Town and Country in the Suburbs
All one needs to live in Town and Country:
Town and Country magazine came in the mail to my house once a month. I always wondered what my mother saw in that magazine. I could never figure out any use for it. Princesses and matriarchs rode their stallions looking happy, clean and fresh, as if riding a horse was all they knew how to do - when they weren’t pinning a tiara to their head for a ball.
We didn’t live in the town or in the country. We lived in the suburbs with houses that all looked the same and cars that all looked the same and fathers that would all drive the same style cars to work in the morning at the same time.
In those days, magazine subscriptions were expensive and not something free you got for signing up for a credit card. They were investments and people didn’t throw them out. Instead, they would purchase a magazine rack to display their riches of printed material. It was an odd investment to carry on with, but gave my mother comfort to peel open the perfume flap and rub it all over her wrists. This is one thing that I do not share with my mother. When I purchase a magazine, the first things that come out of it are the renewal cards, any thick paged advertisements and anything that smells.
Every month, when that precious commodity arrived in the mail, I thought of it as a glossy catalogue for burglars to select who they should rob that month. Do you suppose the ranches and estates in the magazine had to beef up security for the month they were featured? Do you think when the photographers were on the way to photograph their homes that the owners ever lifted up their zebra skin rugs to sweep that “last bit of dust” underneath? Or, shove a pile of dirty laundry under the bed at the last minute, like I do when friends come over?
When that white- edged magazine came in the mail, I wondered if my mother dreamt of a life she could have had - if only she had made different decisions. Perhaps, if she had married that radiologist next door, instead of my father, she’d be on her Arabian horse right now riding along some beach in New England with a gang of photographers running alongside her.
I always thought Town and Country was like a porn magazine, each month featuring a centerfold of a different stallion being walked through some opulent vineyard. My mother stared at the photos, carefully studying how the other side lived, as if she would earn a degree studying the richest people on earth. Maybe she thought if she scoured the pages long enough, that she’d find some long lost relative that died and was looking to give her an inheritance, or find someone who was desperately looking to adopt a 7, 11 and 13 year old group of kids, (her own). Maybe we were someone’s long lost children and upon our return, she would be offered a massive reward.
Perhaps she thought she’d get a head start on learning all the names of the elite, so when she was chosen at random to represent her country as a diplomat at the Greyhound dog racetrack, she’d know everyone by title as she curtsied the ladies and gracefully floated her cashmere gloved hand, to receive kisses from the gentlemen.
The magazine would come to our home in a brown paper wrapper - like sex toys are sent, as if her desires were secret and she didn’t want the neighbors to know –I’m pretty certain there were several other women in the neighborhood that were also indulging in the same secret. Perhaps in sex toys too.
Once inside the pages, advertisements of crystal and champagne gleaming, golden jewelry smothered in gemstones and blonde haired women wearing tiaras and smiling next to their afternoon tea. Children in dresses and mini-suits with crooked bowties, tearing apart berry crumble muffins on top of white linen tablecloths. Their mouths covered in jam, but even that was decorative and stylized.
My mother would put her feet up on our 15 year old sofa that was shredded on the corner with yellow foam poking out, from where the dog liked to sleep and lick her toes. She’d turn through the pages, absorbing every detail, admiring each baroness; watching their lives unfold over a 7 page spread, featuring pictures of their homes, swimming pools and ladies pruning gardens while wearing their floral bonnets. Along with pictures of their gentlemen husbands with combed hair, a large golden wedding band on their manicured finger, looking poised as they gave their precious wife a hug from behind the white sofa. The love for their wives was a constant surprise - always looking giddy with delight. Everything in their homes was white, as if to say, “Your children would never be welcome here. There is no dirt in our world”.
With a pair of pants in her lap that needed hemming and a needle between her teeth, a page would be open to last month’s debutante ball - Young girls waiting to be paired up with a family while wearing their fluffy white dresses, (More white - a color forbidden from our family wardrobe - there wasn’t enough Scotchguard to protect our clothes from dirt and constantly dropping of food on our shirts – especially the tv dinner cobbler pie square, which always left what looked like a gelled blood stain), and while the television blared, my brother and I torturing one another, my mother would sink back into her world of Town and Country imagining a glistening life of perfection.
I finally escaped the suburbs, magazine subscriptions, junk mail and even bills. I left the country for my own fantasy of traveling through Europe.
When I was 24 and traveling through Eastern Europe, I went into a bathroom stall where a little old Czech lady collecting money, had fashioned old newspapers and magazines into little paper envelopes to deposit used sanitary pads. I noticed the familiar debutantes, princesses and Lady’s in waiting, wearing their tiara’s, riding their horses on the untouched sands of white perfection. They were helping to keep the bathrooms clean in Prague. I finally figured out how useful that magazine truly was.
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