Monday, March 10, 2008

Customs set forth hereafter are not arbitrary

So begins The Answer Book on Naval Social Customs, first edition, 1955, which appeared in my mailbox this morning. It was a gift from the wife of another officer, and it will be prized for all the days during which it will be in my care. Not long, you see. It is meant to be passed on, to another girl who respects it, understands it, and chooses to cherish it, while not necessarily choosing to follow it blindly. It arrived on a day, coincidentally, when I had planned to write about homecomings, possibly. Or goodbyes. Those words were finding their way to my fingertips and then the book arrived.

This book has been read with delicate loving hands. Girls, I can imagine, newly dating some dashing young officer, or could be young women, just married and looking to address others properly, help their husband's along, and make friends among each part of the Navy family they encountered. It must have been a rock of sorts at times when our collective service undertaking could be daunting to the new partners of the young Navy. It might even have been a reference even to those experienced doyennes of this life when a situation arrived even they had not yet navigated. Around about 1955 it came into the hands of one Capt. H.J. Huntzinger, USMC, then stationed at Parris Island. Sometime after that it served the Marine Corps JROTC Unit, Jeffersontown, Kentucky. I was enraptured imagining its journey, I studied history and have never been able to let go of the notion that everything which has made a journey through so many decades has a fascinating tale. Pleasingly, this one divulges from its perfect pages some of its esteemed path. And it has surely made more than just one of us smile. As I flipped through the pages, it occurs to me how very much this life has changed and how much more one might get away with, if they were inclined, than was the standard of author Ester Weir. I suspect Ester would be glad her book arrived in Karrie's care, and I can only hope to do both justice in my stewardship of this volume.

It's never safe to take oneself too seriously, but I feel, given the location of many members of our military, to write in my usual tongue-in-cheek fashion about so serious a set of circumstances and responsibilities would be both declasse and disrespectful.

Some part of the three women now brought together by this little green book welcomes tradition and a set of what may be considered old-school values into their world. There have been a few moments that, in spite of the moving and constant state of upheaval, usually, when called to mind, serve to silence me regarding inconveniences associated with military family-hood. I grew up in the Hudson Valley, and West Point is a part of my earliest memories: Picnics with my Mom, concerts at the half-shell, and my inexplicable need to believe, every year, that Black Knights football can get to a legitimate bowl game. When I was twenty, I came home from college to see my Brother's lacrosse team play West Point. I was asked to 500 Night by a cadet who was exceedingly handsome and gentlemanly (whose name I cannot remember), but no detail of that evening remains with me as vividly as the receiving line does. They were so graceful, those ladies and gentlemen, handing one guest off to the next, never forgetting a name, all having a handshake of confidence, and looking marvelous in evening gowns and these knee-bucklingly elegant uniforms. I was young, I thought to myself that any officer who missed an opportunity to put on that suit clearly had not been briefed on its potential. Some time later, to my Husband's everlasting credit and spirit of compromise, our wedding was celebrated at West Point.

Secondly, at another time, I happened to be in Norfolk, Virginia on the Fourth of July when these Navy vessels, maybe ten in all, passed throngs of people gathered at waterside for the fireworks. The decks were lined with Naval personnel and I remember thinking that the blaring song they were playing from the shore at that moment was in poor taste. There is no music for that, for understanding the sheer might of a strong nations military, even in the most reverent and peaceful of American moments. My understanding of the thing became deeply personal, and very much a thing not to be interrupted with sound.

And old friend of mine who graduated from West Point and spends a good deal of his year on a sandy vacation in Iraq says of his career that when he went to West Point the first time, they had him: all that thrilling history, tradition, and lore. Daily, since then, he bids himself remember how lucky he has been and will be, and that he would give up his life any day, for my freedom to write whatever I care to now and for yours to read it. My husband is not a romantic. He has a job to do, and this needs to be a very brass-tack affair for him. But their sacrifices and yours move me. I hope only to do well by all of them.

I suppose you do not arrive as the scribe of a site called The Blushing Hostess were you not something of a traditional girl. Though, I like to think I am not too starched, (as those Navy victims of the Newport clambakes will attest). I am part of a tradition I respect and have enjoyed immensely, and one which awes me. Members of the same tradition are hereby advised, they are welcome at my table for all time.

Our first stop as a Navy household was Charleston, South Carolina. This recipe was a gift to me from Jane, a girl who hails from a grand old Charleston clan of eccentrics. Her Mother made these biscuits for breakfast everyday for her Father, a man who I do not believe owned a pair of "dungarees" nor ever approached the kitchen in pajamas. They were always so perfectly turned out. These biscuits went on to become a favorite of now-Navy pilot Brandon, who became family to us in Newport and was with us, luckily, for brunch on Sundays. I hope you enjoy them as we have. And I hope in future years, you will make it for brunch or meet me here. After all, we are all stewards of the same, very personal, set of American traditions.

Charleston, 2000
Adapted from Charleston Receipts, Mrs. John Laurens (May Rose)
For Karrie Ann

2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
4 heaping tablespoons shortening
1 scant cup milk

Preheat oven to 450 degrees, hotter if yours tends to run cool. Into a large bowl, sift flour, baking powder, and salt. Cut shortening in with a fork until mixture resembles a "fine meal" or pebbly sand. Add milk until "correct consistency" or until it is not too sticky and can be pressed out onto your floured board, pressed gently down with fingertips, and using a glass with a floured rim, cut into round biscuits. Makes 8 biscuits, but Jane will tell you 12.

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