There was a time, not that long ago, when all of us knew ladies. Something I wrote fifteen years ago:
Some of us… can’t help remembering ladies. They were our mothers and grandmothers, our friends’ mothers and grandmothers, and they had no idea they were prisoners of a vicious sexist culture. They knew how to smile, how to make strangers and shy ones feel welcome, they knew how to dress up for a party, how to dance to ballroom music, how to practice countless skills that made houses into cheery homes, and we loved them. In every possible way they exemplified the essential human virtues and mediated their children’s vulnerability through their own. They were playing a life-and-death role, especially in those first six years, and one that fathers couldn’t play because their role back then was different. Fathers weren’t second-string mommies, always playing catch-up on the sensitivities not born into men. They were, when all was said and done, judges — the ones charged with preparing the children to be strong against the institutional temptations and corruptions that were coming after the time of safe haven was over. Their job was not to be taken in the way mother could be by an artful grin or pleading. Their job was to say no, to describe the consequences, to levy the punishment so that the lesson would be learned in the home, not in the dangerous realms of the outside world.
“Before” there were fathers and mothers. “After” we have “deadbeat dads” and a plethora of lawyers, doctors, journalists, executives, and bureaucrats, all with ticking biological clocks and an enduring confusion about the difference between home and government. If they can’t be in the home, then they want the world as a whole made as safe as a home. They want more laws, more protections, more services. They beg the government to come deeper into the home, inside the car, into the chemistry of their children’s brains. [Any] post hoc ergo propter hoc analysis is dead wrong. The women’s vote has played a pivotal role in the rise of nanny government precisely because they’re always looking back in the direction of a home that is no longer what it was.
So, a friend sent me hunt pictures he’d photographed, beautifully, himself. When I asked, he had no idea why I would link a reminiscence about ladies with these tableaus of life among the gracious. He’s that much older. He doesn’t understand the connectedness of things.
I’m just going to show you the pictures and let you spin your own connections, like the spiders we all are. But note the perfectly easy composition, the natural framing of a scene, the unstated emphasis on appropriate attire, and the beauty of formality and order. With more than a nod to the vibrancy and relevance of all kinds of us despicable animals.
Do you know — you probably don’t — that equestrian events are the one sport where women compete equally with men. They often win. This most aristocratic of contests is where women first staked a claim and proved their mettle. Why? Because it’s important how you look while doing it. AND they’re as brave and skillful as men.
You can resent the well-to-do and laugh at their pretensions. But all of you who slobbered over a royal wedding need to look in the mirror. There is such a thing as The Quality, and we all admire and depend upon it.
The man who took these lovely photographs had no idea why I would connect them to a paean to long gone American ladies.
Can’t think of anything that will convince him. But life is a parade full of costumes and conventions and courtesies. We still have the costumes, ugly though they are, and conventions persist like waves at the shore, whether they bear seaweed or syringes. What we’ve oh so obviously and utterly lost are the courtesies.
Although Raebert tells me this one is HIS favorite.
Is it useless to ask any of you to think esthetically for once? Or is life really supposed to be about bra straps and cargo shorts? My mother was a lady. So were all her friends. I’d trade all of today’s college girls for that tiny band of brave, polite, accomplished, and modest LADIES.