Minding my manners in my manor

Opinion: Ken Trainor

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By Ken Trainor

Staff writer

When you live alone, there is no division of labor. The buck starts and stops with me. I am upstairs and downstairs, outside and inside. If Downton Abbey is a microcosm of society, I am a microcosm of that microcosm.

Very micro.

I am Lord (and Lady) Grantham, governing my household with pride and a strong sense of tradition, battling the troubling intrusions of changing times. I also answer to Mr. Carson when I don't meet the household standards my inner butler has set, though I can sometimes coax the Mrs. Hughes in me to argue for mercy — or at least an extension.

As I prepare my meals, I'm as harried as Mrs. Patmore and as clueless as Daisy. I am, of course, my own footman when dinner is served. I keep the table conversation lively with rebellious thoughts from my "offspring," who are eager to find their place in the world and just want to feel useful, counterbalanced by witty ripostes from my inner dowager countess.

Afterward (never "afterwards"), I clear the table and wash the dishes (sans dishwasher) in the servants quarters, where I exchange snide, coded, affectionate, or borderline-mutinous comments with imagined second parties, and when I'm finished, I repair to the library/sitting room/parlor for after-dinner inner conversation and cigars (minus the cigars). During the remains of the day, I contemplate the remarkable series of intrigues, secrets poorly kept, and romances that have blossomed in the past 12 hours.

Though I rarely iron the newspaper before reading it, I do unfold the printed copies of articles emailed to me by "sharing friends" who keep me connected to the bewildering upheaval of the world beyond my immediate borders. The Titanic sinks, it seems, every other day.

I think about what legacy I might be leaving my heirs. I worry about the challenges that threaten my present circumstances. I think fondly about my inner staff and the orderly (or disorderly) world we have created, in spite of the forces of chaos arrayed against us. After my evening ablutions, I drift off to sleep knowing I have done my best to build a life's work and hoping some of it will be passed on.

And the next day it all starts all over again. Change and continuity, continuity and change. The tension between produces my daily dramas. Security vs. insecurity. Dreams dashed by reality, leading to the rise of new dreams. Coming up short, followed by unexpected triumphs. Besting the dowager countess and being bested — and once in a while being, if not friends, then allies. Honor rises to an occasional occasion, prompting the courage to name, confront, even outwit, dishonor.

In the morning, I am my own valet, keeper of the closet, decider of each day's outfit. At night, I attend again, curator of the wardrobe. Rarely do I change for dinner; rarer still do I don black tie and tails or livery though once in a while I change my shirt so I don't spill anything on it. If I do, I turn into Laundress Macbeth. Out, out, damn spot! 

Stern rebukes are, regrettably, needed to motivate the swiffing of dust or the scrubbing of tub. I would not, I'm afraid, pass Mrs. Hughes' white glove test. Too many horizontal surfaces never feel the rag. Out of sight, out of mind. Bills must be paid, supplies stocked. A single person's job never ends.

I do enjoy the hunt, walking the streets, searching for treasures, tidbits, the tiny dramas of our complicated world, and sometimes spotting the occasional fox (hmmm). I don't have a family dog to walk, ass wiggling in perfect time to a stirring musical theme, but I do have a dog in this fight. At any rate I pass lots of dogs being walked by other gentry. I am not the lord of all I survey but do feel proprietary and enjoy seeing the gardens even if I don't tend them.

Though I live alone, from time to time I am called upon. My inner appointment secretary oversees the steerage of my peerage, thanks to the calendar on the kitchen wall. I entertain visitors, announced or unannounced, the latter sending my staff into a tizzy. Dinner parties also keep us on our toes.

Gradually, all of this has changed me, made me less self-centered, venal and conniving. The day-to-day makes one more humane — though sometimes less. Periodic comeuppances correct the excesses. I strive to be a better man (and woman) and slowly seem to be moving in that direction, but with so many episodes yet to come, one never knows. What does the future hold? Will all those planted seeds produce redemption or destruction? Only time can tell.

Will my great hopes be realized? Will the webs weaved hopelessly entangle me or connect me to wider webs leading to a happy ending — or at least a happy household?

Welcome to my Downton Abbey, a very busy place indeed.

Contact:
Email: ktrainor@wjinc.com

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