Privilege Blog

High WASPs And Food

In the olden days High WASPs had servants. My mother’s family’s cook was named Willie Mae. She was from the South. As a result, at my grandmother’s house we ate fried chicken. Huge plates of fried chicken. Huge plates of fried chicken under the chandelier. And when we wanted more, we hoped we would be allowed to squirm our lower halves under the dark shiny wood table to search with our feet for the buzzer under the carpeting. And ring for Willie Mae. Food in those days seems to have been more about a display of the resources at your command. But you had to eat what the servants knew how to cook.
Once servants became impractical for those High WASPs who left Wall Street for a gentlemanly life of leisure, food became a true problem for some. On my father’s side, for my great-Aunt Priscilla and great-Uncle Bill in particular.  (He was actually named Stanford but WASPs have a thing for nicknames. That whole Muffy and Biff thing is a smokescreen to hide the true nicknames). They lived in New Jersey, near Princeton. In college, I would visit them on weekends. They fed me.
Lacking servants, Priscilla had to cook. She had no knowledge and no interest in gaining any. We ate in the kitchen. A kitchen furnished originally for servants, no granite, no stainless steel, no glass-faced cabinets with acres of copper pots and saucepans from obscure forgeries in Italy. None of the accoutrements of modern high-achieving kitchens. Linoleum. Metal-legged tables.
Priscilla would make frozen peas. Frozen peas were a great invention for this phase of High WASP culture. Also gray hamburgers. We would eat our meal as though it were normal for those who lived on hundreds of acres, (now a multi-dwelling housing development), to eat in the kitchen without ceremony.
After dinner we would retire to the library, which was near to the living room, which was near to the dining room we never entered, and have a drink from cut crystal. We sat on sofas covered in cushions needlepointed in dog pictures. There was never any mention of the incongruity of kitchen to library. To this day I do not know whether this was another example of impunity, whether they were secretly embarrassed and keeping a stiff upper lip, or whether, in fact, they just didn’t mind.

3 Responses

  1. I enjoyed your description of those Willie Mae memories. My mother talks about memories of having a cook when visiting the grandparents each summer. She has always mentioned the wonderful desserts they used to make for the kids while they were at the beach.

  2. Your Mother and my Mother share almost identical backgrounds it seems. The frozen peas almost had us on the floor, as that is very much like an experience at Grandmother’s when we were very young. In our situation, the peas went everywhere. Really.

    May your weekend be wonderful Miss LPC,

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