Rites of Passage in the Front Room

The grandchildren began to grow up and older, and as they did so, some began to marry. My sister Ann and I decided that whenever possible, the family would give a family party/shower for the young couple. My daughter Carrie, the oldest grandchild, was the first to find her special mate, and my siblings gave Carrie and Rich a fun shower one Sunday afternoon in December of 1999. The young couple joined Granny at First Baptist for the 11:00 worship service before continuing on to 511. There they were feted with a great smorgasbord organized by Carrie’s aunts and uncles. Laughter and high spirits filled the cozy house. Adjourning to the living room after lunch, Carrie and Rich had to “endure” yet another Jeopardy game created by her Aunt Ann before opening some special gifts. Since their wedding was to take place a couple of days before Christmas, all the gifts had a Christmas theme. I think Carrie’s personal favorite was from her grandmother, a Spode bowl with the traditional Christmas tree in its center.

A couple of years later, Ann and I gave Will and his bride-to-be, Mary Catherine, a garden shower in the same location…different season, same purpose. Hot as the dickens outside, we stayed cool inside with lemonade and other summertime treats. The dirt cake concoction of crushed Oreos and chocolate pudding served in a garden pail was a hit with the younger crowd. It was SO GOOD. Ummm…delicious. In keeping with the garden theme, each guest gave the young couple a gift relating to the outside; anything from wheel barrows to grills was fair game. We took turns giving them sage advice about “nurturing” the seeds of their relationship, pulling up weeds that could destroy the beauty of the garden (er, relationship), and watering the plants they wanted to grow such as kindness and consideration. And yes, we played Ann’s famous Jeopardy game, this time comprised of questions that related to the bride and groom’s last names. Again, this was a high-spirited, fun evening experienced in the front room, and I’d like to think that the animated voices and laughter are still there, trapped within the red plaster walls.

Kith and Kin at 511

This beautiful red (Russet 6 from Lowe’s) living room has hosted many events that have little or nothing to do with my family of blood and roots, but rather my family of branches and water. On my way to work this morning I was thinking of a soon-to-be published book by my friend Kathy’s mother, Clara Vinson. Reading her manuscript over the last few days reminded me of a book club meeting which Kathy and Clara attended last year. It was my month as hostess, and I had invited a friend and colleague, Martha Alston, to come to the meeting and read selected sections of her book, Getting Maisie Married. Knowing that Clara was in the process of writing her memoirs, I knew that she would be interested in meeting Martha…and she was. Things went great! Few of us had actually met a “real live” author, especially one as funny and charming as Martha, and everyone felt comfortable about asking questions and getting involved in the discussion afterwards.  A good time was had by all.

 The room was the scene for other memorable events as well. Some friends and I gave Connie’s daughter Heather a bridal shower there one March afternoon. There were so many people coming and going that I didn’t know who all was in the house! I do know that everyone had fun chatting, eating the scrumptious goodies, and watching Heather open her gifts. On another occasion, my stepdaughter Lauren hosted a jewelry party there in the “front room.” I recall that she arrived early so that she and her father and sister could set up her displays. As the guests arrived, they were drawn to the table where they examined the many lovely pieces. Again, there was laughter and conversation. Lauren taught us some scarf tricks, and my sister and I still chuckle when we remember our efforts to copy Lauren’s finesse.

The Front Room

Houses have souls, and so do rooms. Even now without a stick of furniture in it, the “front room” is so loud! I stand in the center of it and hear the cacophony of voices from the past. Although this is not a room where the day-to-day living took place, it was where the clan gathered to celebrate holidays, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I can feel the love and connectivity.

I look at the fireplace and can see the four oldest grandchildren dressed up as Pilgrims and Indians in their creative, homemade outfits. Earlier instructed by my mother, a.k.a. Granny, to get out of the kitchen so that she and the other adults could complete the Thanksgiving feast, they had all looked at her as if to say, “What are we supposed to do? It’s raining outside.” Never without ideas, she first had the little darlings create place cards using index cards, stickers, and colorful markers. With that task complete, they were there again, standing between the breakfast room and the kitchen looking for more guidance, either that or a piece of fudge. “Plan a program,” their grandmother said. “Start with the letters of Thanksgiving and go from there. Just stay out of this kitchen!” Gleefully, they skittered away to the guest room where, behind closed doors, they brainstormed for ideas. Four minds, four personalities, and four perceptions of “program” worked together and came up with delightful entertainment that provided plenty of pleasure and amusement for their parents and grandparents.  In fact, the program idea was so well received that even now we have some sort of structured activity for holidays.

Speaking of holidays, I’m surprised that strangers to the house can’t hear the loud exclamations of surprise and delight as the four of us Padgett siblings, their spouses, their children, and of course our parents gathered to open Christmas gifts. Tired of everyone just ripping into the gifts with little appreciation or knowledge of what others received, my mother decided that we’d draw numbers. When a person’s number came up, she or he could open ONE gift. That was somewhat successful…for the adults that is. The children were always so anxious! Granny tried other plans and schemes, but it always seemed “like a madhouse” wild with excitement in that living room, especially when the grandchildren began playing with their toys.

Lest I forget, there were also Christmas programs. At first, we just let the children get up and sing a favorite song, recite a poem, or tell a story, but there came a time when we became more organized. I can still see John David standing atop a short stool all decked out in his Christmas duds singing for us. Then there was little Ben (now a college graduate and a teacher) singing a catchy tune that his mother Lisa had taught him, complete with hand motions. Time rushes forward, and I see us laughing at our ignorance as we incorrectly guessed the answers to Ann’s Christmas quiz. Did someone really think that Gabriel was the father of John the Baptist? The room wasn’t always rowdy and raucous. I turn to the double windows where the sofa used to be and remember seeing David stretched out there, soundly asleep with baby Chris on his chest, also asleep. A lot of living took place within this soulful room.