Friday, November 14, 2008
The Formal Home
There has been a strong effort in the last couple of decades, to casualize the home. The purpose of this, I suppose, is to make people who would otherwise not feel comfortable in your home, feel at ease.
The disadvantage of creating a more casual environment in the home, is that it ceases to be the protective refuge from the stress and influence of the outside world. People who would not normally want to sit at a cloth-draped table and share a cup of tea with scones and jam, will visit, as long as the host has the things they like: plenty of soda or beer, pizza, chips and snacks of all varieties. A big screen will allow them to view the sports and movies of their desires. Casual furniture makes it easy for to lay down instead of sitting up. Since the fridge is stocked with the things they like, and the house is full of the kinds of games and toys they prefer, they can feel more comfortable and will stay longer. Maybe they will be so comfortable, that they will ask to stay the night.
There are people who remember a time when it was a thrill to be invited to someone's house, for a visit. These visits were by the standards of the time, quite casual, but by today's antics, they were formal. Formality had the upper hand, though, where socialization was concerned. Formal people didn't attract the kind of people who were disrespectful or who wanted to "hang out" or lay around someone's house and watch a game.
In the 40's and 50's , the houses were getting smaller, and people no longer hired household help. Meals were mostly eaten in the kitchen, where you could reach over and get hot rolls from the oven. Folks washed their hands before meals, and combed their hair. They waited to eat, until the blessing had been asked. They ate with utinsels, although it was only one fork, one knife, and one spoon. It was rude to burp, or do anything disgusting at the table. Boys had to remove their baseball caps before eating. We thought all that was very casual. Today, it is made to seem formal. This formality kept out the people who did not want to conform.
When we first entered a home, there was a place to remove caps and wraps and hang them up. In the main room, the place where people sat, were tables with doilies and cloths on them to protect the furniture. Chairs were covered at the head and the arms with crocheted squares, which were removed regularly to be cleaned and starched, and then replaced. These kept the chair from being worn out sooner in some places than in others.
When you visited someone, the younger ones deferred to the older ones, for the best seats. Even if you were 30, you never took the most comfortable chair if there was someone older in the room. No one left the dinner table without first excusing himself. A person did not walk out the door without announcing that he was leaving, and saying goodbye. At the time, such things did not seem formal at all. Today, things are so much more casual, it makes those simple things look incredibly formal.
Families respected the posessions in the home. People did not make frequent trips to the kitchen. Food was generally eaten only at meal times, and not on foot. It was considered very rude to sit all over a chair with legs askew, wrapped all over the arms of the furniture. Families valued their posessions and their homes to such an extent, that they took photographs of themselves standing outside, with the house in the back ground. They were proud of their homes. They guarded them. There was (by today's standards) some formality observed. Routines and rituals were so common, that we hardly knew we were doing them: sitting down for a meal, conversing in the living room, getting ready for bed, rising up in the morning, and dressing up. Now, we are made to feel self-conscious about such normal things.
The formal home can be a good thing. This does not mean that the family is uncomfortable there, but that other people feel uncomfortable enough to behave themselves when in that home. A formal home is actually a good protection for a family.
This isn't just about imposing informality on the home from the outside. It it is also imposed by those inside the home, through disrespect of the parents, not caring for clothing and posessions, and not having a place for things. People inside the family can break down the true meaning of the home by mocking and scoffing at meal times, talking over the parents, loud music and movies, friends who do not respect the family, etc. When the family becomes more casual, the stability of the home is threatened. People who would normally be uncomfortable, whose values would corrupt the family, will then be able to feel comfortable, and gradually break down your values. Some people won't be happy unless the home is more like a college dorm, with lights and noise and no structure at all.
As you can see, this is a continuing article: I don't know if anyone out there remembers that there were homes that were unoccupied or abandoned, which we could go into, as they were rarely locked up. Some of them were only occupied during the summer working season. When we went for walks, we might come across one of these houses and go in. People didn't mind if someone used their home if they needed temporary shelter or food, but visitors left the place in perfect order.
I can remember reading some of the books left in the bookshelf, but always putting them back, and always leaving a note of thanks on the table. Sometimes we even cleaned up dishes and things that the owners had left in the sink, and swept the floor. Never was anything destroyed or disrespected. As time progressed closer to the 60's, people began to ransack these places, and they had to be padlocked. They had to put a stop to people moving right in and leaving the place filthy, with trash and clothing strewn all over.
Previous to this, there was a basic respect for the house, because the house is where a home existed, and where a family's precious spiritual values were formed. When you entered it, even when it was empty, you felt their presence and respected them. There were visitors to our house also, who used the water from the well or left a note that they had been there, when we were away. Sometimes they did go in the house, and maybe they lit a fire and got warm. This may seem informal but in retrospect, this kind of intrusion much less threatening than the mental and spiritual invasion of our homes which breaks down human dignity. That is what the current casualness is doing.
What do you think we were most concerned about if someone happened upon our house when we weren't home, and went in? Not that they would damage anything, or steal, but that they would think we were fine, upstanding people, from the evidence of the house.
Finally, to seal my point about formality being a protection for homelife, a quote by author Grace Livingston Hill:
...."You know formalities are good things sometimes. They are like fences to keep intruders out and hedges to keep in the sacred and beautiful things of life."