Maria and I read The Private World of Tasha Tudor about once a season. We've done this for about seven years. In each reading we find new things compelling, inspiring, amusing. Each time we read it we sigh over something pretty, something rousing. It became an altogether novel experience to read the book after our visit to New England, last Fall. Those are the walls, the trees, the views, that inspired her, we would say, or muse. Places, even ideas, become easier to recognize, more relatable, after traveling through Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine.
Tasha Tudor's world was odd... not simply because she wore old dresses, cooked over a wood burning stove, and drew mice, which she kept stashed in her freezer for easy reference. She was odd because her choice to live freely, following her own path and means of expression, were rather dogmatic, restrictive. When I first read the book, or about her, I suppose I was infatuated with her peculiar world. I found it extremely relatable and appealing. But then I would feel a certain deficiency in my own routines, habits, activities. I would marvel, awestruck, then incredulous... she really carried water from a well, and had no power, while raising her children, sewing their clothes, heating the home with firewood? She illustrated books, decorated the Christmas tree with lit candles, made marionettes and gave performances, while managing hand-laundry and wood-stove cooking?! It was too much! Intimidating. I felt defeated in my meager accomplishments, and wondered what the heck did her kids think of living in the 19th century in the midst of the 20th century? Not just for fun, or sometimes, but everyday.
I have had some experience with off-the-grid living, in Mexico, and Guatemala, and even a bit of roughing it, here, in Southern California. Believe me, the glow dims pretty quickly. Running water, electricity, appliances, a supermarket... I'd never scoff at anyone's dependence on these "conveniences!"
So, for a brief time I fell out of love with Tasha Tudor and sort of crossed my arms at her and then microwaved a dinner before sitting down to watch Netflix on my iPhone, while the children did homework on their iPads, and the clean clothes tumbled in the dryer. But Maria still enjoyed hearing the narrative, looking at those beautiful pictures, of gardens, baby goats, doll house shelves, and darling pencil drawings. And I did, too. Tasha Tudor's world is compelling, complex, and perhaps less Private than it should have been. She was a reticent woman, an individual that lived in her own way, and I don't mind so much, any more that she was odd, that she did things I could not, would not. I appreciate that she chose her course and lived satisfied, true to her own calling. And when I read one of her emphatic, critical remarks about how things should be done, or what she found insufferable, I smile. I smile, thankful that she lived, that she painted, drew, and made things, and kept her gardens, and managed to create a place and activities that are very different from most. It's nice that we can take joy and inspiration from her choices, and then make our own choices, do our own odd things that make our own lives fulfilling.
We just finished reading the Summer chapter of The Private World of Tasha Tudor. It was as lovely, romantic, and rose-tinted as ever. I could be perfectly happy living in long skirts, shawls, sketching by candlelight, until I need high speed Internet, and a Trader Joe's frozen pie crust. My experiences, for which I am very thankful, have taught me to be resourceful, resilient, to build a fire, carry water from a well, or spring, and I can sew, tend animals, bake bread. Those times, skills, and places, even make me wistful and appreciative of so-called simple living. But life is not so simple, is it? I have found life to be surprising... it brings up issues and events that I never anticipated, and I have certainly have had to adjust my sails more than twice, maybe that's why I felt so disenchanted with Tasha Tudor, and then just sort of amusedly resigned to taking her whole world with a bit of salt, and kind regard.
We can admire and hold some people in such high esteem that it can be a detriment... maybe it discourages our own sense of success, or clouds our perception, so that we cannot see the whole person, both commendable, and flawed, human. Tasha Tudor wrote, "People have a rose-colored lens when they look at me. They don't realize I'm human. They don't see the real me. As Mark Twain said, 'we are like the moon, we all have our dark side that we never show to anybody.'" Maybe this admission matters more significantly in the whole context of her book, than anything else. It's a beautiful book, full of ideal moments, and the best of days, one side of a moon, bright, good. For a time I worried that Maria would become too enthralled with the idealism of it all, the high expectations, and almost glamorized version of living in a world that is presented as if it were crafted as idyllically as a storybook. But I didn't want to take it apart, either. When I went through my phase of being disappointed in Tasha Tudor, and in my shortcomings compared with her astounding accomplishments, I spared Maria my more cynical remarks, and judgements, but I did try to delicately introduce questions... about how we do things, about what works for our lives, about being flexible, and being open to being our own flavors of 'peculiar,' without trying to control everything. What I wanted was for Maria to be admiring of Tasha Tudor as a whole person, to see and respect her dark side, and still find the good appreciable, and worthwhile.
We read Tasha's strong remarks on women wearing pants, and Maria laughed knowingly. She was aware that this point of view of Tasha Tudor's was just an example of the woman's nature to express her mind, as though her beliefs were facts, and the facts were fixed. I listened, with satisfied relief, when Maria stated her own views on wearing pants, being feminine, and having choices. She balanced her words with dissent, respect, and her own voice. And it made me glad that this favorite book is still a favorite, one that we are growing with, seeing in new light. As our ideas and experiences change, so do our appreciation and understanding of books, places, beliefs, and expressions, and I am happy that we can appreciate the old with the new.
With Infinity More Monkeys, a picture a day.