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Inviting the Combatants to Dance

A week of swings: withering sun one day, rain and bluster the next. Teen who is humorous and agreeable one minute, snarling and argumentative the next.

            I wanted to make gingerbread, and leafed idly through cookbooks that belonged to my husband’s great aunt, Marie. Once a zaftig, energetic woman famous for her candied yams every Thanksgiving and her red and green Jell-O salads, she died in 2005 from Alzheimer’s, thin, remote, subsisting on Ensure.

            I’ve been editing articles this week that warn against “emotional eating” during the holidays. “Emotional eating” sounds almost refined, very different from the urge to stuff something soft, warm, sweet and comforting in your mouth because it feels so much better than anything else in your life at the moment.

            I have a standard gingerbread recipe I’ve used for years, but this morning I decided to look for a different formula, feeling vaguely dissatisfied with everything, I guess.  Lost in the cookbooks, a form of emotional eating, I never did get the gingerbread made. Marie wasn’t a “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” kind of woman; she favored the Betty Crocker, Sunset Magazine, and Pillsbury Bake-Off schools of cuisine. 

            I love the recipe titles, quaint and sometimes queasy reminders of another era: Dandy Candy Cupcakes, Tomato Paste Salad, Deviled Brussels Sprouts, Dreambrosia Fudge Cake, Liver with Green Onion Sauce. These books go beyond explaining how to cook, though. This paragraph on “Caring for Company” caught my eye:

Keep an ear peeled for argument—especially if your guests don’t know each other very well. If you’re all old friends and you know that Fred and Larry have fought the battle of the last election every week for a year, ignore it. But if you’ve brought people together for the first time and voices begin to rise over politics, religion or any other controversial subject, create a distraction. Turn on the phonograph and invite one of the combatants to dance with you. Solicit advice on what you should do about the zinnia bed or the curtains in the children’s room. Do anything that will separate the antagonists, conversationally and physically.

            There was a time when I would have read this paragraph with barely concealed fury at the idea that only Fred and Larry would talk about politics, and women should natter on about zinnias and curtains to try to keep peace. Slouching toward my mid-50s, I often joke to my young women colleagues that I’m an aging and bitter feminist, but today I read this with a certain kind of sorrow. The art of being polite and kind to each other seems lost.  Civility is outdated, like letter writing and music from a phonograph. Worse, it’s become downright unfashionable, like serving a “Molded Celery Root Ring Filled with Creamed Seafood.”

            It’s nothing new that our national conversation on politics is filled with invective, but we seemed to have reached a particular low now. I wonder if anyone has tried having a nice chat about the zinnias with, say, the likes of John Boehner, Laura Ingraham, or Michele Bachmann lately?  Inviting the combatants to dance could steer us toward a dialogue where opposing views might actually be heard, considered, and respected.

About treacycolbert

I make my living by writing about health care. I've always written about life's chastening effect, but just as a way of sorting it out for myself. After years of doing this and keeping these essays quiet, I decided to put some of these impressions out there on this blog. Thanks for reading, and let me know what you think.

6 responses »

  1. With all the incivility in our world, I’ve yet to see you be unkind — even under attack! Kindness lives on.

    Great story, Treacy.

  2. I agree with Tina. I was just going to say exactly the same thing when I noticed her comment!

  3. Meredith Bailey

    Wise essay. I wish we were more polite in our public conversations about politics as well.

    Thanks for posting another gem.



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