Last week was the 50th anniversary of the publishing of “The Feminine Mystique,” Betty Friedan’s manifesto which opened the eyes of women all over the world. Okay, I admit, I’ve never read it, but I was intrigued by the New York Times’ articles. And as a child of the ’70s, I knew about women who immersed themselves in crazy stuff at home to fill their days and find some meaning. It was still going on….and in some ways it still is.
The person who comes to mind is the mother of one of my college roommates. Mrs. B was a home economics major at the University of Tennessee and got a master’s degree in textiles. She was insanely talented as a seamstress.
Mrs. B made all Susan’s clothes, which were tailored within an inch of her life, and utterly unfashionable for the time. Susan, to her credit, loved them. But what 19-year-old girl in the Seventies would wear a gingham dress with a side zipper and smocking? I borrowed it one time, and my boyfriend referred to it as “the chastity dress” because it was so hard to get off.
Mrs. B kindly volunteered to sew a raincoat for me, and told me to look at the Vogue patterns. I have it to this day. I picked out a Dior pattern for a balmacaan with a belt. I lost the belt at some point, but it is so beautifully made that it is still wearable, and a classic style, of course.
The incident I was thinking of in connection with Betty Friedan, however, involved cooking. Susan invited me home for the weekend to South Carolina. Her parents were very fashion-forward for South Carolina if ten years behind the times–Danish modern furniture, uncomfortable plastic in the breakfast nook, Marimekko prints. Her dad was an engineer and a kind if geeky guy.
I don’t remember what dinner involved, but I remember the dessert distinctly. Mrs. B made parfaits, which I think involved chocolate Jello pudding and whipped cream. But what impressed me was that each parfait was garnished with a perfect leaf made of chocolate. Mrs. B allowed that she had experimented with several different leaves before discovering that ivy leaves worked the best, when placed on the surface of melted chocolate, peeled off, and allowed to harden. Then she peeled off the actual leaf, and placed a perfect chocolate leaf on each parfait.
No one said, “Wow, Mom, that’s incredible!” No one gave a single damn. They just wolfed down their Jello parfait. I thought my head would explode.
Maybe she was just a crazy perfectionist. Maybe she would have done it without coming out of the environment she did. Maybe pigs will fly. That energy and creativity could have moved mountains.