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We are being flooded with matter about which nobody gives a damn. But the really frightening part is that the attitude begins to rub off. No home can be built without that love of detail which is the hallmark of care, yet we seem to be getting less and less able to bother. People cannot be fed without detail, children cannot be taught manners without detail, wives cannot be kept happy without detail. But in our superspirituality, we expect that a handful of good intentions and a headful of bright ideas are quite enough to make a home. The truth is, though, that matter will break us unless we love it for itself and start paying some very careful attention to its demands. We are not angels; there are no disembodied intelligences in my household, we are all things here, from the raisins in the cake to the father at his table. For the likes of us there is no middle ground between care and catastrophe.

— Robert Farrar Capon, Bed and Board

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But within those limits, possessions really do become the prime evidence of what we care about. The woman I delight in becomes my wife. The man I care about becomes my friend. The food I like becomes my dinner; favorite china, my china; a desired guitar, my guitar. All, to be sure, in so far as possible: but save for that limitation, if I care, I seek to possess. I do, and I should. Covetousness, greed, the lust for ownership, is only—is precisely—the perversion of care. It is the love not of things or people, but of having. It makes a good, not of goods, but of gain; and, in the long run, it makes a man quite unable to care for the real goods at all.

[What] follow[s] from this: if care is shallow, possessions will be discarded. (They slip away, too, and they wear out, but that isn’t our doing.) The man who buys a boat will soon enough find out whether boating is one of his real cares. Our possessions make demands upon us; they form us as much as we form them. Most of us have an attic or a basement in which we bury the remains of our former fascinations. We once felt deeply about photography or golf, but over the years we learned differently. Closet and dump now hide the corpses of our shallow cares. With mere things, of course, the learning process is quite painless; all we lose is some time, a little money and perhaps a small quantity of face. But when it is our care for people that proves to have been trifling, the results are usually tragic. The discarded home-movie outfit is one thing, the discarded wife or child quite another. In either case, however, possession proves or disproves care.

— Robert Farrar Capon, Bed and Board

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Capon on cooking for children:

There is always the hope that they will, late or soon (be prepared for it to be late), actually sink their teeth into mushroom, parsnip, Swiss chard, or celeriac. Be bold, therefore. Feed them, yes; but do not cook for them. Cook for yourself. What they need most of all in this vale of sorrows is the sight of men who relish reality. You do them no lasting favor by catering to their undeveloped tastes. We have not acquired our amplitude for nothing. No matter what they think, we know: We are the ones who have tasted and seen how gracious it all is. What a shame if we were to hide that light under a bushel.

— Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection

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For better or worse, we have made romance the basis for marriage. Falling in love is supposed to be the reason why people end up in matrimony. (The Church, you will recall, doesn’t commit herself on the subject. Romance or family arrangement, it’s all the same to her, provided they know what they’re doing and are willing to stick with it till they die.) Romance as the justification for marriage is pretty much a folk invention of less than eight hundred years’ standing. On the whole, it’s not a bad one at all. It’s mostly better than worse. For if marriage itself is the mystery written small —if it is indeed the earthly image of the union of Christ and his Church—then it would be hard to find a better starting point than the glimpsing of that same mystery in the Beloved. Dante never married Beatrice, but we feel obliged to; all in all, it is rather a good idea. As a matter of fact, the only thing wrong with it is the lies about it.

One of them I’ve already mentioned. It’s the “You are my destiny” bit. Only God can be that, and any attempt to put so large a demand on a mere creature always comes a cropper. Besides, in marriage it’s hard to keep up the appearance of being somebody’s destiny; it’s even hard to look like a halfway decent agent of destiny. Beatrice burning the toast, or leaving the socks unmended, is practically unrecognizable.

— Robert Farrar Capon, Bed and Board

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Capon on playing recorded music (or probably audiobooks) in the home (what he calls the “liturgy of listening”):

I must watch that it doesn’t destroy the local liturgy of singing, playing, and telling my own stories. When I go to a man’s house, I should hear his children, not the Kingston Trio; his jokes, not Shelley Berman’s

— Robert Farrar Capon, Bed and Board

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That’s about where we stand now. We sit at our tables, still looking for the relevant liturgies that will restore us to our real functions and our rightful places. We are still trying to build the City, but the competition has become fierce. We are continuously being invaded by other cities: TV during dinner (let alone at other times) is precisely the overwhelming of the village by the metropolis. So is recorded music. So are frozen spinach soufllé, commercial bread and canned soup. And so are the PTA, the Rifle Club, the Boy Scouts, the Bowling League and the thousand other plausible intrusions which so disrupt the pattern of home life that no native liturgy ever forms. Don’t misunderstand, however. I would not suggest for a minute that we make any attempt to turn back the clock and live without all these.

First of all, we shouldn’t. They are by no means all evil. They are only other liturgies, other ways of dealing with the host of things which an abundant society showers upon us. Many, many of them are superb. The damage they cause is due chiefly to their number, to their diversity, and to their polish. There are far too many of them for anyone to use. Choice is essential; no house can possibly take everything that comes over the TV or off the supermarket shelves. More, they are far too varied: There are good programs and bad, helpful products and useless, liberating diversions and stifling ones; not only choice, but discerning choice is needed. Last, they are done with more slickness than the average home can ever manage: The music around my table does not measure up to the music in my record collection; if I use my records at the wrong time, I will smother the local liturgy of singing. And the list can go on indefinitely. The home cannot stand constant comparison with the metropolis. I know women who will not learn to cook proper rice, because precooked rice has made them ashamed of their own efforts with the genuine article. Worse, I know women who will not explore the endless and utterly local liturgy of soup, because opening cans is the only ceremony they know on the subject. What we need is discernment. Canned soups, for instance, are a brilliant device. For emergencies they are invaluable, and as an ingredient for stretching a local and peculiar masterpiece they are priceless. We just have to keep them contributory to us, to make them serve rather than dominate. We have to fight for the rights of the small town a little more zealously, and work at its liturgies a lot harder. Every man’s table should develop a proud and somewhat stubborn provincialism. We don’t need purblindness and mere insularity, but we are, after all, country bumpkins, and we should keep the city slickers at a respectful distance.

— Robert Farrar Capon, Bed and Board

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Geography incarnate

To be a Mother is to be the sacrament—the effective symbol—of place. Mothers do not make homes, they are our home: in the simple sense that we begin our days by a long sojourn within the body of a woman; in the extended sense that she remains our center of gravity through the years. She is the very diagram of belonging, the where in whose vicinity we are fed and watered, and have our wounds bound up and our noses wiped. She is geography incarnate, with her breasts and her womb, her relative immobility, and her hands reaching up to us the fruitfulness of the earth.

— Robert Farrar Capon, Bed and Board

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