Breaking the Rules

My mother loved rules. She would say, “I’m going to make a rule.” and she would. She had all sorts of rules, such as how to properly lay a table for a meal, the selection of music for an event, what should be said in a thank-you letter. Perhaps Miss Manners consulted Mother on various rules; they would have liked each other. When she retired, Mother made a rule to arise at 6:00 a.m., as usual. No slacking off and sleeping until noon for her. Since she was an elementary teacher, making rules fit right into her job description. Rules keep Third Grade in order.

She was also a minister’s wife, and a gracious lady; therefore, she had rules about an orderly house, proper behavior in various rooms, suitable times for meals, proper clothing to be worn, how to behave in church, and such. Being a minister’s family required that the living room always be presentable for callers and guests. In practice, that meant we children could only walk through, not sit there, and walk at a suitable pace, no running. It also meant that the family never used the living room. We lived in large old church manses, so we children had rooms of our own to use; occasionally we had homes with dens or family rooms, which we children could use. The kitchen was the room in which the family most often gathered if the house had no den. When I was a teen, we lived in a smallish house in Knoxville, not as big as the larger manses we were used to. My father used the living room as his place to write and no noisy children were allowed. Later, when we lived in a lovely old house in Salem, he claimed the back parlor as his study and we children, by then two of us rambunctious teens, were relegated to the large, enclosed, side porch. I don’t think my mother thought through the ramifications of this “off limits” living room concept until it was too late. A family that has no place to gather, has no place to be a family. Finally, by the time my parents bought the condo in Columbus where they lived for the last thirty years of their lives, the family was allowed to sit in the living room—a little late, but nice.

I carried on the same silly formal living room concept when I had small children. I say silly, because my husband and I did not entertain formally and had no reason to not use the largest room in our home. But, we were both raised on the formal living room concept—and could not let it go. I did let the boys spread their toys out to play in the living room, but they were not allowed to climb or sit on the furniture. I did not realize how this offended my children until one son retaliated by taking that much-loved [by me] furniture to college, where it was soon trashed. We solved that “no place to be” dilemma by building a large family room where we had room to breathe–and enough recliners and sofas for everyone.

Some rules I broke recently, that I can mention in public, include moving the TV into the living room, putting a recliner in the living room, putting pictures [instead of portraits—who has those now days??] into the living room. Obviously, Mother’s rules about a formal living room were straight out of the Victorian era and British manor houses—and straight out of her mother’s home, where the formal living room concept also prevailed. The formal living room, an unused living room, in our house is gone, replaced by family room casual; now I am just trying to find enough seats for all the big men in the family. The six-footers look extremely uncomfortable in Aunt Francie’s dainty apricot velvet occasional chairs which are basically made for people 5’2”—knees on chin sort of thing. Our living room is rather small, but I am looking for some real men chairs somewhere—what with five six+ footers and two other good-sized men to seat.

Mother-the-rule-maker’s children, an uncooperative lot, resisted all the rules, although all three of us succeeded in rule-dominated occupations–teaching and nursing. Even so, learning to break those rules has been difficult. In countless decisions, some daily, others not, I have to think myself over the hurdle of breaking mother’s rules. It’s sixty years later and I am making some progress.

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