Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Mid Century Modern is Fraught with Nasty Associations

Find Out What Vanna White and Danish Modern Furniture Have in Common

I'm so tired and my brain is so slow.  Unfortunately my typing fingers are fast so who knows what they might say on this post.

This furniture is from the website  I am as capable of not liking something that I agree is beautiful as I am of loving something that is not beautiful.

I'm wondering if I'm the only one in this design obsessed blogosphere who isn't into mid century modern?  To me it just looks like my great aunt's furniture.  Guess I had a hip aunt.  My mother in-law was mid century modern until in the late nineties she decided to redecorate and she managed to get herself into the eighties.  She still has her much prized danish teak dining suite. Teak furniture abounds in my family as the elderlies have died off and left us with their "estates".    I have to confess I'm not interested in it.  Neither am I following the whole Mad Men craze.  It reminds me too much of my paternal grandparents.

 Altough their furniture style was more like tasteless reproduction colonial, and the era they loved was prior to the Mad Men era, it is that whole  1930s-1950s Hollywood glamour that puts me off.  I had the most hideous paternal grandparents. My grandmother idolized Joan Crawford and her ilk, and named my father after Gary Cooper.

There was a selfishness to my grandmother and a weakness to my grandfather that characterized much of what they did and who they were.  My grandmother was the eldest of four sisters who were all influenced by her and admired her style.  She was the beauty who threw parties and wore pretty dresses.  With her dark hair and eyes, petite size and good taste in clothing she revelled in being the centre of attention.  Her favourite story, one I remember she told repeatedly when I was a child, was about her courtship by my grandfather.  How he had seen her walk past his family's shop and said, "That's the girl I'm going to marry."  How when he took her home to his family his father raved about her beauty and the red dress that she wore.  I have seen photos and heard her stories; she was certainly good looking.  My grandfather had greased back hair.  I don't know what product he used or if it changed throughout his life, but when I was a little girl he told me it was bug juice.  When I was a child I loved my grandfather, but not ever did I love my grandmother.  I eventually began to wonder why but with the clear sight that children have, I knew all along was that she did not love me.  She did not love any of us; she loved herself.

Later in life my mother shared  with me the stories about their abuse of my father in his childhood, the hatred my grandmother had for my mother and their refusal to attend my parent's wedding.  My mother was not glamorous. She was and still is better than that; she has a classic  elegance, she is what we used to call a lady.  She is warm and kind, not at all arrogant or uppity, but she comes from an upper middle class British background that pays more attention to gentility and manners than money.  Her grandfather had been very wealthy and her mother had grown up with servants, but my mother's parents had lived a hard life, at one point attempting to make a go of farming.  My maternal grandmother married for love, not money and left her wealthy lifestyle behind for the rest of her days.  She was an amazing woman and I could easily get carried away writing about her.  So, my mother found herself with a mother-in-law who referred to her as a broad assed bitch from the farm.

This response to his wife led my father to become temporarily estranged from his parents. How could a person respond otherwise to a rejection of his wife, no acknowledgement of twins who died shortly after childbirth and a few years later the successful birth of a daughter, me.  We live in a culture that says to us, "this is your mother.  Forgive and move on."  Worse than that, my father's relatives encouraged my parents to apologize and make it up with Dad's parents.  I can't imagine what they apologized for.  "I'm sorry you're such a bitch but we still want to have a relationship with you?"  My grandfather, the man I have described as weak, originally had been supportive and congratulatory towards my parents' engagement.  That was until he found out what opinion his wife wanted him to  have.

I won't list the unkind words, selfish expectations or criticisms and put downs that escalated over the decades as my grandmother tried to undermine my parents' relationship or malign them both.  I have almost forgotten to mention that she rejected her own parents and sisters too.  She continuously told of being a Cinderella, mistreated and made to do all of the work, a perspective that her three other sisters just never understood.  She threatened my parents with another rift if they associated with her family.  They ignored the threat and my father always visited his grandparents and aunts when possible.  Over the years my grandmother's behaviour got increasingly demanding and selfish and my grandfather continued to support her.  She had tantrums and was moody.  Whenever we visited there would be a point when she would go to her room and we would be told that we had upset her somehow.

Many people have such relatives and can often only heal from the damage of parents like this when they give themselves permission to move on.  There is no reason to believe that you have to make up to someone because she is your mother.  My grandmother wanted a devoted son, almost a momma's boy, who was dashing and debonair, married to a glamorous woman (she admired Vanna White) who was empty headed enough to worship her.  The irony is that both my parents are kind loving people who would have been quite devoted to her if she had actually been a nice person.  Even then, I am amazed at what they did do for her in her later years.  It was never appreciated, always criticized and nothing was ever given back.  Most significantly, no love, support, appreciation or kindness was or had ever been given.  This was not about an elderly person getting a little difficult with encroaching senility.

I could list pages of cruel things that were said and done, both during my father's childhood and throughout my own time with these grandparents in my life.  Eventually, not long after the death of my grandfather, my grandmother decided to be rid of us once and for all.  She dealt  with that legally, but the rather pathetic part was the way she would walk right past me on the sidewalk and turn her head the other way.  What was the reason, the expectation, the demand we could not fulfil?  She told my father that he was a great disappointment to her, not manly enough to get his women in line.  The women referred to were my mother and my twentysomething self.  Her actual words were something to the effect of us not paying her enough attention.  She should be the grande dame of the family.  She continued her pretense of not knowing us even after my son was born.  I might walk through the local grocery store with my son in the seat of the cart, turn the corner to the next aisle and find her there.  She would immediately turn around and walk away.

The mental picture I have of this grandmother is of a well dressed woman holding a long slender More cigarette and a glass of rye and seven up.  When her glass was empty she would rattle the ice cubes as a signal for my Dad to get up and refill her glass.  She talked only of experiences and people where she had been flattered and fawned over in some way.  Although she had long abandoned her mother and sisters, she was happy to receive attention from her two brothers in law.  After my grandfather died, his younger brothers felt a duty to come and visit the widow.  They would travel from  Vancouver to visit and take her shopping.  I happened upon my great uncle, frail and looking ready to collapse, escorting the grand dame around the shops on his arm.  She looked as healthy and hearty as she always did right up until a couple of years before her death, the point when she finally gave up heels and switched to sensible shoes.

Even without these associations, mid century modern decor and retro glamour don't appeal to me, although I appreciate the beauty of the teak wood furniture and the craftsmanship, I didn't find it appealing in it's original go around.  Glamour hasn't been my style since the days when I aspired to be a princess and insisted that my bedroom be decorated in fuschia and purple.  But putting good taste aside and any concerns for what complements my decor, I will one day own and love the pale yellow painted stool which belonged to my beloved maternal grandmother.  The wicker chair from her bedroom in which I sat  to eat breakfast outside on sunny mornings is a memory that brings an actual feeling of warmth to my heart and although the original one has long since been destroyed, I know I will purchase the first one I see that resembles it.  And I will delight in how there is no glamour in wicker.


The pictures of Gary Cooper and Joan Crawford are from a website called

The larger picture of Miss Crawford shows a resemblance between my grandmother and her screen idol.  I have seen a photo of my grandmother looking quite a bit like that and striking the same pose.

I have no reason to dislike Vanna and do not wish to malign her.  I just don't think first of Vanna when pondering the qualities of an ideal woman.  Nor do I hold her 1980's self to be the peak of style.


Maria Killam said...

Think painted a great colour! Then maybe you'll like it :)

The Blasphemous Fiendess said...


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