The May issue of Real Simple hit my mailbox yesterday (I know, I know, not exactly The Nation or The New York Times) and last night I curled up and read a neat series of short essays by women writing about things they learned from their mothers. My favorite: One writer listed the top five things that her mother felt were essential to a well appointed home. They were: fresh flowers, a good-size dining room table, white wine and a cat. I forget the thing in the middle, but it was spot-on and just as genteel. You could almost imagine this woman answering the door: She'd straighten her hair, check her earrings and smile sweetly.
What might have been my mother's "essentials"? Well, our home always had four or more kinds of store-bought cookies, three kinds of ice cream, a really big bottle of Gallo Rhine, lots of scratch paper and back issues of the National Catholic Reporter. In earlier years, you could add a carton of Pall Malls and gobs of gloxinias (which nobody else I knew grew from seed). And a 20-pound cat who was rather vicious. When my mom answered the door, she had to check first that Penelope hadn't scared the visitor half to death.