The three bedroom house I grew up in had one bathroom, a living room, a dining room and kitchen. The house was cooled in the summer with an attic fan and the only heat in the winter came from a space heater in the bathroom, one in the dining room, and the gas range and oven in the kitchen. The living room had a wood fireplace that seemed to make the room colder. Consequently, the living room stayed shut off from the dining room in the winter. The bedrooms in winter were basically the same temperature as outside. The difference was that you didn’t get rained or sleeted on. The first time my wife came to visit she woke to find that she could see her breath in the room and declared that that was, “just not right.”
Despite the fact that the kitchen was only big enough for a café table with four chairs, that is where everyone gathered. We played checkers and dominoes on the kitchen table, ate all of our meals in the kitchen, and discussed the day, politics, and plans for the weekend there. The dining room was reserved for relatives staying overnight. We did eat Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner there. However, the gathering place was the kitchen.
Today, when we get invited for dinner or cocktails everyone seems to gravitate to the kitchen. On the surface that seems illogical, but, in fact, the hosts are often putting the finishing touches on dinner, or fixing cocktails and so we still, with adequate winter heat, go to the kitchen. Is that just our age group – the ones who grew up in unheated homes – or does this go back much farther to a time when we gathered around a fire for heat and to cook whatever had been killed, caught or foraged that day? I suspect that is the case.
However, not everyone gathers like that. In some villages people gather in a central area to socialize. Germany, historically, had farms with a small collection of houses around a well and community gathering area.
A recent show about the decline of The Mall talked about places that had reversed the trend. A mall in the Atlanta area, for instance remodeled the center to look like the plaza in a Mexican village, and encouraged Hispanic families to come to the mall to socialize, and hopefully buy something.
In our home no one would have considered hanging out in the bathroom even though it was heated. It was very small and it was …the bathroom. However, societies are different and a few years back a story aired about an aid group in rural India that decided to upgrade conditions in a village. The homes did not have running water. Drinking water came from a well, and the men’s and women’s latrines were communal outhouses. The workers presented a plan to build new houses with indoor plumbing with each house having its own bathroom. The project was completed. Everyone should have been happy, but they weren’t. The women were profoundly unhappy.
As the story unfolded the women had lost a lot.
Every morning women went to the women’s outhouse and had a few moments away from the family. Furthermore, the morning visit allowed the village women a chance to complain about their husbands, brag on their children, ask for advice, and do all of the things that women do today when they ask another woman at the table if she wants to go with them to the “lou”. It’s all a mystery to men, but I’ve gathered over the years that the same things happen here that happen in India.
The compromise in the Indian village was to build a communal bathroom with modern plumbing for the women.
Gathering then can occur in a variety of places for a variety of reasons, but some social interaction is the necessary ingredient. Bars, nightclubs, roadhouses, taverns and pubs all have in common the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages. Sometimes the meeting is just for individuals or couples to socialize. In other cases men and women go looking for romance. Alcohol makes shy men bold and homely women beautiful, but the confusion and embarrassment and headache and heartache associated with meeting that way have been the subjects of a thousand novels. I personally know two women whose lives were destroyed by con men they met in a bar.
Indian couples don’t have to go through all of that; their families do it for them. Maybe that’s why the women have to meet at the privy to console each other. I’m not really serious. I’ve known a number of Indian couples and they seem just as happy, maybe happier, than couples who arranged their own marriages.
Men and women used to meet at church, at the grocery store, at the gym or at the dog park. Maybe they still are. I assume, too, that the same goes for men looking for men and women looking for women.
In the last few decades an entirely new way of gathering has come about; the virtual meeting place. We all have some story about the perils and pitfalls of online dating. Some people exaggerate, details are omitted and in some cases people tell outright lies. Really, that kind of activity is nothing new, but if a couple eventually meets in the flesh it is going to become apparent that the 6 foot 3 inch man with blue eyes is actually 5 feet 3 inches with brown eyes as happened to one of my kids. At other times a person meets “Mr. Right” online who lives just around the corner, as the same daughter did.
One woman I know met a man online and after some time discovered that it was her former boss – a man who had made her life hell – who had lied about everything. Apparently, neither of them was very forthcoming.
Generally, I prefer meeting in the flesh. I like real names, real faces, having the opportunity to hear about people; their careers, their families, their interests, their frustrations and their life stories. True, it’s messy at times.
The impact of social media is still being sorted out. On one hand, half the language of conversation is missing, and the lack of body language is not met by the use of emoticons, but there are great economies of space and time. One of my granddaughters who lives on the opposite coast regularly sends me texts accented by an array of funny creatures. In the interim, between annual trips across the country, trips that consume a day of air travel, those texts are better than nothing, but it is not the same as seeing her day to day, having her show me the moves she’s learned in her hip-hop dance class.
With winter coming I long for a simpler time, for an evening of dominoes at the kitchen table in the only warm room in the house.