Heather and I had a conversation recently about the things people choose to collect. When I was a kid, my family moved and I started a new school and fell in with a group of girls, each of whom collected items featuring a specific animal. Nyasha collected Scottie-dog-related items, which made sense because she owned an actual
Scottie dog. Nancy collected items with cats on them. Jennifer collected pigs, and pig-related paraphernalia. "What do you collect?" they asked me on my first day of school.
I collected nothing. Well, I had a lot of books, but books didn't really sound like a collection, per se ? certainly not in comparison to three years worth of ceramic pigs. "Ducks," I answered. I don't even know why. I hate birds and all things remotely bird-adjacent. Their feet gross me out. I guess I just wanted to fit in with my new friends' Kountry-Korner collection aesthetic and didn't think "a smattering of English children's books about ballet dancers and the complete adventures of Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield" was going to cut it. Thus, I opened myself up for years of duck-printed notepads, duck-covered coffee mugs, and duck-embroidered seersucker shorts. In truth, though I felt no affection for the duck, it was nice to be so quickly embraced, especially by a group of middle school girls. But I quickly learned the danger of being seen as A Collector of anything ? people will never buy you anything else. Which is why I now tell people that I collect diamonds and Christian Louboutin shoes.
Actually, now that I am an adult, I have managed to shake free from the tyranny of the duck and continue to collect books. New books, used books, and especially old, random cookbooks and etiquette books, which I've loved reading since the days when I was faking an enthusiasm for waterfowl. I'm not entirely sure why I loved old etiquette books when I was a kid, or why I still enjoy them so much today, but maybe it was because they created a world for my imagination ? in which, say, I spent a lot of time at a 1940s-era country club, or going to football weekends at Harvard in the 30s ? but let me fill in the dramatic details myself. I clearly remember spending hours as a child reading my mother's early seventies edition of Amy Vanderbilt's Complete Guide to Etiquette and wondering what kind of dinner parties Amy Vanderbilt was going to at which people were smoking between courses (apparently, this is a no-no) and abusing the help (also not okay). They certainly sounded more adult and decadent than anything that was happening in my house.
And essentially my feeling is that you never know when you're going to be at a formal ball with the Pope (just for example), or when you'll find yourself in a situation where you need to know how to cook a turtle. A sub-section of my etiquette/entertaining books ? those devoted to teens, like my current favorite, 1967's The Seventeen Book of Etiquette and Entertaining ? also tends to offer helpful, hilarious and extensive advice on how to politely avoid putting out. Generally, it seems, you should be regretful, but firm. (Which, interestingly, is also how you're supposed to approach cooking a turtle.) This same book also warns against the dangers of wearing high heels with leotards, and suggests you purchase something called a "knee-clapper" for bowling. As far as I am concerned, these are helpful hints for a girl of any age or era. So thank goodness I finally managed to stick to my book-collecting guns ? god knows I'd never have gotten any of that out of a duck.