Lefty Parent

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Circle of equals

Profound Kitchen Conversations

March 19th, 2009 at 5:32

Illustration by Arthur Sarnoff

Illustration by Arthur Sarnoff

After my parents divorced in 1965 (when I was ten years old), my mother became quite a party-giver. She had already plunged into local Ann Arbor politics as a precinct chair for the Democratic Party and a campaign manager for several men who ran for local offices. Our house was regularly filled by a sampling of some of Ann Arbor’s most interesting university professors, well-educated wives of university professors, and other political animals. Usually the food and drink was very simple, almost minimalist. Her favorite menu was spaghetti, with her special recipe of sauce, salad, and Bloody Maries to drink, served out of a big crock.

Jane was the maestro of all her parties, carefully designing the guest list so that everyone coming would find several other people they would be interested in meeting or be stimulated by encountering again. Then as the guests arrived and the party got underway, she would move about and make sure that everyone encountered their counterparts as per her plan. With the booze and the tasty food, it made for an energetic swirl of conversation, debate and argument, much of it political.

Ideologies have been called a modern form of religion. If so, feminism became the religion of my mother and her circle of post-divorce female friends. They shared and practiced its ethical code of behavior and had “soup kitchens” once a month (coincidentally or not mostly on Sunday), which you could say was an informal worship service of sorts. There were even discussions of God, particularly about her gender. More on this later, but following in this new family tradition, I adopted feminism as essentially my religion as well.

Most of the men that came to her parties, denizens of the university and Democratic politics, were adherents to another faith endemic to these institutions – secular humanism. This was a denomination that featured (at least in my mom’s circles in Ann Arbor) a mostly male academic “clergy” and a strong belief that through higher education, civil rights, liberal ideals and government spending, people (that is men) could solve the worlds problems, even without invoking the help of deities.

So sometimes my mom’s soirees featured the clash of these two great “religions”, which at first glance you might think were very compatible liberal faiths. But the humanism of most of the men who frequented Jane’s parties, though preaching equality, did not necessarily include sharing the “pulpit” with women. Men were the thinkers and doers, women were the (preferably good looking) helpers, muses and lovers.

My mother’s dear friend Mary Jane, came to several of my mom’s parties wearing a maroon monks robe with a women’s symbol (with a clenched fist within the circle) hanging from a chain around the neck, where a crucifix might otherwise have been part of the uniform. A total radical feminist ideologue, I found Mary Jane to be the coolest of my mom’s friends and my chosen high-priestess for my catechism.

Years later we continue the tradition of kitchen conversations. My partner Sally and I have had many around our current kitchen table with our kids and/or their friends, sometimes for hours on end. There is something about the energy of a kitchen that makes it the best place to share all the deepest thoughts.

Years later we continue the tradition of kitchen conversations. My partner Sally and I have had many around our current kitchen table with our kids and/or their friends, sometimes for hours on end. There is something about the energy of a kitchen that makes it the best place to share all the deepest thoughts.

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