...


if this was me, which obviously it's not, next time i'd really push the boat out on the dress code and go as dog the bounty hunter's wife or something.

or not. your call ;-).

June 10, 2009 at 7:24 AM  
Blogger Academic, Hopeful said...

This post made me think of how much more mellow I get every time I return home (to Sydney from Oxford). On the first occasion, I offended loads of my friends by telling them that they had not exercised much agency in marrying men who grew up within a 10-20 minute radius. Now I am not so judgmental and am happy to admire the marble topped chests...at least for a little bit. (Love the dog the bounty hunter's wife idea, not sure who or what that is, but she sounds pretty wooly and rugged).

June 10, 2009 at 7:36 AM  
Blogger Amanda said...

Oh! Hope for us all!

June 10, 2009 at 8:19 AM  
Blogger CJM said...

Hello LPC!
Thank you for commenting on my blog! I always love meeting fellow Tigers, and am glad to hear that your children are continuing the tradition. Congrats to your daughter! I certainly envy her luck with Katie Couric (whose speech was SPECTACULAR) and Meryl Streep (honorary class of '09--not fair!). I very much look forward to reading the past posts of your blog and getting to know a bit about you. I have a few posts about Reunions that may interest you; nothing special, mostly just expressing nostalgia for Old Nassau...http://murphysnewlaw.blogspot.com/2009/06/weekend-recap-princeton-perfection.html

June 10, 2009 at 8:40 AM  
Blogger Princess Freckles said...

Your posts are all very thoughtful and I enjoy reading so much! This one has got me thinking too. I sometimes find myself feeling out of place, and I surely hope I can come to a point in life when that really doesn't phase me anymore!

I do wonder what type of reaction you'd receive dressed as Dog's wife! My fiance and I were at a Halloween party last year and there was a man (yes, man) dressed as Dog's wife! It was so funny! And a little strange!

June 10, 2009 at 9:26 AM  
Blogger LPC said...

Dog the Bounty Hunter's Wife. Find her here. http://www.aetv.com/dog_the_bounty_hunter/photo-gallery/index.jsp. My father has a bumper sticker on his car. "Dog Is My Co-Pilot" it says. Somehow I don't think this is what he had in mind...But I couldn't agree more strongly with one thing. There is hope for us all or else why bother?

June 10, 2009 at 10:33 AM  
Anonymous midlife slices said...

You live in a totally different world than I and speak a completely foreign language but you don't make me uncomfortable in the least. Maybe it's because I love the world in which I grew up. Yep, that's it. I'm glad I'm me. :)

June 11, 2009 at 7:21 PM  
Blogger LPC said...

I would hope that it's also because I'm glad that other people are themselves too. I would hope that becomes clear.

June 11, 2009 at 9:37 PM  
Blogger Imogen Lamport said...

Wow - there really still are very strict dress codes in the world in which you inhabit. Those kinds of codes have disappeared in so much of the rest of the world.

Thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting!

June 12, 2009 at 3:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love your BR dress! I am with Julia Remix. I wasn't there but, I imagine your cousin just felt comfortable talking clothes "girl to girl"?? Again, I love that dress!! Sounds like a lovely time.

July 1, 2009 at 9:08 PM  

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