The Language of Growing Old in America
Reaping the Seventh Reward: Shared Immortality

Thoughts on Doilies When Everything Old is New Again




My thoughts on doilies and what ‘when everything old is new again’ really means.

We had doilies in my house, growing up. For the uninformed, those are little round (ours were always round), crocheted furniture protectors. If you’re 40 or younger,  your grandmother may have had them in her quaint little home. If you’re over 40, your Mom had them, protecting her favorite end table – the one with that heavy, stone lamp she bought at Goodwill.

We had doilies of many colors, at our house. Pink ones. Blue ones. Creme colored ones. White ones. I never did ask who made the doilies or if they were purchased at a local department store. I always felt they were passed down from my grandmother, but if that’s so, where did my grandmother get them?

Mostly, I found these pretty little bits of fabric annoying. It was my job to dust the house,  you see. I  had to move the doilies to dust under them (and that, in and of itself was annoying…why was I dusting ‘under’ something?), and then replace the lamp or knick-knacks. The only joy in it was rearranging the knick-knacks, week after week after long week.

The doilies were part of an age gone by. None of my friends’ homes had doilies. I wondered, back in those old days of 1960, if the doilies were a status symbol from an earlier day and time, since my mother enjoyed them so much (she was so terribly worried about what other people thought of her – which I still do not understand, to this day). I wondered why we used them and vowed I would never have them. I wondered how many homes in downtown Rochester, on Park Ave where the ‘rich’ people lived, had doilies. Did they, I wondered, have rooms  full of them? Did every table sport a little crocheted piece of foolishness – and did the women who cleaned in those homes (not the homeowners, I knew the homeowners did not clean on Park Ave) hate them as much as I did?



Life does go full circle. It happens when you’re not looking. One moment you’re a teenage tasked with dusting and sweeping and maybe making beds that you did not sleep in (why can’t four year olds learn to make their own bed, you wonder about your younger sister), and the next moment you’re a grandmother with your own home, and you’re still dusting and sweeping, but now, it’s okay. Because the rooms you clean, are yours. Because the bed you make, is yours.

And, now, as a grown up, you don’t mind the doilys. You cherish them. They are little enough of what you have left of your childhood.

I also know that flea markets seem to have a good many doilys. Surely they are left over from estate sales. Estate sales where the children or grandchildren tasked a local business person to sell furniture and lamps and rugs and, yes, doilys, because they were part of some long ago day and time not relevant to the children today.

No one uses doilys, today.

Except those of us who cherish memories of life before color TV. We like them. I like them. I find them stirring memories of shadowy rooms full of fat furniture, with heavy drapes drawn against the afternoon sun, and one small, thin strip of light pouring through a crack in the drapes slips along the arm of the chair, to hit the table next to the chair at a strange angle, and puddles on the table, around the doily. There is a sense of security in the memory.

I have, perhaps, made the memory up. Memory is a strange creature, and I am fully aware that I may be knitting several memories together, to make that one I cling to, as a young child clings to a favorite blanket or toy. It doesn’t matter if that’s what I’m doing. It doesn’t matter because I understand now what people meant, older people, people who weren’t my parents but were of my parents’ ages, when they laughingly said, “Everything old is new again.”

You might see me shrug, if you were here in my office. Truth is, I don’t remember what they were referring to – old thoughts? Old dreams? Old toys? Old ideas? All of those? It matters now. For, my understanding is wrapped up in the reality of my desire to have more doilys. To adorn my house with these foolish items – knowing they are so, and that my own children will likely put them in the bonfire with all of my books (as they smilingly tell me when I remind them they will inherit my vast library), the day after my funeral.

Everything old is new again is a vintage statement. I love how the 60s and 70s fashions are back on style. I love how history is more interesting to young people today, as they strive to learn how their country, this country, got to be where it is today. And, how poorly we baby boomers treated it – which makes me smile because I remember saying the same about my parents’ generation.

Everything old is new again becomes more understandable, more acceptable, the older you get. And, your parents become more understandable, also. As do the clothes they wore and the furniture they bought and the way they would shake their finger at you and say, “In my day…”

And, as we so called baby boomers age, we bring our own cherished memories to stories we tell our grandchildren. We prove that with each generation of people life changes and stays the same. We exult in the knowledge that generations of families carry the great grandparents and the grandparents in their genes, and the stories may gain more color in the telling, more fiction than fact, but for now, for us,  in this age, for this group of people growing older in America, our second act yet to come and our stories will be stronger for it.

The first act was glorious, but the second act – in which some of us might learn to crochet their own doilys and even sell them online in an etsy shop – is sure to be magnificent because… well, we’re just so much smarter now.

We know what everything old is new again really means.